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    Turning Drudgery into Fulfilling Work

 

The passages below are taken from Bill Hybels’ book “Honest to God?” published in 1990 by Strand Publishing.

 

     I can’t believe it. Now I can buy a new car, pay off my house---and never work another day in my life!” Multi-million-dollar lottery winners often echo that rendition of everyone’s dream. Hollywood paints the fantasy in living color each time it produces a new variation on the old theme: Joe Average falls into enormous wealth and spends his days sipping exotic drinks on a palm-lined Caribbean beach. As the credits roll, we think, “That’s what I’d like to do: Quit work and play for the rest of my life.”

     Many people see work as a necessary evil. They endure the five-day workweek to support the activities of the workless weekend. They lie awake nights, scheming ways to arrange early retirement. Believing God inflicted labor on human beings as a punishment for disobedience, they imagine Him angrily screaming at Adam and Eve, “I’ll fix you. From now on, you’re doomed to the rock pile of human labor. The best years of your life will be wasted in work, work, work!” In their minds, work becomes a sentence to be served, a penance to be paid, a curse to be endured for as long as necessary.

 

CURSE OR BLESSING?

     The truth is, human labor was no more God’s curse than life itself. Though the Fall did lead to consequences that tainted work, we can’t forget that God introduced the concept of human labor before the Fall. When Adam and Eve were still innocent of sin, God gave them a job to do. He called Adam to name the animals, then asked Adam and Eve to subdue the animals, manage the Garden of Eden, and prepare food from the plants and trees He had provided.

     Why would a loving God put His children to work as soon as He created them? Because He knew human labor was a blessing. He knew it would provide them challenges, excitement, adventure, and rewards that nothing else would. He knew that creatures made in His image needed to devote their time to meaningful tasks.

     The writer of Ecclesiastes understood this when he wrote, “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him---for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 3:18 NIV). This writer understood that if we have enough to eat and drink, and if we enjoy our work, we are blessed people.

 

I CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO WORK

     Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of people who can’t wait to get up in the morning. I’ve met people who love being accountants, skilled craftsmen, commodities traders, schoolteachers, bank tellers, housecleaners, landscapers, hairstylists, mechanics, and every other kind of worker imaginable. And the vitality and enthusiasm generated by their love for their work affects positively their whole life. It spills over into their marriages, parenting, friendships, and recreational pursuits.

     On the other hand, I’ve met hundreds of people whose dissatisfaction with their jobs casts a shadow over every other dimension of life. They may earn the same money, enjoy the same prestige, and have the same job description as their satisfied counterparts, but they’re unhappy and frustrated. They take out their unhappiness on the kids and the dog, and they walk through life in a haze of bitterness and lethargy. They can’t wait to throw off the weight of their labors.

     What causes the difference? Why can two people share the same job, and one be joy-filled and energetic, while the other is unhappy and drained?

     The key is vocational authenticity, which means we have the right job, for the right reason, and enjoy the right rewards.

 

WHAT TURNS YOUR CRANK?

     Almost all satisfied workers share one thing in common: They labor in the field of their motivated abilities. They do work that is consistent with their God-given abilities, talents, and interest.

     Motivated abilities often appear in early childhood play. Some children have a natural aptitude for building things. In their hands simple blocks become architectural wonders and construction sets open a world of discovery. Other children find fascination in words and fill every quiet moment with books. Some spend free time on science projects. Still others gravitate naturally to athletics, or the arts.

     Some children enjoy playing alone, while others have to “invite a friend over” the minute they get home from school. Some emerge as natural leaders, and others are perfectly content to follow.

     Perceptive parents can often pick up hints about possible vocational pursuits in the way their children play. Wise parents will encourage their children in those directions. It’s not uncommon for satisfied workers to look back and see the seeds of their job success in their youthful recreational choices and extracurricular pursuits.

     When I was in youth ministry, one high school student emerged as an unusually gifted leader. When we divided the youth group into subgroups called teams, his team always developed the strongest identity and attracted the greatest number of new kids. He seemed to have a special knack for organizing, inspiring, and leading others. Today he’s on the management team at our church, overseeing nearly one hundred members of our pastoral staff. He’s an extremely effective manager because his responsibilities are consistent with his God-given abilities.

