What is the dream? The perfect holiday. The long romantic weekend. Playing ball with the kids. The prosperous and relaxed retirement. What is the cliché? ‘No-one on their death-bed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”’
Let’s slow that down – because that reduces our work as a means to an end, and produces a frustrating feeling that work gets in the way of what we’re meant to be doing, which is having fun.
Work, biblically, has the usual good, bad, and ugly elements of any post-Fall experience. Good, because we are to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28.). Bad, because we now experience thorns and thistles and pain in that labour (Genesis 3:18-19). And ugly, because we bring our sinful hearts to the problem. The Wisdom writers, as so often, nail us: some of us are idle (Proverbs 24:29-31, for instance) and some of us are workaholics (Psalm 127:1).
Ugly, too, because in our stupid blindness we idolise our work, and seek to find in it the values and satisfaction which can only come from God (Isaiah 44:9-20).
But for all the frustrations of commuting, trivia, colleagues and bureaucracy, we still all know that deep down it is a good thing to have a reason to get out of bed and get to work. We are made for good work, and finding it is a deep need.
So here are three principles to guide us into a good place at work
1.Know why you’re there.
There basically only two reasons for doing anything: we love God, and we love our neighbours. We can do that in many ways: by painting a beautiful picture, helping a busy parent by being an efficient shop assistant, by being an honest lawyer and by being that busy parent. We shouldn’t limit what Christians do to the ‘caring professions’, because we can express neighbour-love in so many ways.
So, step one: identify how your job is an aspect of loving God, and loving your neighbour. If you can’t, you’re probably in a job where a Christian shouldn’t be.
Pastors – you need to know that your danger is that so any aspects of what you do fall under those two heads, that you have a dizzying range of things you could be doing. So it’s time to revisit Pastor Pareto. The Pareto Principle, you’ll remember, was named after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, and says that 80% of what we achieve is produced by 20% of activity. So if we can shift our attention and energy into multiplying that 20% we shall become increasingly productive. So, Pastor Pareto, what are the 20% of your activities which produce 80%of your effective ministry? And what are you doing which is just ‘busy work’?
2. Show up when you show up.
I’ve worked with people in the past, who simply turn up to work for the pay check. They are dispirited and dispiriting – we called them ROAD warriors (Retired On Active Duty).
But I’ve also worked with fantastically committed people who when they are there are fully engaged. They never multitask, rarely daydream, and see themselves as contributing extra value to their workplace. And when you put three of them in a room, something remarkable is always the result.
And I know many people who need to mentally regroup before they go to work, and to take an extra five minutes before they open the door to remind themselves why they are they, and what that day will contribute.
3. Pray for God’s blessing
Even in the most godless of workplaces Christians can pray, ‘May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands’ (Ps. 90:17). Even in the most secular planning meeting, we can be aware of the dangers and take guard: ‘Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”’ (James 4:14-15).
Work is a good thing. Take your best you with you.
- How does your work, including being a parent or being retired, show you love God and your neighbour?
- What are the good, bad, and ugly aspects of it – and you?
- Pastors – have you worked out your Pareto list? And what are you doing which is just ‘busy work’?
- Are you, or have you been, a ROAD warrior?
- What would it mean for God to bless your work?