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?
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
- Be realistic about your expected salary in this economic climate!
- If you’re doing a professional job expect your first few years to be tough. Growing up is hard! Trust God and man up!
- Don’t think of your first job as an extension of your degree; act maturely, work hard and earn respect for what you do
- Keep in close contact with your friends and even closer with your God.
- See your work as part of your service of Him, rather than a way of paying the bills so you can serve elsewhere.
- Read ‘Thank God it’s Monday by Mark Greene which is awesomely inspiring.
- Be prepared that you might find work hard, get challenged and feel rubbish! Your identity and worth more than ever needs to be rooted in Jesus and his grace.
- You don’t need to know what their plan is for the rest of life, or even their plan for next month; they do need to remember that Jesus is our shepherd and we are His.
- Go to sleep before midnight during the week. Trying to catch up with a cat nap in the loo’s at lunch, will not cut the mustard in the world of employment. Not that I ever did that…
- Pace yourself: you have to get up early, every day, for more than just a term. It is a shock to the system when you don’t have a month off every 13 weeks.
- Get into good habits & don’t despair: it does get easier to do.
- Read Maximum Joy by Julian hardyman
- Meditate regularly on Psalm 86:11 – ‘Unite my heart to fear your name.’ By guarding your heart closely in the ocean of secular culture you will be able to stand.
- Find a faithful church, plan to go, and initiate serving!
- Be regularly accountable in the deep places with a believer you trust
- Set up standing orders for giving so as not to be mastered by money
- Worship through work as if for God and not for men
- Ask your church if they can help you find a mentor. Someone 5 to 10 years older in the same kind of work
- Remember the fall and don’t be idealistic about work. The workplace is a still filled with sinners, just like you.
- Work out on what moral issues you will need to make a stand. Ask you mentor for advice on these areas.
- Be quick to tell others that you are a Christian but do it in a non-freaky way.
The single best book that I’ve come across for starting work is Working without wilting.
I’m preaching a series through the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment. Last Sunday it was on the 4th commandment ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy’. Here are the five reason I gave as to why as a Christian I am not a Sabbatarian and how the 4th commandment is fulfilled in Christ.
From Sabbath to Lord’s day
Reading the story of the early church in the book of Acts and other parts of the New Testament you discover that the earliest Christians, many of them Jews, changed the day on which they met to worship from Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath day) to Sunday a day that was called the Lord’s Day.
Something remarkable happened as a result of the resurrection of Jesus — all those first Christians who were Jews began to reorder the pattern of their weeks from Saturday to Sunday.
Three texts highlight the change:
Acts 20:9 – On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
1 Cor.16:1-2 – Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Revelation 1:10 – On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.
But might that just mean that Christians keep the commandment simply by shifting the day from a Saturday to a Sunday?
The Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the New Testament
Looking through the New Testament you discover that the Sabbath commandment is the only commandment of the 10 commandments not repeated for Christians. Nor is there any evidence of it being practised.
For at least the first 300 years of the life of the church the first day of the week, the Lord’s day was just a normal working day as it still is for Christians meeting in many Muslim countries today. Christians who met on the Lord’s day did so after work.
And what that also means is that
For many Christians Sabbath observance was not possible
Why is that so? Looking again at our commandment in Exodus 20:9-10 and it is clear that everyone was to stop work for the Sabbath. Men, women, sons, daughters, servants, animals and foreigners. In other words Old Testament Israel was told everyone had a day of rest.
But as the early church grew so most Christians in the ancient world didn’t live in Israel and many of them were gentile slaves. No less that two-thirds of the ancient world were slaves and their ability to even take a day off was entirely at the discretion of their masters. They were simply unable to keep a Sabbath. Time-off was at the mercy of their masters.
Israel as a nation were commanded by God to observe the Sabbath, Christians around the world were simply unable so it seems to me unthinkable that God could command his people to do that which humanly speaking they could not do..
Not until the first Christian Emperor Constantine declared that Sundays would be a day off.
But it’s not the Sabbath no longer has any relevance for it finds its fulfilment for us in Christ.
We enjoy our Sabbath-rest by resting in Jesus.
In our second reading tonight (Hebrews 3:7-4:13) we saw something of how the 4th commandment is fulfilled in Christ.
2 ways in which the 4th commandment finds its fulfilment in Jesus
We experience Sabbath rest now by trusting in Jesus
Now we who have believed enter that rest – Hebrews 4:3 (NIV)
If you are a Christian then you enjoy rest now. We rest in Christ and enjoy peace with him. Jesus described his very purpose in coming as giving us rest with God through thegospel (c.f.Matt 11:28-30). Only the Christian enjoys God’s rest in that we rest from our efforts to be saved by our works. The message of the gospel is not that we work for God but that he worked for us.
We will experience God’s eternal rest by trusting in Jesus
Hebrews 4:9-10 ‘So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.’
There is a future day in which we will rest in God’s presence in glory for ever. We will stop working as the church. No more evangelism, no more sermons to prepare, no more chairs to put out, no more missions and church planting.
So Christians don’t ignore the Sabbath command but experience it’s fulfilment in Jesus
The New Testament treats Sabbath observance as a matter of conscience
Wherever the Old Testament Sabbath is mentioned it is in the context of a freedom of conscience.
Paul writes to the Colossians: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
In Romans he writes: One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
So there we have 5 reasons why I’m not a Sabbatarian. In my next post however, I’ll say a little bit about why I do keep Sunday special as a Lord’s Day man.
Matt Perman in his excellent blog What’s Best Next has a post on 7 motives in our work. Something to get you going again on a Monday morning!
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- World Views
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- December 2015
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