Of all the aspects of being a disciple of Christ at work, the one that comes most naturally to me is working hard and doing my job with excellence. Part of this comes from being a task-oriented person, and part of it comes from the fact that I love to do what I do: computer programming. But this attitude is also commanded by God: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). This verse says that the work I do at my job is actually for God, and that I will be rewarded based on the work itself. Now, I would say that this “whatever you do” has a few qualifications from principles elsewhere in scripture. Working in an industry whose purpose is to encourage sin, such as the pornography industry, can’t be done for the Lord, and so a Christian should not participate in that. The same goes for companies that operate unethically as far as the Christian knows, such as by making false claims or not honoring their guarantees. But, other than these exceptions, any company that contributes to society in a meaningful way is something that is done for the Lord. One of humanity’s main purposes even before the fall was to work, and we will spend eternity on a new earth in which many theologians suggest that work will still play a role–so work is an important part of how we were created. I’ve actually found the principle of working for the Lord very transformative in how I approach my day-to-day tasks. If my employer is unappreciative, I know that God still appreciates what I’m doing. And if my employer is not asking for me to work with excellence, or even making it difficult for me to do so, I know that I should work with excellence anyway because I’m working for the Lord.
Another aspect of honoring Christ at work is actually honoring Him by leaving work. Despite some misconceptions, “work-life balance” isn’t just for married people. Even if you love working long hours, you’re commanded not to neglect meeting together with other Christians (Heb 10:25), but rather to exhort one another every day (Heb 3:13). This means having time for Christian friendships of a depth that would be difficult to achieve on lunch break alone. Another reason for leaving work is because of the Biblical concept of rest. God rested on the seventh day of creation and commands us to rest as well, whether we’re worn out or not, so that we remember that we’re finite and He is infinite, and that we can trust Him to provide for us without needing to work harder and harder ourselves. But married people do have an additional motivation for leaving work: if a Christian is married, his or her primary job and ministry is to their spouse and children. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25), and although we are to love everyone, that command gives priority to the spouse. Despite all these important reasons for work-life balance, I’ve found it to be a concept that’s often ignored, both in the secular and ministry workplace. My personal experience of this comes from the software industry, where project deadlines are often set before determining whether developers will have sufficient time to reach them, and where a web site error can mean being called up to work any hour of the day or night. However, in talking to friends across many industries, work-life balance seems to be difficult for many of them. The scary thing to me is when the only thing being discussed is the business’s bottom line, and not the personal lives of employees that will be impacted–or, if their lives are discussed, it’s only when emergencies drag out for days at a time, and employees have hardly gotten to see their families at all. One would think that working in ministry would prevent such problems, but the problems can sometimes be worse, due to a faulty theology that values “accomplishing big things for God” more than the aforementioned commands to fellowship and family, and more than the truths of human limitations.
I share all this not to scare anyone, but simply to make the point that work-life balance is a huge challenge today, and that being a disciple of Christ means making hard decisions about leaving work on time. Making these decisions may mean that you lose the good will of your employer, a promotion, or even your job. They may spare no effort in making you feel like the one at fault, so it’s important to know and be convinced of the importance of work-life balance yourself. This principle goes beyond the impact on the individual, however. A Christian who loves his or her friends and coworkers will be saddened when they’re pressured to work long hours as well. When I’ve been in a leadership role at work, it didn’t seem right for me to leave work on time and leave others in the lurch, coworkers who don’t value work-life balance as much. For this reason, I began regularly bringing up the concept of work-life balance to my boss and in team meetings, to try to help create an environment that values balance. Ultimately, it’s important to realize that some jobs and positions may not be possible for someone who values work-life balance. I will probably never be able to work at some of the computer companies whose products I get the most excited about, because of what I’ve heard about how demanding they are. For anyone with managerial or entrepreneurial interests, I would challenge you to use your opportunity to defend the work-life boundaries of those who report to you. You have an amazing opportunity to honor Christ by making it easier for a few people to give time to their friends and their families. And for everyone else, championing work-life balance is counter-cultural and represents the abundant life of Christ well to our overworked society.
