The Happy, Humble Work of a Mother is a super blog post on the unique challenges of parenting pre-school kids. The heart-issue behind all of our work and especially work that is draining, repetitive and that often goes unthanked is ‘are we content to serve the needs of those who most need our help, regardless of their response?’ Well, in the gospel we remember that our work is an imitation of the work of God in Christ who came to serve us. As Melissa McDonald writes When ‘we humbly sacrifice our time and energy again (and again!). Joyfully we reflect our Savior.
Why not share it with those in need of encouragement in their work of raising kids today.
(HT: Mim Pike)
She has millions in the bank and a football hunk in her bed – but Victoria Beckham insists she still needs to prove herself every day. The singer and designer puts her success down to hard work and admitted her self-esteem often needed boosting. So began a piece in yesterday’s Metro newspaper reporting the edited highlights of an interview in this month’s Elle magazine with Posh. She says of herself;
When I was on-stage with the Spice Girls, I thought people were there to see the other four and not me. And when I go out with David and people take pictures I think, “They’re here to take David’s pictures.
On her move into the fashion industry she reveals how her fears about herself continue to fuel her ambitions. It was never my intention to prove anybody wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I don’t have to work, I need to work.
What’s more her insecurities find their own expression not just in the need to work but in the way she works. Admitting to being a ‘control freak’ she confesses You’ve got to trust people. Sometimes that’s difficult for me because I want to micro-manage absolutely everything. I can’t hand over. But I’m trying to do that more.
What Victoria Beckham recognises is that our fundamental insecurities about who we are and why we matter often find expression in our work. Whether that is the barely suppressed envy of colleagues or our need to control others or even the need to better them through overwork and unhealthy ambition, we are really struggling with our own identity and place in the world.
Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavour is a book in which he not only highlights these realities and their source but sets out just how the gospel is able to transform our work lives. Through the gospel we no longer need to work for an identity (which will always leave us insecure) but from an identity, given to us in Jesus Christ. Accepted by God, chosen and dearly loved, adopted as his children, our motives for work are transformed. Keller writes;
The truth will change your identity. It will convince you of your real, inestimable value. And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. Suddenly all the other things in your work life – your influence, your resume,and the benefits they bring you – become just things. You can risk them, spend them, and even lose them. You are free.
Taking the example of Esther in the Bible who as a royal Queen became a person of greatness not by trying to make a name for herself; and you will become a person of greatness not by trying to make yourself into one, but by serving the One who said to his Father, “For your sake, thy will be done.
Tim Keller’s new book Every good endeavour is the subject of conversation on an American TV breakfast show.
In essence the book explores how the gospel of Christ shapes our attitude to work. In the interview Keller says ‘When you make your work your identity you identify with your work and that means if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head. If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart and it destroys your self-worth.
Faith gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment and that gives you protection. If successful you stay humble if you’re not successful you have some ballast.
After yesterday’s post of 7 tips from friends of mine on their workplace witness for Christ here are a further 8 top tips from the same good people.
8. I think it’s important to socialise but not to compromise. I like to go out with my colleagues and join in the social events, but to be distinctive at them, eg for me that’s not drinking. I’ve had the most interesting conversations on nights out when people are more relaxed.
9. Be patient and in it for the long haul. You don’t have to be talking to people constantly about Jesus to be a good witness. As long as people know you’re a Christian, sometimes you just have to wait for them to come to you…and they will come. It took five years before one colleague/friend talked to me, and another 8 years for another colleague to take a real interest.
10. Don’t expect colleagues to behave as Christians would if they’re not Christians. Eg Some Christians ask others not to swear and blaspheme in front of them at work. In my opinion there are enough barriers to Christianity without putting more up (others may disagree with me though).
11. People will come and go at work. Don’t be disheartened when colleagues you’ve invested time in move on – we’re often just a small part of the bigger picture.
12. Accept that some colleagues will not like the fact you’re a Christian and it’s possible they will treat you unfairly because of it. Real wisdom is required in each situation.
13. Keep a long term perspective – in all likelihood you’re going to give more time to your colleagues than you receive back from them. Our reward is in heaven and it’s good to remember that.
