The Christian at work (Part 5)

5 09 2008

This will be the final post in our series on the Christian at work. In previous installments, we have seen the following principles that ought to guide a believer’s attitudes and actions in his vocation:

  1. The principle of industry – work hard unto the glory of God
  2. The principle of direction – seek the Lord’s will for your particular calling
  3. The principle of active dependence – pray continually for God’s blessing on your labors
  4. The principle of consecration – do all your daily tasks humbly, as unto the Lord

The final principle we will address is the principle of contentment. In the previous post, reference was made to the increasing level of job dissatisfaction in the American workplace, and we noted that the self-conscious consecration of our daily tasks – even the smallest of them – to the Lord is a great preventative to grumbling and complaining. Our focus in this post is on the bigger picture. What do you hope to gain from your career? What are your goals? How do you arrive at your objectives? What standard of measurement do you use to evaluate success or failure? Are you disappointed and frustrated when the goals you have set do not come to fruition? Are you burned out and exhausted from chasing the elusive ideal of “success” as defined by the world?

Contentment with God will enable you to handle prosperity

The principle of contentment directs the follower of Christ to entrust the results of his labors to God. If a man commits himself to work hard for God’s glory, continually seeks God’s direction in his pursuits, prays constantly for the Lord to bless his endeavors, and purposes each day to do his work as unto the Lord, he will be able to rest in the assurance that the results are in the hands of God. The desire of his heart will be, not that he will be able to accomplish his personal objectives of amassing wealth and advancing his reputation, but that God will work out His sovereign purposes and glorify Himself through His servant. Spurgeon writes:

Faith hath a happy influence upon the present life, for it moderates a man’s feelings as to the result of his work. Sometimes the result of our work is prosperity, and here the grace of God prevents a surfeit of worldly things. There is a keen test of character in prosperity. Everybody longs for it, but it is not every man that can bear it when it comes. True faith forbids our setting great store by worldly goods and pleasures and enjoyments, for it teaches us that our treasure is in heaven. If we begin to idolize the things that are seen, we shall soon degenerate and turn aside from God. How easily we may spoil a blessing! Two friends gathered each a rose: the one was continually smelling at it, touching its leaves and handling it as if he could not hold it too fast. you do not wonder that it was soon withered. The other took his rose, enjoyed its perfume moderately, carried it in his hand for a while, and then placed it on the table in water, and hours after it was almost as fresh as when it was plucked from the bough. We may dote on our worldly gear until God becomes jealous of it, and sends a blight upon it; and, on the other hand, we may with holy moderateness use these things as not abusing them, and get from them the utmost good which they are capable of conveying to us. Many pursue wealth or fame as some eager boy hunts the painted butterfly: at last, after a long and weary run, he dashes it down with his cap, and with the stroke he spoils its beauty. Many a man hath reached the summit of a life-long ambition and found it to be mere vanity. In gaining all he has lost all; wealth has come, but the power to enjoy it has gone; life has been worn out in the pursuit, and no strength is left with which to enjoy the gain. It shall not be so with the man who lives by faith, for his chief joys are above, and his comfort lies within. To him God is joy so rich that other joy is comparatively flavourless.”

Contentment with God will enable you to handle adversity 

Today’s bookstores are filled with volumes on how to be wealthy and successful. I challenge you to find a book in the business section of your local Barnes & Noble on how to be content in the lean times. The world’s model knows nothing but the relentless drive toward increased riches, status, and power. When these goals are not reached, the result is often depression, work-a-holism, or even resorting to less than ethical practices to gain the desired outcome. The faith of the Christian frees him from this destructive cycle, by enabling him to rest in God’s wise governing of his affairs, and find ways to glorify his Lord even when He withholds material blessing for His own hidden purposes. Spurgeon comments:

