Reframe Your Work When Things are Tough

By Mark D. Roberts

October 8, 2018

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Ephesians 4:1


Are in you a tough spot right now? Perhaps you feel stuck in your career. Or maybe you have a bad boss. Or you might be feeling tired and discouraged in work.

A person walking up a steep incline.If you answered “no” to these questions, if things are going well with your work, that’s great. But I expect you’ve known harder times, and you may very well experience them again. So I’d encourage you to keep on reading. (According to a recent Gallup survey, 70% of American workers do not feel engaged with their work. So, even if they’re not miserable, most workers are not thriving in their work.)

The Apostle Paul was writing Ephesians from a tough spot, literally. He was being held as a prisoner, probably bound by chains in some form of house arrest (see 3:1, 6:19-20). Why was he in trouble with Rome? Because he had been preaching the good news of salvation through Christ, whom Paul identified as Lord. This stirred up opposition, something Rome didn’t appreciate. Plus, calling anyone other than Caesar “Lord” was tantamount to treason.

In the first verse of Ephesians 4, Paul does not speak of his imprisonment in historical terms. He is not “one sitting in chains in a Roman house.” Rather, Paul describes himself as a “prisoner for the Lord” (4:1). This translation is possible, though the original language could be rendered more literally as “the prisoner in the Lord.” Yes, he is a prisoner of Roman power. Yes, he is caught in chains. But Paul’s life is not defined by these external circumstances. Rather, his bondage is for Christ or of Christ or in Christ, even as Paul lives his whole life in Christ and for Christ’s purposes.

Notice that Paul does not live in denial. He does not ignore his chains. Rather, he sees them in a perspective that reframes his experience. What defines Paul’s life is not his experience of political and religious oppression. Rather, the defining characteristic of his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ and his commitment to live faithfully in light of his particular calling.

When we see our lives in primarily in terms of external circumstances, if we allow what happens to us to define us, then we can easily feel stuck, victimized, and discouraged. But if we can see from the perspective of faith, if we can view our lives in light of God’s grand purpose for the cosmos and for us, then we can reframe our experience. Even our challenges, disappointments, and suffering can have meaning in Christ. God can and will redeem the hardest parts of life, using them for our good and his glory.

Something to Think About:

Are you going through tough times right now in your work?

Are you currently experiencing difficulties that might look different if you were to see your whole life as “in Christ”?

Something to Do:

Take some time to reflect on your work (whether paid or unpaid). How might your faith in Christ help you to see your work in a fresh perspective? How might God be using your work, including its challenges and frustrations, to form you in Christ?


Gracious God, as I read Paul’s self-description in Ephesians 4, I am struck by how easily I can define my life primarily in terms of my circumstances. If my day is going well, then life has joy and meaning. If I’m feeling frustration or sadness or pain, then these emotions can determine how I experience everything else. Forgive me, Lord, when my perspective is narrow, selfish, or trivial.

Help me, I pray, to have the perspective of Paul the prisoner. Help me to see all of life in light of your grace. Give me eyes to see how all things in my life, even the difficult ones, find new meaning and purpose through you. May I live this day fully “in Christ,” relying on his grace and power, seeking his presence and glory in all things. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
God’s Grand Plan: A Practical Guide (Ephesians 4:1–6:24)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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