Acton Institute Powerblog

Wounding Work: Creative Service as Cross Bearing

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gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world.

Thus, in our elevating of the meaning, dignity, and transcendent purpose of all work, those laboring in situations of unavoidable pain, difficulty, and frustration deserve careful attention, encouragement, and support.

Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKosterIn Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster offers such encouragement, which can serve as a reminder to us all, recognizing that although all work has meaning, for many it is a “daily wounding experience.” As Studs Terkel once wrote: “To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among us.”

“Work can wound,” DeKoster continues, and when it does, it may or may not be for just a short season. We are each called to a particular form and extent of service, and while we seem to understand the increased demands placed upon missionaries and martyrs, we should recognize that those in the workplace — whether in field, factory, or office tower — are often called to similar lengths of toil and sacrifice.

As DeKoster explains, when Jesus says to “take up your cross” and “lose your life to find it,” the work of our hands is not exempt:

As the Lord God surveys his world, what a host of rugged heroes and heroines of labor he must behold! Those who rise with the sun, lifelong, to jobs that demand endless self-sacrifice, and get in return but little reward in pay and still less in recognition. Those who see no sunshine all the day long, in the caverns of the earth or the noisome dungeons of heavy industry. And those—no less heroic—who find their substantial salary and bonuses but small recompense for the burdens, and the envy, their “success” involves. Those who must day by day drive weary bodies and spent minds to one more effort. Those who wrestle with bureaucracy to keep businesses solvent long after patience and pleasure are dead. Some who exercise initiative without appreciation, but persevere well beyond the need for personal monetary reward. Mothers whose lives are poured into their families; fathers whose bodies are sacrificed that their wives and children might live. God sees migrant families struggling hopelessly from dawn to dusk; peasants who grub like slaves without hope; service employees called any time for emergencies, surrendering their family holidays or busy through the dark of night.

“Lose your life …,” is Jesus asking us? He is talking about the martyrdoms of labor too.

Job heroism has no class distinctions, only differing forms. There are frontiers all over our workaday world requiring courage and perseverance as intrepid as ever conquered any geographical frontiers. Frontiers met and bested every day, in the kitchen, in the catacombs of industry, in the glare of the front office, in the high level visibility of the rich and the powerful.

Work can be cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing; because work is following the Lord in ways of service, be that in ways hidden to all but God alone or at an envied occupation demanding sacrifices only the doer can know.

Amidst our newfound prosperity, privilege, comfort, and leisure, let us remember that the fundamental call of the Gospel is service to others, and thus to God. “Christianity is not a detour around life’s problems,” DeKoster writes,” it leads us along the narrow way of shouldering our cross and becoming ‘sheep’ in the process.”

That applies to missions, ministry, family, and education, and it surely applies to the world of work.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”

Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)

This Combo Pack includes a letter from Evan and two discs for your player of choice: DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy seven episodes around 20 minutes each, along with episode teaser videos, a series trailer, and bonus content.

Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.

Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at

Joseph Sunde Joseph Sunde is a writer and project coordinator for the Acton Institute, serving as editor of the Letters to the Exiles blog and content manager of the Oikonomia channel at He is the founder of Remnant Culture and was a longtime contributor to AEI's Values & Capitalism project. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Mission:Work, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.