14. I think it’s also worth saying that, whilst we should pray for and make the most of gospel opportunities at work, we should not beat ourselves up if we do not have a gospel conversation every day. Our first duty is to serve our employer well, i.e. to do the job we’re paid to do in the workplace God has chosen to place us. For most of us evangelism doesn’t feature on our job description but it should be a natural by-product of who we are as children of God. Echoing Nick’s point, if we’re genuinely saved and we’re genuine with our colleagues about who we are, then gospel opportunities will inevitably follow.
15. I also wouldn’t start by introducing yourself to anyone by saying ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I love Jesus’ because you may as well say ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I’m a nutter, give me a wide berth cos I’m going to Bible bash you at every opportunity’.
Yesterday I posted my own top tips on workplace evangelism. Today 7 very helpful comments on the do’s & don’t's as well as what keeps people going in their workplace witness
1. It’s not difficult being a witness at work – people just think it is. People are more afraid of what colleagues will think if they tell them they’re a Christian when in fact apathy is the biggest enemy. Telling people what you’re doing at the weekend (going to church on Sunday) introduces the idea and conversations will develop from there. I used to get raised eyebrows when I told people I taught Sunday School (we call it something else but everyone thinks they know what Sunday school is) – my response was usually ‘yes, if He’ll let me in, you can definitely get in’ type of thing. People will ask questions in their own time out of interest. I have never ever had anyone mock or criticise me when I have mentioned my faith at work.
2. Talking about anything that isn’t shallow is a challenge isn’t it? Try this test: how does your colleague feel about their relationship with their father? Its is rare to talk about serious things (apart from work) with colleagues. Recognising that is a helpful reality check and antidote to guilt.
3. We need to share our lives with our colleagues which means extending friendship/community to them:
Two ideas to initiate this:
i) deliberately take steps to signal that you trust colleagues by being willing to be vulnerable with them. Could be as simple as being more honest in answering bog standard Monday morning questions. Instead of: “My weekend was fine, thanks” maybe “Actually my weekend was crap to be honest. Something happened that upset me and I’d quite like to talk about it…” Could be a game changing conversation. Could also be asking for advice or help with something personal.
ii) Invite a colleague to your home for meal/social time (maybe with some of your Christian friends) rather than socialise at the usual after work bar. Relate to them as friends like any other rather than a sub-class of person who you can’t really get to know beyond work. The Pharisees thought people who didn’t follow their religion contaminated the holy. This was/is nonsense. Christians still need to be better at being willing to welcome non-Christians into their holy huddles (if the non-Christians are willing!).
It may seem counter intuitive to open up like this to non-Christians but it subverts a culture or a way of relating at arms length which is the enemy of gospel conversations.
4. It’s weird that I always think I should talk about God when my life is great and hide the times when life is bad. However, when I wasn’t a Christian it was those going through really tough times saying things like “He can help me through it” that touched me the most.
5. You’re paid to do a job, so the best witness is to do your best you can at your job and keep your integrity. This is the foundation for everything else.
6. Invest time to build genuine relationships but pick the right times. Be real and genuinely interested in people, but also be wise..you’re paid to work and not chat all day so make the most of lunch times and breaks to grab a coffee with colleagues.
7. Keep your eyes open – words aren’t always required. If you spot someone having a bad day, for example, offer to put the kettle on for them even if you don’t know them that well. This can help start a relationship.
It’s never easy to speak up for Christ at work. Here’s 11 top tips to aid our evangelism
2. Remember you are paid to do your job not to evangelise. Credibility as a witness means not abusing a trust. Make the most of an opportunity but don’t stop work for extended conversations.
3. Watch the way you live as well as speak. It might be a small thing but turning up for work on time (or not!) adds or detracts from your witness to Christ.
4. Recognise that the approach to witness will look different depending on your workplace context.
If you work in a place with a large turn-over of staff you may only have one or two opportunities with people. Being bold is the key.
If your workplace involves you working with the same people day in and day out then gentleness is crucial.
If you work in a place where you are very much a junior colleague being patient might be the key.
‘Earning’ the right to be heard might be necessary in a more hierarchical organisation that will require perseverance.
Working alongside more vulnerable people; hospital patients, school children, etc. will require discernment as to when it is appropriate to share.
5. Recognise that you can go long periods of time without an opportunity at work. The work place environment is not naturally conducive to deeper conversations.
