The Secret To Life – And Work

By Robert D. Foster

Whenever I think about work, I am reminded of a quote from British sculptor Henry Moore: “What is the secret to life? It is to have a task, something you can devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.”

Work becomes associated with all kinds of evil: slavery, sweatshops, strikes, shoddy work, child abuse, inflated costs, low wages, and high profits. God gave the gift of work – and man has ruined it.

  • Some of us have experienced the pain of unfulfilling, mindless work.
  • Some of us have done good work which was not recognized or appreciated.
  • Some of us labor to the point of exhaustion.
  • Some of us watch as unrelenting poverty swallowed up our meager assets.
  • Some of us have experienced harassment on the job.
  • Some of us suffer the drudgery of work or the pain of unemployment.

For many, the successful businessperson’s dream is nice clothes, cars, houses, travel, and an extensive financial portfolio. At the end of five workdays, we are tempted to yell, “TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday!” For some, those five working days were just a way to accumulate money for an exotic vacation or our favorite leisure activities.

But work does not need to be a futile or meaningless pursuit. Take painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) as an example. Although he spent less than 10 years in his vocation as an artist, he produced nearly 900 watercolor paintings and 1,000 sketches before he died at age 37. Toward the end of his life, while living in Paris, van Gogh produced 228 paintings. One of them, “The Portrait of Doctor Gachet,” sold for $82.5 million at a New York City auction 100 years after his death. The bidding lasted less than three minutes!

Many of van Gogh’s subjects were workers – farmers, fishermen, weavers, housewives, factory employees and women mending nets. In 1885, he wrote to his brother, Theo, explaining his philosophy of work: “One must work and dare if one really wants to live.”

The Scriptures share the same perspective. The opening chapter of the Bible declares work was God’s idea: “So God created man in his own image…male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:27-28).

In the second chapter it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). In essence, God was delegating humankind to serve as stewards and caretakers of His creation.

The Bible’s New Testament also presents work from a very positive view. One translation expresses it this way: “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering that it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you full portion of all He owns” (Colossians 3:23-24). Work should be regarded as a privilege, not a curse.

Copyright 2023, Originally published in “Take Three On Monday Morning,” this was adapted from a message by Robert D. Foster, who died in 2016 at the age of 96. During his lifetime, Bob served on the staff of The Navigators, founded, and operated Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado Springs, Colo., was a member of the CBMC National Board, and continued traveling as an ambassador for Christ to different parts of the world well into his 90’s.

Reflection/Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think sculptor Henry Moore meant when he said the secret to life is a task you can devote your entire life to and “something you cannot possibly do”? Is he saying we should strive for things we consider beyond our grasp – and if so, what benefit is that for us?
  2. Can you identify with some of the “kinds of evil” that what work can represent? If so, which ones – and why?
  3. How do you respond to the statement by renowned artist Vincent van Gogh, “One must work and dare if one really wants to live”? Considering van Gogh died at the age of 37, do you think he accomplished his goal? Explain your answer.
  4. In what ways should it make a difference if we regard our job responsibilities “as working for the Lord” and not just for our bosses or “masters”?

NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to read more, consider the following passages:

Proverbs 12:11, 14:23, 22:29; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:17,22