     Our director of programming also grew up in our youth group and also exhibited her natural aptitudes at an early age. In grade school she staged plays and musicals in her basement, taking shades off lamps to make spotlights, rearranging furniture to design sets, and raiding closets to create one-of-a-kind costumes. Then she invited neighbor kids to come and watch. In high school, instead of being in the school variety shows, she produced them. In college, she studied the communication arts. Now she coordinates the music, drama, media, and production departments at our church and is responsible for programming our midweek and weekend services.

     I know a salesman who could sell ice to an Eskimo, sand to a Bedouin, or anything to a Dutchman. (Being Dutch, I know what a challenge that is.) He describes himself as a kid who enjoyed highly social kinds of play, loved competition, and was always the life of the party. He was easily bored and needed constant challenge and stimulation. He was never happier than when he sold his sister’s Girl Scout cookies door to door! Is it any wonder he’s a successful salesman today?

     But let’s take that same relational, competitive, high-energy little guy, roll the years ahead, and make him the assistant librarian in the township library. How would you predict his job satisfaction level? I think he would last about two weeks---even if the job offered great pay and unbelievable perks. It wouldn’t meet his need for action, competition, and variety. It wouldn’t be in sync with his motivated abilities.

     The same thing would happen if we put a more introverted, reserved person on the front line of a Broadway production or made him the guest host on Saturday Night Live. With tremendous effort he might pull it off, but he’d hate every minute of it. From the job satisfaction standpoint, it would be an unmitigated disaster.

     God intends our work to be a natural expression of who we are, consistent with our inherent interests and abilities. When it isn’t, we feel out of place, insignificant, and either bored or defeated. When it is, we feel like we have something important to contribute, and we’re challenged without being overwhelmed.

     My daughter loves to sing and dance and act. Recently she performed in a musical production. As I tucked her into bed that night, she said, “You know, Dad, I feel like I really come to life when I’m singing and dancing. That’s when I live.” God wants each of us to have that kind of response to our life’s work. He wants our labors to energize us and pump vitality into our daily lives.

     Does yours? Is it consistent with your God-given uniqueness and your motivated abilities? If you can’t answer yes, or if you’ve never identified your motivated abilities, please visit a career counselor, take a vocational aptitude test, or read one of the excellent books on this subject. Two books I suggest are Finding a Job You Can Love by Ralph Mattson and Arthur Miller from Thomas Nelson Publishers and The 1988 What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Belles from Ten Speed Press.1

     Before deciding on a career, everyone ought to answer the “What turns your crank?” question. When we interview prospective church employees, we put it this way: “If you could wave a wand and write your own job description, what would you write? What do you love to do more than anything else? What do you feel you’re best at? How do you like to spend your vocational time?” We know that if we can shape a position closely consistent with those natural desires, we’ll have an enthusiastic, satisfied, effective worker.

     Extenuating circumstances sometimes force us to settle for jobs outside our range of interests and strengths, but to the extent we can, we should view them as temporary. God wants each of us to enjoy vocational authenticity, which begins with having a job consistent with our God-given motivated abilities.

 

AS FOR THE LORD

     The second requirement for an authentic job life is that we do our work for the right reason: to please and glorify God. When a Christian walks on the job site he should be thinking about more than making money, impressing the boss, or even how much he enjoys his work. He should be conjuring up ways to honor God through his marketplace endeavors.

     Colossians 3:23—24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

     Wherever we work, whatever our job description, our ultimate boss is Jesus Christ. He’s the one we need to please. When we do, our work becomes a source of worship. Our job site becomes a temple. Each project we undertake becomes an offering to God.

     But how do we do that? How do we honor God in the marketplace?

 

How We Work

     We honor God, first, by being credible workers. By striving for excellence. By earning a reputation for diligence, thoroughness, and conscientiousness. By making significant contributions to the work team.

     When I was chaplain for the Chicago Bears, I often heard behind-the-scenes analyses of various players. Players had little use for teammates who slacked off in practice, gave less than one hundred percent during games, were publicity-hounds, or seemed more concerned about money than the good of the team. Such players who claimed to be Christians dishonored the name of Christ.

     It should never be said of Christian workers that they are half-hearted, careless, tardy, irresponsible, whiny, or negligent. Behavior like that embarrasses God. It brings reproach on Him.

     Christian workers should epitomize character qualities like self-discipline, perseverance, and initiative. They should be self-motivated, prompt, organized, and industrious. Their efforts should result in work of the very highest quality.