But perchance the result of all our work may be adversity. Some men row very hard, and yet their boat makes no headway. When an opportunity presents itself the tide of trade suddenly turns against them. When they have corn in the mill the wind does not blow. Perhaps they lose all but their character, and then it is that faith comes in to cheer them under the disaster. I am deeply grieved when I hear of persons committing suicide because they were in difficulties: it is a dreadful thing thus to rush before one’s Creator unbidden. Faith sustains the heart and puts aside all thought of such desperate attempts to fly from present griefs by plunging into far more awful woes. We shall bear up and come through our trials triumphantly if we have faith in God. If our heavenly Father has appointed a bitter cup for us shall we not drink it? If the fields which we have tilled yield no harvests, and the beasts that we have foddered die in the stall, shall we not bow the head and say, “The Lord hath done it”? Must it not be right if the Lord ordains it? Let us bless him still. If not, it will be our unbelief which hinders. How many have been happy in poverty, happier than they were in wealth! How often have the saints rejoiced more during sickness than in their health. Payson declared that during illness he felt happier than he had ever been, far happier than he had ever expected to be. Though bereavement has come into the family, and sickness unto the household, yet faith has learned to sing in all weathers because her God is still the same.”

Contentment with God will equip you for every situation

So, what is the secret of success in business? Self-help books, seminars, consulting firms, and focus groups offer a variety of answers to this question, but all of them boil down to some variation of having confidence in yourself, drawing from your “inner-strength,” and finding that secret formula or magic pill that will propel you to the pinacle of achievement and prosperity. The faith of a Christian offers a radically different answer, because it has a very different definition of success. Faith desires, above all personal fulfillment, the glory of God and the enjoyment of His presence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: What is Man’s chief end? The answer is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If this is your definition of success, and this is the faith that captivates your heart, you will be equipped to face any situation with genuine peace and joy. Here is Spurgeon’s final word on the value of faith for everyday life: 

O brothers and sisters, faith is a precious preparative for anything and everything that comes; mind that you have it always ready for action. Do not leave it at home in time of storm as the foolish seaman left his anchor. It is not a grace to be shut up in a closet, or fastened to a communion table, or boxed up in a pew, but it is an everyday grace which is to be our companion in the shop and in the market, in the parlor and in the kitchen, in the workroom and in the field; ay, it may go into the workhouse with the poor, as well as into the mansion with the rich; it may either cheer the dreary hours of the infirmary, or sanctify the sunny weeks of holiday. Faith is for every place in which a good man may lawfully be found. ‘Should fate command you to the utmost verge of the green earth, to rivers unknown to song,’ yet shall a childlike faith in God find you a home in every clime, under every sky. Oh, to feel the power of it, as to all that comes of our labour, that the life which we live in the flesh may be lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.”





The Christian at work (Part 2)

26 08 2008

In part one of this series, we began to look at some basic principles for how faith impacts the attitude and behavior of a Christian in the workplace. The main points of this series are inspired by a message preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The first principle we considered was the principle of industry – that a Christian, by virtue of the transformation of his nature and the grace of God in his life, desires to work hard for the glory of God.

The second principle we may refer to as the principle of direction. How is an idividual to determine a specific calling or vocation as the position of labor and service that he should pursue? Worldly wisdom would suggest that a person choose a career based on personal goals and ambitions for wealth, status, or social advancement. For the Christian, the choice of a particular vocation is rooted in a desire to glorify God and to serve the ends of advancing His kingdom in the world. This is not to say that gaining wealth is evil in itself, but only that it ought not to be the driving motivation for a believer.

Is it a lawful calling?