6. Build trust by demonstrating the values of friendship – compassion, loyalty, vulnerability, openness.
7. Remember details as people have shared them with you eg. Partner’s name, children’s names, ages, interests and then try to follow them up in natural conversation.
8. Pray by name for people!
9. Read a Christian book at lunch-time but think carefully about your choice. Pick a title or topic that might open up conversation eg at the time of the Olympics a biography of Eric Liddell.
10. Prepare for Monday morning and the’ interesting weekend?’ questions that might come. Have something curious to say that provokes a response.
11. Be cautious of getting too friendly or personal with someone of the opposite sex. Friendliness on our part because we want to share Christ can, in a non-Christian’s mind, be confused for romantic interest.
The third installment on our series on work, stress, anxiety & the gospel. Today an opportunity to consider whether a time might come where the best way to deal with a difficult work situation is to move on. 14 useful questions to guide you;
How can I tell if I should persevere or leave my job?
Is it having a negative impact on my family that would be quickly removed by a change of job?
What is this job doing to me spiritually? No amount of job-satisfaction can possibly compensate for spiritual damage.
What is likely to happen if I do nothing about it for the next week, month, 6 months?
Is the stress leading to sin? Worry, or worse!
Is the stress leading to illness? Physical, emotional, spiritual
How is stress affecting my performance at work? Am I no-longer capable of doing this job well? Am I motivated enough?
How is stress affecting my witness at work? Is it obvious to all that I just don’t want to be here. Although there are other godly ways of staying and dealing with attitude issues it might be right to leave.
What are the alternatives before me? Eg. Resign, sign-off sick, take a different role in the same firm, etc.
Is it easily avoidable? Ie Am I the primary cause of the stress in which case how should I change the way in which I work?
Are there opportunities for witness that make it worthwhile to suffer stress? (Maybe we are all in the same situation and I can be a help to others, etc.)
What would I say to someone else if they were in my situation?
What spiritual support have you sought? Are there ways of being helped through it by the church?
What does my church-leader think?
Following on from an earlier post on work & stress here is part 2 on worry, stress & work.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
It’s quite normal in conversation to use the ideas of stress and anxiety interchangably as if they were either one and the same thing or necessary partners in crime but it’s important that we see that they are really very different things. Stress is a reaction of mind and body to increased pressure (Jago Wynne) and a normal experience that comes from living in a fallen world. There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about feelings of stress and we saw that both Paul and Jesus experienced stress in the work God called them to do.
Worry is an attitude of the mind. In the context of stress we can worry before, during and after times of stress. It is an attitude and response to stress. Jago Wynne summarises it this way - When we worry, we are stressed in the present about some event that may, or may not, happen in the future.
What is the relationship between stress and anxiety?
The key reason we need to appreciate the difference is that stress at work is often unavoidable but worry about work is always avoidable. It might be helpful to think of the relationship between temptation and sin in general. Jesus was tempted but without sin. So we might be tempted to sin as we glance at an attractive person as we walk along the street but we then make a choice to turn a situation of temptation into a sinful response when we lust after that person. We might be tempted to gossip about someone when we get asked a nosey question about them but we choose to sin when we give the information being sought.
So when it comes to the relationship between stress and anxiety Jago Wynne comments;
As Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he drew a division between two groups of people. Not a division between those who faced stressful situations and those who don’t, because we all face stressful situations. The challenge is that Jesus says, when it comes to the area of worry and stress, many of us who think of ourselves as very religious and Christian actually act just like those who are not Christian.
What should we do with worry?
4 things to understand;
1. Worry is usually sinful
We really do have a choice as God’s children not to worry that must be true because Jesus commands us not to worry about some things. So in Matthew 6:25-34 he tells his disciples I tell you, do not worry about your life before going on to give at least four reasons not to worry! More on that theme at an earlier post When worry becomes a way of life.
When we worry we demonstrate what someone has called a ‘practical atheism’.
2. Worry can spiritually destroy you
If we do allow stress to turn to anxiety and worry it can be spiritually very harmful, even fatally so. When we start to obsess about our work so much so that it becomes the focus of our thinking the burden can become overwhelming and it will be a huge distraction from our key priority - our relationship with Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
And in Luke 21:34 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
We need to understand that not only is worry sinful but it is a danger to us.