     Why? Because they’re not just laying bricks; they’re building a wall for God’s glory. They’re not just teaching a class; they’re educating young students for God’s glory. They’re not just balancing the books; they’re keeping the ledgers in excellent order for God’s glory. They’re not just driving a tractor; they’re plowing a straight furrow for God’s glory.

     Again, Paul tells us to do our work “with all our hearts”---with energy and excellence. That’s the first step in honoring God in our work.

 

Who We Are

     Once we’ve established ourselves as valuable assets and credible workers, then we’re free to honor God on a more personal level: by who we are and how we behave in marketplace relationships.

     It goes without saying that Christians must exhibit personal integrity in the marketplace. We must shun, without exception, unethical business practices and financial improprieties, even violations as commonplace as making unauthorized calls on business phones or being careless with expense accounts. Christians must strive every day to be beyond reproach in all their marketplace dealings and practices.

     But that’s only the beginning. To really honor God by who we are, Christian workers need to conscientiously model a marketplace lifestyle directly opposed to the typical standard.

     Generally speaking, marketplace mentality centers solely on the bottom line: profits, quotas, sales reports, balance sheets, budgets, and competition. The goal is to pump out more work in less time with lower costs. In an environment like that, people become the lowest priority.

     Yet the marketplace cries out for humanness and compassion, for the touch of Christ likeness. Who better can provide that than Christian men and women who have experienced divine love and been transformed by divine power?

     Yet too often Christian workers get caught up in the same self-seeking mentality that snares unbelievers. Pretty soon they too relegate other people to low priority status. They become robot like in their encounters and superficial in their conversations. They no longer take time to offer compliments and affirmation, or respond to needs, or express interest in co-workers’ personal lives.

     Eventually co-workers get the message: “Christians are just like everybody else---more interested in profits than people; more concerned about themselves than others.”

     It is alarmingly easy for sincere believers to slip into self-centredness. I know. Time and again I’ve gotten so consumed with message preparation or administrative responsibilities that I’ve passed a staff member in the hallway, glimpsed a look of pain or frustration, and walked on, telling myself I was too busy to respond. “Hope he works it out,” I’d think. “Hope someone can help her.” Often I’ve been chastised by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit: “Who do you think you are? Where is the likeness of Christ I ought to see in you? Have you forgotten what’s really important?”

     Marketplace mentality is notoriously self-centered and survivalistic. Christians have the opportunity to mark the marketplace by overturning that modus operandi, by acting like brothers and sisters to their co-workers rather than like cutthroat competitors.

     Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In the marketplace that means we need to make time to express interest in others---in their spouse, kids, health, problems, goals, frustrations, hobbies, vacations, and dreams. Competitors don’t care about those things, but brothers and sisters do.

     We also need to be helpers in the marketplace. That may mean offering to take up slack in another worker’s load. It may mean staying late to help a partner finish a report, or occasionally working through lunch to help someone meet a deadline.

     Honoring God also requires Christians to be vulnerable in the marketplace. That means admitting to wrongdoing, and saying, “Look, I was feeling pressed and I took it out on you. I said things I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’m trying to overcome that problem.” Let’s face it. Even the most devout Christian is going to “botch it” now and then. We’re going to make mistakes, use poor judgment, lose our tempers, speak unkindly about someone, and fail to meet work standards.

     The important question is: What do we do then? Do we try to rationalize misbehavior? Do we throw the blame on someone else? Do we cover up?

     Contrary to what many Christians think, we do not have to be perfect to have integrity with unbelievers. We don’t have to be plastic caricatures with painted smiles. We need to be human, sincere, honest, transparent, humble---real people who make mistakes, admit them, and then move on.

     We honor God by being genuinely interested, by being helpers, by being vulnerable, and finally, by being reconcilers. More doors have been slammed, names called, and conversations coldly terminated in the marketplace than anywhere else. Rampant relational breakdown is almost a given. Christians honor God by entering that relational war zone as agents of reconciliation. That doesn’t mean they avoid conflict. It means they apply the principles of relational authenticity. They enter the tunnel of chaos, and even lead others there when necessary, knowing that openly dealing with hostility and misunderstanding is the only path to harmony

     In a milieu increasingly known for its impersonality and blatantly self-serving mentality, Christians have the opportunity to honor God by upholding a different code. Will it be a challenge? Will it sometimes meet resistance? Will it require sacrifices of time? Will it occasionally force Christians to lose the competitive edge? Will commitment to ethical practices sometimes mean fewer customers, lower profits, perhaps even job loss?