Since the ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to glorify God, he will reject any career path that would involve compromising his faithfulness to God’s commandments. The first question, then, in a Christian’s choice of a calling ought to be, “Is it lawful”? Spurgeon wrote:

True faith in him who loved us, and gave himself for us, also seeks direction of the Lord as to the sphere of its action, and waits upon him to be guided by him in the choice of a calling. This part of our discourse may be useful to young persons who have not settled upon what they are to do in life. Faith is a great service to us here. Much depends upon the choice of our pursuits. Very grievous mistakes have been made here-as grievous mistakes as if a bird in the air should have undertaken the pursuits of a fish, or a labouring ox should have entered into competition with a race-horse. Some people are trying to do what they were never made for, ambitious beyond their line. This is a grievous evil. There should, therefore, be a seeking unto God for guidance and direction; and faith leads us to such seeking. This prayer may be used in many senses: “Show me what thou wouldest have me to do.” In the choice of a calling faith helps a Christian to refuse that which is the most lucrative if it be attended with a questionable morality. If the Christian could have huge purses of that gold which is coined out of the drunkenness, the lust, or the ungodliness of men, he would scorn to put them among his stores. Trades which are injurious to men’s minds and hearts are not lawful callings before God. Dishonest gain is awful loss. Gold gained by deceit or oppression shall burn into the soul of its owner as the fire of hell. “Make money,” said the worldling to his son; “make it honestly if you can, but, anyhow, make money.” Faith abhors this precept of Mammon, and having God’s providence for its inheritance, it scorns the devil’s bribe. Choose no calling over which you cannot ask God’s blessing, or you will be acting contrary to the law of faith. If you cannot conceive of the Lord Jesus wishing you success in a certain line of trade, do not touch it. If it is not possible to think of your Lord as smiling upon you in your daily calling, then your calling is not fit for a Christian to follow.

Has God gifted me for this career?

This is the second question a Christian should ask when considering a particular vocation. There are many indicators of God’s direction and will which may be found in our natural circumstances. Some men are born leaders, while others are more suited in temperament to be helpers. Some are naturally adept in mechanical skills, and some are more at ease in public speaking. For some, mathematical calculations come fairly easily, while others may excel in music and artistic expression. Natural talents and latent skills are gifts from God, and can often direct an individual to an area of service in His kingdom for which they are especially endowed. Thus, Spurgeon exhorts his hearers, when choosing a vocation, to give due consideration to the way that God has designed them:

Callings should be deliberately chosen with a view to our own suitableness for them. Faith watches the design of God, and desires to act according to his intent. It had been ill for David to have lived in retirement, or for the prophet Nathan to have aspired to the throne. The law of the kingdom is-“Every man in his own order”; or in other words, “Every man according to his several ability.” If the Lord has given us one talent let us use it in its own market; or if two, or five, let us trade with them where they can be most profitably employed, so that we may be found faithful servants in the day of the Master’s coming.”

Where has God placed me?

Here is a third question the Christian should ask when choosing a vocation. Not only an individual’s natural skills and talents, but also his circumstances often have a controlling effect on the course he is called to take in life. Discontentment has led many to spend their lives dreaming of greener pastures and jumping from job to job in an endless quest for a better future. Had they determined to “bloom where they were planted” and to joyfully and deliberately serve God where His providence placed them, they would have found countless opportunities to do good and spent many years in useful service. The Apostle Paul tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Spurgeon exhorts:

We should also by faith desire such a calling as Providence evidently has arranged and intended for us. Some persons have never had a free choice of what vocation they would follow; for from their birth, position, surroundings, and connections they are set in a certain line of things, like carriages on the tram lines, and they must follow on the appointed track, or stand still. Faith expects to hear the voice behind it saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Trusting to our own judgment often means following our own whims; but faith seeks direction from infallible wisdom, and so it is lead in a right way. God knows your capacity better than you do; entreat him to choose your inheritance for you. If the flowers were to revolt against the gardener, and each one should select its own soil, most of them would pine and die through their unsuitable position; but he who has studied their nature knows that this flower needs shade and damp; and another needs sunlight and a light soil; and so he puts his plants where they are most likely to flourish. God doeth the same with us. He hath made some to be kings, though few of those plants flourish much. He has made many to be poor, and the soil of poverty, though damp and cold, has produced many a glorious harvest for the great Reaper. The Lord has set some in places of peril, places from which they would gladly escape, but they are there preserved by his hand; he has planted many others in the quiet shade of obscurity, and they blossom to the praise of the great Husbandman.”