3. Worry about the right things
Maybe it is a surprise to you to hear that Jesus’ concern is not that we shouldn’t worry but that we should worry about the right things. Only if we stop worrying about the wrong things can we choose to worry about the right things.
Growing in our godliness is about being free from wrong concerns precisely so that we can be concerned about the right things.
Paul certainly knew what that felt like. In 2 Corinthians 11:28 writes And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Paul felt under a daily pressure in his work and it led to anxiety. This sense of ‘anxiety’ flowed from reports he received about the churches he had founded such as the Corinthians themselves. His anxiety was godly and profitable in that it led him to pray and work for their salvation.
Jesus warns us all in the sermon on the mount not to worry about life (which includes our work) but to give our attention to seeking first the Kingdom of heaven. We should worry when that is not our number one priority.
4. Worry should drive us to Christ
Stressful situations such as the daily pressure of work lead us to a place where we quickly become conscious that we have run out of resources to cope. The purpose of stress, like all temptation is to drive us to Christ.
The apostle Peter urges us to Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
When stress leads to anxiety we must give those anxieties to God.
Two more posts to follow; 1) managing times of stress and 2) when should we persevere in our work & when should we leave our job?
Last Thursday we looked at our second in a series of 3 seminars on issues relating to work. Posts on the first session ‘work & ambition’ can be viewed here and here. Here is the first of three posts on coping with stress and anxiety.
Work & anxiety
What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:23
1. Stress can be defined as ‘the reaction of mind and body to increased pressure’ – Jago Wynne
2. Although it can have positive effects it is usually a negative response to pressure. It can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illness and ultimately to a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with work.
3. Stress affects pretty much everyone at some time and is now the most common cause of sick leave from work.
A. Stress and work – a brief Bible overview
1. Stress has its origins in God…
We only experience stress because we live in a world subjected to frustration by God (Romans 8:20-23). That’s why your computer crashes!
We experience stress because we now live in a world in which work in particular is affected. In Genesis 3 we remember that work now has a downside ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’
2. Stress is exacerbated by our sin and the sin of others
The sin of others impacts our lives. Pride, selfish ambition become evident in work-place bullying, cultures of overwork, etc.
Our sin, particularly when we make work or what we derive from work our idol, means we choose to work in unhealthy, unsustainable ways and we put unfair and unrealistic pressures on ourselves.
3. Stress finds its resolution in Christ
In our culture we are given all sorts of remedies for stress. But if ’Stress originates in God’s righteous punishment, and only he is able to deal with it.’ Rodney Green
It makes sense that we should therefore look to him rather than to coping mechanisms to relieve feelings of stress. Restored to a right relationship with God through Christ we can now find rest in Christ. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28 .
4. Stress can have a God-given purpose in our lives
As Christians much stress is as a result of circumstances thrust upon us. How can we trust a sovereign God in times of stress and work?
Stress is not sinful in and of itself. It can infact be a godly reaction to circumstance. A sense of feeling overwhelmed becuase of trial, temptation, suffering, etc., is in no way wrong.
Reading Paul’s own account of stress directly as a result of the work that God gave him to do in 2 corinthians 1:8-11 and we find him describing himself as ‘under great pressure’ and ‘beyond our ability to endure’ so much so that he ‘despaired even of life’. Paul was certainly no super-hero immune from daily pressures. But through a time of trial he could testify that God had allowed him to endure so that he ‘might rely on God.’
Stress as an experience of suffering in a fallen world is common to all and God allows his people to suffer times of pressure so that we might not rely on techniques, breathing exercises, stress balls, etc. but on God himself.
The greatest encouragement for us when we go through difficult times at work is that it is Jesus himself who knew what it was to be stressed because of the work that God gave him to do (John 17:3). In the garden of Gethsemane we remember his experience of anguish (from the Greek word agonia) and we remember his response – prayer. He took his stress to God and God met him in his need. We are told that he experienced God’s grace through the ministry of an angel.
5. Stress will finally be gone!
Romans 5:2b-4 shows how suffering has the purpose of creating hope in our hearts. It works out character, perseverance and finally hope for the future. Whatever our struggles in a world of stress we do know that one day they will be gone and in the new creation work will be free from the effects of sin and judgement.
Next post: Worry, stress & work. What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Here’s the second part of the seminar I ran last week on work & ambition. You can find part 1 here.