     Yes, to all those questions. Honoring God by who you are in the marketplace is no easy task. It demands a radical flip-flop of values, and a die-hard determination to row upstream. But it offers the potential to bring the impact of integrity and the touch of compassion to an environment often devoid of both. It also opens the door to a third means of honoring God in the marketplace.

 

What We Say

     Once we earn credibility by how we work and who we are, we then become free to make an eternal impact in our workaday world by what we say. We can be spokespersons who’ve earned the right to be heard, agents of divine change, missionaries to the marketplace.

     How do we start?

     By praying for divinely appointed opportunities to put our personal evangelistic styles to work. For some that will mean going out for lunch and sharing with their co-workers the stories of their conversions. For others it will mean extending mercy to a sick colleague---covering for the person at work, preparing a hot meal and delivering it at home, sending flowers or a gift of encouragement---and writing a simple note saying, “God has been so gracious to me. I just warned to share some of His love with you.” Others will buy tickets to a Christian concert and offer them to co-workers, or invite them to church and to their house for Sunday brunch. Still others will be led by the Spirit to confront co-workers with the futility of their pursuits and their need for a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ.

     Christians have often been ineffective in their attempts to make eternal impact because they’ve neglected the first two steps in honoring God in the marketplace. They’ve been careless workers whose shoddy methods and inferior standards offended co-workers. Or they’ve been inconsistent Christians whose behavior was shaped more by marketplace mindset than the mind of Christ. In either case, they’ve forfeited their credibility and turned an opportunity into a closed door.

     What a shame! For eight hours a day, five days a week, Christians rub shoulders with men and women who matter to God and desperately need to hear more about Him. Paul aptly wrote, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14 NIV). At work we can be that “someone” who can tell them.

     Jesus never commanded us to engage in theological debates with strangers, flaunt four-inch crosses and Jesus stickers, or throw out Christian catchphrases. But He did tell us to work and live in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right.

 

RIGHT REWARDS

     Vocational authenticity means we pursue the right job (in line with our motivated abilities), for the right reason (to honor God), and finally, that we enjoy the right rewards.

 

Confidence

     Have you ever been served in a restaurant by a brand new waiter or waitress? You can usually tell by their obvious nervousness and awkwardness. They often spill water and deliver food in a clumsy, disorganized fashion. And they tend to be either preoccupied and unavailable, or overly solicitous and bothersome.

     But if you happen to see them two weeks later, you’ll likely see an amazing transformation. Gone is the self-conscious nervousness. They adroitly balance four plates of food and a drinks platter, while they weave their way between crowded tables and banter freely with pleased patrons. Their motions are fluid, their manner comfortable, and they radiate a sense of healthy confidence.

     That’s one of the rewards of vocational authenticity. Confidence. It develops in our lives when we accept marketplace challenges and stretch our abilities.

     Once I questioned the concrete contractor working on our church addition about the rash of construction accidents I’d heard about recently. He looked me square in the eye and said, “You don’t have to worry about that here, Son. I’ve been pouring concrete foundations since before you were born. I poured my first concrete wall in 1946 and it’s still standing tall and strong. This building will be no problem.”

     Confidence in one’s competence is a blessing of incalculable worth. What better place to develop it than the marketplace?

     One of the most confident leaders in biblical history was King David. He was a self-assured leader, soldier, and statesman. Scripture gives some clues about how he developed that confidence. When he was just a small child, he was a shepherd. That meant he had to roam the countryside night and day, alone, to seek pastures and water for his sheep. All the while, he had to scan the hillsides to make sure no wild animals were lurking about. Scripture says that once a bear threatened the sheep, and David attacked and killed it. Later he did the same thing to a lion.

     When the need arose for a warrior to face the famed Goliath, David volunteered, citing his past success in defeating the bear and lion. When he became king, he overcame enemy armies and led Israel into its golden era.

    Where did David get the confidence to be such a strong and able leader? I think the seeds were sown on the hillsides of Palestine, when he took his first job as a shepherd boy.

     Few arenas make as rigorous demands on us as does the marketplace. It says, “Here’s a challenge. It’s up to you. Start in. Learn. Grow. Work hard. Get the job done.” When we start we feel uncomfortable and fearful. But as we become increasingly proficient in our tasks, those unpleasant sensations are gradually replaced by a satisfying sense of confidence. Almost without our realizing it, we begin thinking thoughts like these: “God has given me gifts and abilities and talents. I have strengths and valuable skills. I’m a competent person. I have something to offer this company. I can do excellent work. I’m an important member of the team.”