Seek Him early

Spurgeon is convinced that the sooner in life a person comes to faith in Christ, the better he will be prepared to ask and answer these questions and dedicate himself to a calling that will be both honoring to God and rewarding to the soul. If, instead, an individual places his hopes in worldly rewards and his trust in himself, he may succeed in amassing great wealth but his life on this earth will be restless and miserable, and his eternity worse.

So, then, you see, faith has much to do with the force and direction of our life in the flesh. It provides impetus by giving a man something to live for; it shows him the far-reaching influences of the thoughts and deeds of today, and how they issue in eternal results; and faith also takes the helm and steers the vessel along a safe channel towards the haven of holy rest. Happy are they who in the early days of their youth believe in him who loved them and gave himself for them, and so begin their life-walk with Jesus. Blessed be God for converting some of us while we were yet boys and girls. O happy young people, who begin life with the early dew of grace upon them! No prince of eastern empires was ever so richly bejewelled! You will not in after-days have to lament a score years spent in error, or half a life wasted in sin, or a whole seventy years frittered away in idleness. O that you, who are yet young, who have the world before you, may now be led by the Spirit to follow Christ, who pleased not himself but did the will of his Father, so shall the life that you live in the flesh be lived by the faith of the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you.”





The Christian at work (Part 1)

21 08 2008

This will be the first in a series of posts on the proper Christian attitude toward work. The content of these messages was inspired by a sermon preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon on May 22, 1881 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The sermon text was Galatians 2:20 – “The life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Spurgeon’s thesis was that genuine faith has a profound effect upon the whole man, including his attitude and actions in his vocation. In the introduction, he made the following remarks:

It would be a great pity, dear brethren, if in the process of being qualified for the next life we became disqualified for this; but it is not so. It would be a very strange thing if, in order to be fit for the company of angels, we should grow unfit to associate with men; but it is not so. It would be a singular circumstance if those who speak of heaven had nothing to say concerning the way thither; but it is not so… My brethren, true religion has as much to do with this world as with the world to come; it is always urging us onward to the higher and better life; but it does so by processes and precepts which fit us worthily to spend our days while here below. Godliness prepares us for the life which follows the laying down of this mortal flesh; but as Paul tells us in the text, it moulds the life which we now live in the flesh. Faith is a principle for present use… Godliness with contentment is great gain: it hath the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. The sphere of faith is earth and heaven, time and eternity; the sweep of its circle takes in the whole of our being-spirit, soul, and body; it comprehends the past and the future, and it certainly does not omit the present. With the things that now are the faith of Christians has to do; and it is concerning the life that we now live in the flesh that I shall now speak, trying, by the help of God’s Spirit, to show the influence which faith has upon it.”

True faith will have its due effect upon how we live our ordinary lives in the here-and-now. It will shape our conduct, not only in “spiritual” matters, but in our callings and vocations. This is true, whether one is called to the office of the ministry, or to the vocation of a butcher, a salesman, or a computer technician. The Bible knows of no division between spiritual life and ordinary life. For the Christian, all things are molded and directed by his relationship with Christ and the precepts of God’s word. What, then, are the Biblical principles that should guide the believer in his daily pursuits?

Spurgeon begins with the principle of industry.

