I still remember how my stomach turned when the CEO called everyone into the conference room. An unscheduled meeting on a Friday afternoon is never a good sign, and my stomach was right: In fifteen short minutes, we learned that our organization was relocating to another state and half the staff was being laid off. I was in the losing half.
That was several years ago, and since then I’ve experienced a few more job transitions — some planned and some unexpected. I can tell you from experience, it’s never easy to be out of work. In fact, it can be one of life’s hardest seasons. But it can also be a season full of tremendous blessings if you know where to look.
The Bible doesn’t speak directly to job loss because employment in the ancient world wasn’t exactly what it is today. There were no Fortune 500 companies, and small businesses were especially small — like, just one guy and maybe his sons. But God’s Word has plenty to teach us about life and work and what to do when we’re struggling to discover what’s next. Here are a few truths I’ve discovered along the way.
You were never your job.
This might seem obvious, but it’s a reminder many of us need. Often, we get so wrapped up in our careers until it’s hard to know where we stop and the job begins. Think about meeting a new acquaintance. What’s one of the first things we ask? “So, what do you do?” When you’re not working, that kind of question can hurt. But who we are can never be summed up by what we do.
Peter was a fisherman — but later he became a disciple of Jesus, an apostle, a teacher, a church leader, a writer, an evangelist and a missionary. If he had allowed himself to be defined by his job as a fisherman, he would never have seen how God could use him to change the world.
One of my favorite moments in Peter’s story is found in Luke 5. You may know the scene. Peter has just come in from a difficult night of fishing — and he’s caught nothing. But then he meets Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and offers the Rabbi the use of his boat as a makeshift pulpit. When Jesus is done teaching the crowds, He tells the frustrated fisherman to take his newly cleaned nets and cast them into the water one more time. The result? The biggest haul of fish Peter had ever seen. It took two boats to bring it in!
But what happens next is what gets me: Jesus told Peter to follow Him. And Peter did. Just like that, he was no longer a fisherman. He was a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. What he would become was left entirely up to Jesus.
A season of unemployment is the perfect time to daily remind yourself that if you are a follower of Jesus, your primary identity is as His disciple. Jobs will come and go, but Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). In fact, this moment between jobs might be just the time to consider whether He’s leading you to a new path entirely.
Consider all your options.
For most of us, work is not optional. We need to earn money to provide for ourselves and those we love. A job puts food on the table, clothes on our back and a roof above us. Ultimately, everything we have is given to us by God, but our work is the ordinary means by which He provides for us. Still, work eats up a big chunk of our days. Having a nine-to-five job means that most of our waking hours Monday through Friday are spent at work, getting ready for work, commuting to and from work, and preparing for our next day of work. That’s a lot of time, so we might as well make sure we’re doing something for a living that we enjoy.
King Solomon said that finding satisfaction in work is one of the secrets to life: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–25)
God has given each one of us certain skills, aptitudes, talents and personality traits. We shouldn’t be surprised that some tasks come more naturally than others, and that some work is actually fun. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to no longer live for the weekend? To wake up every morning looking forward to digging in at work?
Seek the kingdom first.
It may not seem this way while you’re walking through it, but one of the greatest blessings of unemployment is the time you have.
When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Martha was at work, so to speak. She “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40). Her sister, Mary, on the other hand, was decidedly not working. She was resting in the moment, sitting at Jesus’ feet in order to learn from Him. According to Jesus, the sister who made the best use of her time was Mary. She had “chosen the good portion” (v. 42).
Unemployment can be “the good portion,” a time to focus on Jesus. This may not come naturally at first. I know it didn’t for me. I was so consumed with reducing my bills, working on my résumé, and finding my next job that I almost threw away the treasure of time I had been given. My worries threatened to distract me from what was most important.
Jesus had a few things to say about worry: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25, 33).
Even when life seems to be upside-down and spiraling out of control, God is still on His throne. He will provide. By all means, make your résumé amazing, take steps to network, and spend time looking for a new job. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to sit with your Savior. This season may stretch you and shape you in ways you never thought possible, but don’t let yourself be trapped by anxiety. Some worrying is natural, but if we feed it, it can take over, eroding our trust in God when that trust might be all that’s getting us up in the morning.
Love and be loved.
A few hours before He would be arrested, Jesus told His disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). The next day, He would love His disciples by being beaten, lashed, and crucified for their sins as well as the sins of the whole world. And that was Jesus’ command to His followers: “Love each other the way I love you.”
Loving others is hard enough when things are going well, but the disciples were about to go into hiding. When their Master was arrested and executed, they thought they might be next. If there was ever a time for everyone to fend for themselves, this would have been it. But Jesus’ command still stood. He gave no exceptions, no loopholes. There is never a season when you or I are off the hook. Love has no expiration date.
Being out of work, it may seem you have little to offer others, but that’s not actually true. You still have gifts and resources available to you, even if money itself has become tight. Take this season to lean into Jesus’ command to love your brothers and sisters well. Part of God’s plan for your unemployment may be to bless others, so don’t miss out.
At the same time, it can be hard to accept the love of others when we need it most. But your church family is there to help when times are tough. Paul told the church in Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Accept financial assistance if you need it and it’s available. Take a friend up on that dinner invitation. Listen to career advice from those with wisdom to share.
Love goes both ways in Jesus’ family, so love and be loved. Offer help and accept it from others.
Your unemployment won’t last forever. Don’t waste it. Draw near to the Lord. Step into all that He has for you in this season. Have no regrets.
Copyright 2020 John Greco. All rights reserved.