     Those moments of positive self-awareness are exactly what God had in mind for us to experience in the marketplace. God gave us abilities to invest in meaningful labor, in part, so we could receive the rich reward of self-confidence.

     Lottery winners often find that lying on the beach is not all it’s cracked up to be. God instituted human labor because He knew our confidence and self-esteem would soar, not in the ease of long-term leisure, but in the pursuit of meaningful labor.

 

Character Development

     The second reward of diligent labor is improved character. I can easily trace the development of my greatest character strengths back to he years when I worked in the family wholesale produce business.

     My dad loved to work. And he loved to put his kids to work. When I was in grade school, he’d wake me up at 5:00 A.M. and take me to the warehouse to unload semis filled with produce that needed to be distributed to local hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores.

     On more than one occasion, after an hour or two hauling cases of oranges, tomatoes, or lettuce, I would jump down from the trailer to take a break, only to have Dad see me and ask, “Is that truck all unloaded? If it isn’t, get back there and finish the job.”

    Later he put me to work on company farms, planting and harvesting seed. During the crucial planting weeks we would work from early morning to late at night. Sometimes in the middle of a burning afternoon, I’d cruise by the barn to refuel the tractor and ask if I could take a couple hours off and go water-skiing with my friends. He’d say, “Are you finished with the field? If not, get back to work. Finish the job, Son!”

     At the time I thought many of his requests were unreasonable. I hated it when he said, “Finish the job.” I thought his work ethic was way overdone! Now, more than ten years after his death, I thank God almost every day for using my dad and the marketplace to burn certain character qualities in my life. There’s a lot I lack in terms of natural ability and raw potential. But one thing I have in spades is the character quality of perseverance. I know how to finish the job.

     What’s great is that, like confidence, character improvements spill over into other areas of life. If I get frustrated in working through a relational difficulty, part of me says, “Give up. Take a break. It’s not worth it.” But another part says, “Keep trying. Pursue reconciliation. Finish the job.”

     If I’m struggling with my relationship with God, unaware of His presence and uninspired in my attempts to journal and pray, part of me says, “Forget it. Try again tomorrow. It’s not worth the effort.” But another part of me says, “Keep pursuing. Keep listening. Finish the job.”

     The marketplace affords us the opportunity to develop every character quality God wants us to have. Are you enrolled in the marketplace classroom of character development? Do you look for opportunities on the job to practice godly virtues?

     When you get bogged down in a frustrating assignment, do you give up or do you see it as a chance to grow in perseverance? When tempted by an unethical practice, do you yield or do you see it as a chance to grow in honesty? When you hear a friend being slandered, do you give silent assent, or do you stand up for your friend and practice loyalty? When you become irritated by a co-worker’s idiosyncrasies, do you criticize and belittle him, or do you commit yourself to learning greater tolerance? When you’re asked to stretch in an area of weakness, do you let fear stop you, or do you decide to muster courage and proceed?

     The marketplace can provide graduate-level instruction in character development that can transform our lives and free us to be the men and women God wants us to be. It’s up to us to use the opportunity and learn the lessons. Many people throw it away, but those who take advantage of it enjoy the unexpected reward of personal growth and maturity.

 

Feeling of Accomplishment

     When God completed His creative endeavors, He paused, looked over His handiwork, and said, “Behold! This is very good.” Oozing from that divine statement is the blessed feeling of accomplishment. It’s as though God were saying, “I conceived of this idea, I started the job, I stuck with it, I finished it, and I did it well.” There’s fulfillment in the completion of diligent labor:

     I think part of the appeal of the best-selling book, Iacocca, was Lee’s picture on the front cover. He’s leaning back in the leather chair in his office, cupping his hands behind his head, flashing his infectious smile. His demeanor effuses the satisfaction of accomplishment. You can almost read his thoughts. “I made a high-risk play. I accepted the challenge. I faced the adventure. I endured the difficulty. I beat the odds. I turned Chrysler around. And I feel great!”

