The all-important role of tedious, thankless work

Written by Shawn Naylor

Many of us have had to work jobs we don’t particularly like. We find ourselves looking to the sky asking subconscious questions to a conscious God. Why am I here? Why am I wasting my time? Is this all there is to life?

I’m fully aware I’m writing to Canadian readers who have the privilege to reflect on such things. So many of the questions we face come from the perspective of a majority world country. Too often, we focus on finding jobs where our gifts and talents will be on display from the moment of engagement.

Yet in the realm of leadership, jobs where we aren’t on display are an essential training ground for developing the skills to lead ourselves and others. Whenever we begin something new, whether it’s the first stages of going into ministry, or that first job on your way to becoming a lawyer, these are often jobs we don’t want. These positions are often unenjoyable, or have seemingly meaningless objectives that don’t serve our personal purposes.

My first job was as a church janitor. My job was to clean up everybody’s garbage and mess. I soon discovered the women’s washroom wasn’t a field of flowers and scented candles. Nobody says thank you, nobody oversaw my work, but as soon as I missed something, people were quick to let me know. 

That job reminds me of what it’s like to be in leadership. You’re often left alone to do something nobody else wants to do. If you’re doing a good job, people are unlikely to say thank you. And it often involves more responsibility than you realized.

Jesus tells a parable that ties into this idea, the parable of the talents (or the ten bags of gold) found in Matthew 25. A man gives each of his three workers a task, to be responsible for an amount of money, according to their boss’s perception of their capacity. Then the boss leaves on a trip. When he returns, he asks for a report.

Upon hearing the report of the first two workers (that they had doubled the money entrusted to them), the man responded with a powerful declaration. Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23). 

What I learn from this parable is that whatever God has put before me, my responsibility is to work with what I’m given and to work well.

Whatever task we have been given, we should be encouraged and receive it with gladness; the Lord is providing a carefully crafted environment to produce the potential that is dormant in each of us. If God is the Creator of all things, then He exists outside of time. His creative process isn’t bound by our concept of time.

This attitude of trusting God’s power to work in us eradicates the fear that we’re wasting our time.

That fear causes us to complain about our jobs, circumstances, environment. We’re failing to trust that God can produce something in us in any situation.  

What’s interesting is that before I got these jobs that were seemingly meaningless or that didn’t display my talents, I had prayed for financial opportunities and ways to develop my skills.

God provided these jobs. When I complain, it’s a slap to the face of God. In response to His generosity in giving me what I asked for, I complain to Him and say, “Why do you have me here?” I know I’m not alone in this.

Yet I’ve discovered when I walk out each step with an effort for excellence, something incredible reveals itself, replacing the obscurity or unclarity. Sometimes He asks us to be a listening ear or to help shoulder the load of a fellow human.

Great leaders abdicate themselves from immediate personal gain but avail themselves toward long-term goals. And when the time has come for the results to become manifest, the reward can be beyond comprehension. Sometimes, it will even positively affect generations to come.

So wherever you find yourself right now, take courage. Stay the course in excellence, and thank God for where He has placed you. As Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”