The workplace can bring up and challenge character issues in a way that our leisure time never could, and working through these is another way to follow Christ at work. For me, the most deep-seated character issue that arises is worry. I struggle with the need to feel in control, and to plan for any contingency. After having been burned by too-demanding jobs as I described above, my tendency is to try to make sure I will have enough time to do what I need to do. When I worry that I won’t be able to get it all done, that can lead to lashing out in anger at anyone who seems to be standing in my way. Even if I do need to say things to make a project run better and finish on time, anger is never productive to that end, but only counterproductive–not to mention that we’re commanded not to be angry (Matt 5:22). These are just some of the sins that arise from my struggles with worry. Some of the times I pray the hardest are when I ask God to give me peace about my job, to help me to not worry about it when I’ve left for the day, to help me to be confident that I’m a good worker and am doing all I can, and to help me to be gracious to a coworker that frustrates me.
Even though I would say that worry is one of the root causes of my sins at work, I also need to focus attention on some of the outworkings of that struggle: personal relationships at work. This is important for all disciples of Christ, whether it comes easy for you or whether you’re more task-oriented like me. I have to constantly remind myself that, since I’m working for God, He doesn’t only want me to accomplish a task but also to love the people I come across. No matter how good I am at my job, and no matter how hard I work and what I accomplish, if I don’t have love, God looks upon it as accomplishing nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3). This isn’t only true for God, but my human employer would also agree that having healthy work relationships is a key part of my job responsibility–and the yearly reviews that most employers do with their employees reflect this. A previous employer of mine even offered various training courses on communication skills, conflict resolution, etc. These courses focus on the pragmatics on getting people to do what you want them to do. Recently, I realized that this is exactly the attitude I took with a previous coworker with whom I tended to conflict: I started being particularly nice to him to prevent him from getting upset with me. However, when I wasn’t with him, I’d grumble in my head or to others about him. Lately I’ve realized that this isn’t true discipleship to Christ: any nonbeliever could do exactly what I did, motivated by the same personal benefits.
What I’m praying for in the future, instead, is that I would actually love difficult coworkers. Many of us may go our whole lives without having “enemies” in the sense that Jesus meant the term: a nation (Rome) that oppresses our human and religious rights. The closest we may come to “enemies” are coworkers whose sins harm us and make our job more difficult, and may even blame us for things that aren’t our fault. If these are our enemies, then these are the enemies we’re commanded to love (Matthew 5:44). And this love is more than just gritting our teeth, doing the right thing though we resent them for it the whole time. Doing the right thing, even sacrificially, does not at all guarantee that it’s done with love (1 Cor 13:3). So what is love? It’s actually caring about a person, wanting good for them and reconciliation with them, even when they don’t deserve it. When Jesus was on the cross and asked the Father to forgive those who crucified them, was he thinking “I can’t stand them, but I know I should forgive them, so I guess I will if I have to”? That doesn’t sound like grace. Grace actually means caring about those who don’t deserve it. And that’s the kind of person (and coworker) I want to be. I want to love grace so much that I love getting chances to practice it, even when it’s difficult. Out of gratitude for the forgiveness God has given me, I want to forgive others (Matthew 18:21ff). When I have a coworker I regularly conflict with, I want to forgive them in my heart and not just my outward behavior, and wish them good, even if they never change or even notice how I’m treating them.
The area I’m most convicted about in obeying Christ at work is in evangelistic relationships. Because of the character challenges I mentioned above, I rarely feel like I am reflecting the gospel very well in my actions, or have an opportunity to share about it with words. People do think well of me at work, but not in a way that sets me apart from the world–not in kindness or in giving grace. I’m learning to come to terms with my personality, realizing that as an introvert I don’t need to try to be close to everyone I come in contact with. But I can have some close friends that I open up with to share about what matters to me. I think the root, for me, is that, because of these challenges, I don’t really trust God that he can use me at work, and so I don’t pray for coworkers to come to know Christ, or look for opportunities to love them and share with them. But, for many of these people, I may be the only committed disciple of Christ they run across in a given week. When I spend 40 or more hours a week with people and don’t let the gospel come out in my behavior or words, that seems a lot like hiding my lamp under a basket (Matthew 5:14). So, on this topic, I have very little advice, but only an encouragement to start down the journey of obedience that I myself am only starting on. Pray for the lost in your workplace. Pray that you would care about them. Pray that you would have genuine gracious love for them.
Contributed by Josh
Read other Stories of Integrating Faith and Work:
- Alleviating Poverty Through Business: Evan Keller
- Package Delivery as Prayer Ministry: Mike Warner
- Pastor: Beau Berman
- Share How You Integrate Faith and Work