     Meaningful labor gives each of us the opportunity to enjoy the blessing of accomplishment. It provides a sweet reward to the salesman who closes the deal and silently screams, “I did it!”; to the janitor who puts away the cleaning equipment and surveys an immaculate facility; to the teacher who finishes the last lecture; to the farmer who harvests the last row; to the soprano who sings the last note of the concert; to the accountant who balances the last ledger; to the athlete who showers and leaves the stadium; to the architect who finishes the final drawings; to the mother who finally puts the baby down for the night; to the student who completes the final exam.

     All of those moments are precious slices of reality reserved for people who labor diligently. When we engage in work that taps our God-given abilities, and when we do it to the best of our ability for God’s honor, then we enjoy those blessed moments of accomplishment. And nothing beats that! I’m all for leisure-time activities, vacations, diversions, and breaks. They bring much-needed balance and sanity to our lives. But their greatest value is that they refresh us so we can resume our labors with greater energy, effectiveness, and creativity—and know greater accomplishment.

     Human labor was designed by God, assigned to every one of us, and offered as an opportunity to build confidence, develop character, and enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment. Does that sound like a curse?

     Vocational authenticity, where we have the right job, for the right reason, and enjoy the right rewards, allows us to experience labor as the blessing it was meant to be.

 

ADDICTED!

     Unfortunately, the blessing becomes a curse to those who allow their professions to become obsessions. Some people develop a psychological addiction to their work that causes them to alienate family and friends, neglect their health, and sabotage their spiritual lives. Though they seldom admit that work is their god, it’s obvious to others. Their job is what they live for, what they dream of, what they sacrifice all else for. For them the blessing of human labor becomes what the next drink is to the alcoholic.

     Why do workaholics work too much, play too little, and allow their personal lives to disintegrate? Some assume the motivation is simple greed; they want more money. Others believe workaholics just love their jobs more than other people do. They overdose on job satisfaction. Still others think it’s purely a function of temperament type: Certain types are naturally driven to overwork.

     In reality, the driving force for most workaholics is personal insecurity. Certainly there are exceptions to this rule, but many workaholics have low self-esteem and a crying need for approval. Deep inside they feel like losers, and because they hate that feeling, they decide to do whatever it takes to prove they’re winners. They sacrifice everything---health, marriage, kids, sometimes their very soul---to prove they’re a Somebody. They believe that if they can be impressive, powerful, and wealthy, they’ll earn others’ respect, and eventually feel good about themselves. This may be a subconscious drive, but it’s as powerful as an addictive drug.

     Many workaholics grew up in homes where love and acceptance had to be earned by accomplishing tangible objectives. Because their love need was so strong, they pushed themselves unmercifully to produce, compete; and excel. As they grew older, they continued the pattern in an ongoing attempt to procure love.

     Others grew up in homes where alcoholism, parental death, or marital breakdown created an environment short on affection and warmth. This left them with an unmet longing to experience affection, to know they were treasured and appreciated, to feel like they mattered to someone. Thus they go through their adult lives striving---through their performance---to buy words of affirmation and approval.

 

AN UNBREAKABLE CYCLE

     Recently I learned of a man who worked so hard to build his company that his wife and children were on the point of leaving and his health was deteriorating. In desperation, he sold his company and bought a small-time marina on a beautiful lake. The family was delighted at the prospect of working together in a slow-paced family operation.

     But the change in geography didn’t change the man’s need to prove himself. Within five years he transformed the run-down marina into a multi-million dollar enterprise, the most innovative venture of its kind. A friend of mine spoke to him. “You must feel very proud every time you see that marina. It’s a tremendous accomplishment.” The man said, “No, every time I see it, I feel sick to my stomach. That marina has cost me everything.”

     It had. During the miraculous transformation of the marina, his wife and kids had lost hope and left him. His spiritual pursuits floundered in the abyss of over scheduling. And his body had succumbed to the heart disease that eventually took his life.

     Did he want to break out of the cycle of overwork? Yes. But his deep insecurity drove him to repeat the same mistakes he had made before. In the end he lost everything.

 

FREED BY LOVE

     Jesus asked a group of first-century workaholics how smart it was to gain the whole world and lose their very souls. How smart was it to win an insignificant race, and lose the real race? How smart was it to put everything in one little battle, and lose the war?

     These are sobering realities that strike at the heart of every workaholic. They force him or her to ask, “What can I do to get off the treadmill? How can I break the force of the drive? How can I withstand the pressure?”

     The answer is simple but profound: Workaholics have to be loved like they have never been loved before. They need to be affirmed, approved, treasured---even spoiled! Who can do that for them? Our God.