B. Ambition in practice
1. Putting Ambition to work:
The Bible has a lot to say, especially in books like Proverbs & Ecclesiastes to help us define and pursue a godly ambition.
‘Diligence’ – a case-study in Proverbs adapted from Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms by Daniel Estes
Proverbs 22:29 – Work hard, learn a skill and This kind of diligence will lead to distinction (Estes)
Proverbs 11:27 – Estes comments - Failure can come in two ways. On the one hand, a person can focus on the wrong things, such as power, fame, convenience, popularity, or fun. Seeking fullfilmnent by these means leads inevitably to disappointment. On the other hand, one may have the right things in view, but be unfocused on them. This approach to life leads to aimlessness. True diligence stays focused on what is crucial, and in doing that, the person who searches intently for what is good will indeed find it.
Proverbs 21:5 – Hubbard draws out the point here - The diligent person not only works hard but plans well, measuring each step in the process and then carefully implementing the strategy. The ‘hasty’ settle for an approach that is quick and dirty, sloppily planned and halfheartedly implemented.
Proverbs 10:4 – Alden notes The generalisation here is that the industrious, conscientious worker is eventually recognised by his superior and promoted, while the man who constantly watches the clock and puts forth as little effort as possible will stay in the same slot forever, if he manages to keep his job.
There are character studies too that help us learn how to apply godly ambition. So the example o f Joseph, Genesis 39:2-6, or Daniel, 1:17-21, are two examples of God rewarding hard work.
2. Ambition frustrated
As Christians we are to pursue godly ambition but living in our fallen world we have to be prepared for some of our good ambitions to fall. Why might your ambitions go unrealised?
a) Unemployment or underemployment
Waiting is often God’s reorientation program aimed at our definition of success. – Dave Harvey
b) Unfulfilled ambitions
No one gets all he ever wanted or accomplishes all she set out to do. Our ambitions are strained through the limits of opportunity, resources, or our own physical capabilities. In other words, God’s sovereignty fixes certain limits to our lives. – Dave Harvey
c) Rejection for being a Christian
Read 1 Peter 2:18-22.
Q. Which of these three issues is biggest in your own mind? How does God’s sovereignty speak into unfulfilled ambition?
Making the connection between our circumstances and God’s goodness can be the difference between delight and disillusionment. This will transform the way you think about that promotion you didn’t get, the job interview that tanked, or the sales commission of the year that somehow evaporated. The denial of ambitions isn’t ultimately a penalty or punishment. It’s the gracious work of a loving God defining the path for our walk. – Dave Harvey
3. Ambitions prioritised
If we are ambitious for God’s glory above all things that will relativise our ambitions to glorify him through our work.
As Christians we have other priorities that might come before work; family, church, etc.
Q. Given the prospect of a promotion how do you decide whether it is the right next move for you?
How else ought your ambition for God’s glory be evident in your life that might limit your ambition at work?
4. Ambition and witness
If we work for God’s glory that should be evident to those around us.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:1 ‘All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect,so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.’
If your father or mother, your sister and brother, if the very cat and dog in the house are not happier for your being a Christian, it is a question whether you really are – Hudson Taylor
5. Ambition put to the test
a) I work with a true humility
Selfish ambition says ‘I have to have it and it will crush me if I don’t.’ Ambition rooted in God, an ambition that flows out of a secure identity in Christ says ‘I don’t need it; I’m happy to accept it.’
b) I am more concerned for holiness even if that costs me in my career
Matters of integrity, honesty, godly humility, may mean the loss of a competitive edge but produce in me a godly contentment.
c) God’s priorities are my priorities and work finds its proper place
God, spouse, children, church, job – in that order!
d) I am just as concerned to make a success of others as myself at work
Spurgeon wrote: The best ambition is: Who shall be the servant of all.
e) A failure to succeed at work (maybe even relative to others within the church) does not lead us to despair but humble trust.
f) Godly ambition puts the building of the church at the centre of our dreams
What is the biggest challenge to you when it comes to work & ambition?
How can others in the church help you pursue a godly ambition?
What is the first thing you’d like to change about your attitude to work to bring your thinking into line with God’s design for your work?
Further thinking on ambition head for Dave Harvey’s site www.rescuingambition.com
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