Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

I Gave at the Office (Mar-Apr 2003)

Filed under: — @ 2:34 am and

by Blaine McCormick
March – April, 2003

How would your job be different if you viewed it as your calling? This question deserves some attention among those of us who view “church on Sunday” as our sole gateway to furthering the Kingdom of God. Many of us view callings as something reserved for ministers and missionaries.

During his ministry, Jesus both talked and feasted with numerous tax collectors. We know the names of two: Matthew and Zacchaeus. Jesus called Matthew away from his work of tax collection with a simple, “Follow me.” Zacchaeus’ story was quite different. When Zacchaeus announced to Jesus that he was making restitution to those he had cheated, Jesus proclaimed to all that Zacchaeus had made things right. Interestingly enough, Zacchaeus was not called away from his work, nor were any other tax collectors of which we are aware. He was just asked to stay and do it the right way. Like Matthew, some are called to go. Like Zacchaeus, some are called to stay and do their daily work in a different way.

Some of us indeed may be called to stay, and our challenge at that point is learning to capture a spiritual vision for our work. Three things can help as we explore the intersection between work and faith. First, we need to rediscover the spiritual roots of work. Second, we can learn to practice the spiritual discipline of gratitude. Finally, we should awaken to the immortals in our midst.

Rediscover the spiritual roots of work

A broad assumption exists that work is a curse inflicted upon humankind. A careful reading of Genesis 1-3 is good tonic for those of us who grew up hearing the unfortunate country song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” The creation account clearly shows that humankind was created to work (Gen. 2:15) and that work is one of our original blessings along with earth, animals, food, companionship, the heavens, and rest, among other things. Our work was made more difficult as a result of the Fall (Gen. 3:17-19), but work wasn’t inflicted upon us at that point as a curse. The New Testament continues these themes in the Gospels. Jesus not only blessed people at their work (Luke 5:4-6, John 21:6), called people by their work (Luke 5:10), and taught people about the Kingdom of God using a work context (Luke 8:1-15, Luke 16:1-13, and Matthew 20:1-16 to point to just a few examples), he also is widely believed to have worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3).

In her essay “Why Work?” Dorothy Sayers develops this idea of Jesus as a worker and what that might mean for Christians. She wrote,
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to
exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.

When counseling people to help them capture a spiritual vision for their work, two activities seem immediately helpful. I first challenge people to rewrite their job description to capture both the material and spiritual dimension of work. Chances are that their employer has given them a job description that captures the material world. They must now create a job description to capture the spiritual world. For example, a restaurant manager I know grounds his spiritual job description in the Biblical ideals of celebration and hospitality in contrast to profit-per-customer, cash flow, and turnaround times on orders. A mediator I know isn’t about the business of conflict resolution. Rather, he’s into reconciliation. Conflict resolution is an industry. Reconciliation is a spiritual ideal. After doing this, I challenge people to give themselves a spiritual job title. A manager of a call center adopted “Minister of Joy” as his
spiritual job title. This reminds him that his most important spiritual task is transforming a windowless room full of telephones into a joyful workplace.

Develop the discipline of gratitude

Noted Bible scholar Matthew Henry wrote in his diary the day he was mugged, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before;
second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” Henry’s musings reveal a grateful heart well-tuned to the reality of grace in our lives.

Despite having a national holiday for giving thanks, Americans tend to struggle with gratitude because so few of us know poverty or realize our dependence. Furthermore, many of us fall prey to the illusion that our successes in life are due solely to our own talents and our own efforts. The phenomenon, which I call the “Capitalist Ideal” is illustrated in the green ovals of the above diagram.

The “Capitalist Ideal” is that those who work hard, live a clean life, go to college and continue to develop their talents will be the most rewarded. In the end, they have nobody to thank but themselves. The spiritual reality is (in part) captured by the blue ovals and it is a very different story. As we awaken to the spiritual reality of our own successes we realize that there’s much more to our successes in life than our own talents and our own efforts.

From where did our talents arise? Like it or not, everyone is a genetic combination of their parents and their parents and so on. Furthermore, God gifts each of us with unique talents and abilities beyond our genetic redispositions. When it comes to efforts, the story is much the same. Any work we do is supported by the accomplishments of others who built the highways, electrified the country, built the buildings, and so on. Beyond this, God gracefully carries us beyond our own capacity for accomplishment in many situations. Matthew Henry recognized this when he noted that it was he who was robbed not he who robbed. By the grace of God only had a sinner like Matthew Henry escaped a life of crime. The story of our successes is no different.

How can we practice this discipline of gratitude? One way is to take a regular inventory of your blessings by answering such questions as, “What did God gift me with at birth?” or “Who else has contributed to my success?” or “What hasn’t happened to me?” Lift a regular prayer of thanksgiving to God for the good things that have come into your life. Beyond prayer, you can extend this practice by making a gratitude list. Make it a regular habit to write down the names of those who have contributed to your success and then send them notes of thanks. Notes to individual people are great but you can even send a note of thanks to groups like the local city council or the eldership at church.

Awaken to the immortals in your midst

C.S. Lewis wrote in his essay, “The Weight of Glory,”
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

And who are these immortals? For starters try the slow cashier at the fast food chain or the waitress who got your order wrong. Then there’s the telemarketer who calls you during dinner or that automobile salesperson with whom you hate dealing. In the workplace, the sexy person in the next office is immortal and so is your supervisor. Our competitors and customers are immortals, too, even when they irritate us.

Once we’ve awakened to the immortals in our midst, different behaviors will be demanded of us. As a start, try using people’s names when-ever possible. Names help both humanize and immortalize people whom we might otherwise brush off. Another suggestion is to make eye contact and say “thank you” as often as possible with people at work and in the marketplace. Finally, pray with and for your co-workers, customers, and competitors whenever possible. Prayer helps us keep life in an eternal perspective.

Work is one of our greatest blessings and part of the very fabric of creation. By rediscovering the spiritual roots of work, practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude, and awakening to the immortals in our midst, we can begin recovering the other six days of the week for Kingdom work. My prayer for you is that you will begin to find God in your place of work much like the psalmist David. King David’s best known poem, Psalm 23, is nothing less than a celebration of how he awakened to the spiritual dimensions of his everyday job: shepherding. Are you able to write a God-honoring psalm about your life at work? If not, I hope this article has brought you a few steps closer.New Wineskins

Blaine McCormick

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