Ecclesiastes 5.18-19; Ephesians 6.5-9; Matthew 21.28-32
Thinking better of it My dad had hinted quite clearly that he would like me to go out and start clearing the builders metal tape from the backyard so we could start to develop it into the verdant back lawn both my parents desired. I said I was busy sorting magazines in my haven at the back of the house. But once I’d looked out the window, I realised how miserable I was being to my dad, so got outside, grabbed a few tools and started digging up and hauling out all the tape that had bundled the bricks of which our house was built. After a couple of hours of sweat inducing, sun-tanning labour, my old man came out with a couple of glasses of ice-cold, homemade, ginger beer and a big grin on his face. “Here you deserve this – what a great job. We’ll soon be planting grass seed.” The work was necessary and rewarding, and I could have turned it into slavery with my negative attitude.
Curse or blessing Which of these is work to you? Is your attitude that of the exciting possibilities in Genesis 1.28, or the tragedy of Genesis 2.17-19? Looking back over my working life, I realised I have thought both, even in ministry when things are going badly. But an awful lot of my life has been in work I have enjoyed in one aspect or another, and especially these last 34 years. I believe work is meant to be a blessing, because in it we’re sharing the work of our Father as Creator and Sustainer of all that means life, it’s meant to energise and fill our enthusiasm for life, rather than deplete and drain us of our joy in living with and for others. At it’s best our work grows three things in us: Energy, Peace and Self-confidence. Let’s look at those in turn.
Energy When you spend your days in a job you love, that is a real close match to your passion in life, and is with people you enjoy and respect, you gain energy that actually fills your bucket (remember your bucket?) Whereas a job that makes you miserable and stresses you out, robs you of energy and leaves you tired and dispirited, and we find ourselves dragging ourselves to work, dreading going through the door and having to confront this or that fellow worker or boss.
So a good job is one that fills us up, gets us going, and to which we look forward every day.
Peace is missing when a work environment is toxic, when people are in constant conflict, suspicious of each other, and the bosses, feeling frustrated and unable to make good decisions. But a fulfilling place of work, where relationships and responsibilities function smoothly, and accomplishment is visible, has about it a sense of deep-seated peace, even when things are busy. Our workday is simplified and we are able to leave work at the place of work and give full and satisfied attention to our recreation.
Self-confidence comes as we draw competence from working in an environment that closely aligns with our passion or one in which we find fulfilment and a sense of accomplishment. You find yourself learning new and exciting things about your work, yourself, and your relationships with other similarly passionate people. You begin see that this is why God made you the way you are and how you function in this world. On the other hand a toxic work environment daily assaults your sense of self-worth and leaves you feeling stupid and useless and ill-equipped to function in,other areas of your life – your home life, your church, your cherished recreation.
Moving up or moving out So if your job is the blessing we all hope it will be, one has the opportunity to grow in the job or calling, learning new and exciting ways to do the work, ways to stay challenged and fulfilled rather than coasting along in a job that’s become all too easy. If you read the accounts of those who followed Jesus intimately, during His earthly ministry and beyond, you can see them learning new things about themselves, and this wonderful life Jesus called them to. Sharing the Good News, reaching out to heal people and deliver them from demons, leading growing groups of people, from ever expanding ranges of cultures to come and walk with them. The disciples discover how the Holy Spirit can change other’s lives as surely as He turned their live’s upside down.
If it is time to move on, either to grow or save yourself from a toxic environment, here are two factors to consider; and how you proceed will depend upon what is more important to you. First: how important is it that you work day-to-day in the area of your passion, and second; how important is it that you be richly rewarded for your labour. Some people are happy to work for less reward in order to work in their area of passion, and others would rather earn well and be content to pursue their passion in their recreation time. Your feelings in this are better faced now so that you can relax and enjoy your work either as answering your passion or resourcing your passion. Ask also whether the culture is healthy and whether you can help build that culture or whether you will be continually trying to bring down the culture.
Living scripturally in the workplace is something I wish someone had expounded to me much earlier in my working life – like when I was trying different ways to make money after school. Even though many workplaces encourage a less formal attitude toward senior or superior staff, we as Christians have to be careful not to take advantage of that and become disrespectful and careless in our performance of our roles. And if you’re a senior it is still important to behave with a certain amount of dignity as well as respect for those you lead. In my first place of work we young men and women were treated to the regrettable spectacle of our most senior boss getting very drunk and behaving with a complete lack of respect towards the young women on the staff. It was hard to take him seriously after that until a visiting professional reminded us that he was still the boss and still deserved our respect nonetheless.
Those who are employed have a responsibility to be restfully obedient, but also to be generous with our work time and our creativity, working to improve our employer’s reputation and enhance his success ion his chosen field. And for employers the standard is equally high. Suggesting that we treat our workers with respect and dignity, and neither oppress nor take advantage of them.[Ephesians 6.5-9]
And as well, in Matthew 21.28-32, Jesus advises that we should let our work do the talking. It’s very easy for some to talk a lot about the job, but the most impressive are those who actually do it and put in more than is asked for. In Wellington one of our worship team was a supermarket check-out boy, and he wanted to progress and earn more. Our suggestion was that instead of asking for more, that he should instead take on the extra jobs no-one wants, like mopping the floor at the end of the day or when it got noticeably grubby; staying a bit later and helping his immediate boss. Ultimately the manager asked if he’d like to step up a bit and become a baker, eventually becoming a lead baker, with the responsibility of going in early and firing up the ovens and getting the first steps under way. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ultimately that attitude and the resulting references got him into courses and jobs not even related to baking. He learnt through that attitude and application are high priorities if you want to enjoy and succeed in your work.
What opportunities are we daily being presented with that we’re missing because we’re not listening to God or ready to follow Him even in a difficult workplace?