     I’m not saying that mere intellectual understanding of God’s love will free workaholics. They need to experience personally the purity and fullness of God’s love. On an emotional level they need to grasp the fact that they can’t earn God’s favor; they can only accept it as a free and unmerited gift. When workaholics experience the tender touch of God’s love, and the cleansing, forgiveness, and acceptance that accompany salvation, then they can become free from the bondage of workaholism. Resting in the security of God’s love will help them become less driven to impress others through their marketplace achievements.

     In addition to internalizing this spiritual understanding, workaholics need to take practical steps to break the bad habits associated with workaholism. First, they need to limit the number of hours they spend at their job. This doesn’t mean they “try” to leave the job site a little earlier. It means they decide on a set number of hours they’ll work, then stick with that commitment. If they can’t do it on their own, they need to have others hold them accountable.

     It’s no secret that I have wrestled with the disease of workaholism. Earlier in my ministry, I found it impossible to leave the office on time. There was enough work to keep me busy around the clock, and it nearly did. When I finally experienced a change of heart, I decided that nine and a half hours at work was my daily limit. Then I asked a few close friends to check up on me and make sure I left the office at the appointed time. Naturally I had to delegate certain responsibilities and formulate a more realistic job description.

     Second, workaholics recovering from their addiction need to set aside predetermined times to invest in marriage and family life. When I decided to modify my schedule, I determined that with the responsibilities of a home, a wife, and two young children, I had to be home four nights a week---not home in body only, with my mind preoccupied with ministry, but fully engaged in the lives of my wife and children. I decided that was what it would take for me to be a godly husband and father. I still maintain that commitment, and if I end up short one week, I make up for it with extra time the next.

     Third, workaholics need to plan breaks and vacations in advance---and take them! Workaholics are notorious for saying, “I’ll break away when I get the chance.” But they never do. I once talked to a man who claimed he hadn’t taken a vacation in twenty years. I wasn’t surprised; I had already met his wounded wife and kids. His workaholism was written all over their faces.

     Finally, the workaholic must learn how to say “No!” to that which would feed his illness. No to more work opportunities, more deals, more engagements, more appointments. Nonworkaholics can’t possibly understand how hard it is for workaholics to say no to opportunities to enhance their impressiveness. They need help from spouses, friends, perhaps even counselors. One workaholic I know checks out every new opportunity with her accountability group. That is the only way she can keep from making unhealthy commitments.

     Human labor is a blessing, but only when it takes its rightful place and is carefully balanced with spiritual, relational, recreational, and physical demands.

 

IT’S WHAT WE MAKE IT!

     For most of us, the vast majority of our time is devoted to work. That’s why it’s so important to experience vocational authenticity.

     If your job is drudgery because it’s not in line with your natural abilities, pray for self-understanding and begin to pursue career options. If you’re failing to honor God by how you work and behave in the marketplace, confess your sin and pray for the courage to be a genuine man or woman of God. If you’re not enjoying the rewards of meaningful labor, step out in faith. Try something new that stretches your abilities. Accept a challenge that will tap your potential and promote a sense of accomplishment.

     If personal insecurity has caused your work to become an obsession, memorize these words from Isaiah 43: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. You are precious and honored in my sight. . . I love you.” Immerse yourself in Scripture, books, and tapes that affirm God’s love for you. Then take practical steps to break the habits of workaholism.

     Human labor. A curse or a blessing? It’s what we make it. (135-151)

 

NOTES

1.     Other good books in this area include The Quick Job Hunting Map/A Past Way to Help and The Three Boxes of Life by Richard N. Bolles;

2.     Finding Work by James Bramlett;

3.     Get That Job and How to Get a Job in Chicago by Thomas M. Camden;

4.     The Complete Job Search Handbook by Howard Figler;

5.     Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury;

6.     The Robert Half Way to Get Hired in Today’s Job Market by Robert Half;

7.     Christians in the Marketplace by Bill Hybels;

8.     Get the Salary You Want by Marilyn M. Kennedy;

9.     The Job Hunters’ Handbook/A Christian Guide by Rodney S. Laughlin;

10.                     Sweaty Palms by Anthony H. Medley;

11.                     Parting Company by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera;

12.                     Getting a Job/A Guide for Choosing a Career by Michael Pountney;

13.                     Passages by Gail Sheehy.

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