“FAITH INCLINES A MAN TO AN INDUSTRIOUS LIFE. It suggests activity. I will venture to say of any lazy man that he has little or no faith in God for faith always- ‘worketh by love.’ I lay it down as a thesis which shall be proved by observation that a believing man becomes an active man, or else it is because he cannot act, and, therefore, what would have been activity runs into the channel of patience, and he endures with resignation the will of the Most High. He who does nothing believes nothing-that is to say, in reality and in truth. Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity. Look at the prodigal, and note his early desires. The life of grace begins to gleam into his spirit, and its first effect is the confession of sin. He cries, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ But what is the second effect? He desires to be doing something. ‘Make me as one of thy hired servants.’ Having nothing to do had helped to make him the prodigal he was. He had wasted his substance in riotous idleness, seeking enjoyment without employment. He had plunged into the foulest vices because he was master of money but not master of himself. It was not an ill thing for him when he was sent into the fields to feed swine: the company which he met with at the swine trough was better than that which he had kept at his banquets. One of the signs of the return of his soul’s sanity was his willingness to work, although it might be only as a menial servant in his father’s house. In actual history observe how Saul of Tarsus, even before he had found peaceful faith in Christ, cried, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ Faith arouses the soul to action. It is the first question of believing anxiety, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Hence faith is such a useful thing to men in the labour and travail of this mortal life, because it puts them into motion and supplies them with a motive for work. Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race.”

If you are a Christian, then you have been transformed into a new creature. The principle of newness is the re-creation, renewal, and re-invigoration of the image of God in you that was defaced by sin. Sin had turned all of your thoughts inward, toward self-interest, so that all of your attitudes and actions were geared toward satisfying your cravings for comfort and ease. God created man for honorable – that is, God-honoring – work. When He put Adam and Eve in the Garden, he charged them to tend it and cultivate it, to rule over the earth and subdue it.

Work itself is not part of the curse of sin. But sin has had a profound effect upon man’s attitude toward work. Because of sin, work has become a drudgery – “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.” But sin did not change the nature of work. It changed the nature of man. Instead of seeing work as a means to glorify God, fallen man sees work as a means to glorify and enrich himself. The end he has in view makes the means seem bitter, because the labor involved in work infringes upon man’s enjoyment and leisure. So he looks for ways to cut corners – to exert the minimum amount of effort for the maximum amount of reward. Sinful man is naturally lazy and self-indulgent, and it often shows in the workplace.

But the Christian, by God’s grace, has a new nature. His self-centered and self-indulgent mindset is transformed into one that is Christ-centered and God-honoring. So, for the Christian, work is no longer a drudgery that stands between himself and his desire for honor, enrichment, and ease. It is an honorable calling that allows him the great privilege of serving God by advancing His kingdom, exercising wise and careful stewardship over His creation, and contributing to the welfare and happiness of his fellow man.

“Everyone should follow an honourable vocation. It was a rule of the old church, and it ought to be one of the present- ‘If any man will not work neither let him eat.’ It is good for us all to have something to do, and plenty of it. When man was perfect God placed him in a paradise, but not in a dormitory. He set him in the garden to ‘dress it and to keep it.’ It would not have been a happy place for Adam if he had had nothing to do but to smell the roses and gaze at the flowers: work was as essential to the perfect man as it is to us, though it was not of the kind which brings sweat to the face or weariness to the limbs. In the garden of grace faith is set to a happy service, and never wishes to be otherwise than occupied for her Lord.”

“The text says, ‘The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Does faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him, suggest to the redeemed man that he should be industrious and active? Assuredly it does; for it sets the divine Saviour before him as an example, and where was there ever one who worked as Jesus did? In his early youth he said, ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ He was no loitering heir of a gentleman, but the toiling son of a carpenter. In after life it was his meat and his drink to do the will of him that sent him. He says, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ His was stern labour and sore travail: the zeal of God’s house did eat him up, and the intensity of love consumed him. He worked on until he could say, ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ Now, it is no small thing for a man to be roused by such an example, and to be made a partaker of such a spirit.”

What is your attitude towards work? Do you see it as a curse, or a blessing? Is it oppression, or opportunity? Are you industrious, or indolent? Is it a means to accomplish your personal goals of enrichment, ease and reputation, or a means to advance God’s glory by laboring in His vineyard? Let the word and example of Jesus Christ challenge you, in whatever calling God has placed you, to be diligently and cheerfully about your Father’s business.