What Does Your Work Say?

How would someone observing you describe your work?  More importantly, what would they say about the results of your work?  What are you accomplishing?  What does your work really say?

My guess is that most of you reading this have struggled with these questions and others like them.  We want purpose and meaning out of the things we devote our time to.  For most people, the work they do for a living has a tendency to take up the most significant amount of their time.  But deep down, do we really want our job defining who we are?

I don’t think so!  I mean, my job is directing prayer ministry within an international campus ministry organization and I don’t even want to be defined by that.  It’s not that I pray, or someone changes tires, or someone else teaches school, or raises their family, or whatever else it might be, that holds the real significance.  The real significance comes when we use whatever tasks we face to bring glory and honor to Jesus.

Paul mentions this when he writes to the Thessalonians and lets them know that he is constantly praying for them.  It is their work, labor, and endurance that stand out and get the attention of Paul.  Not so much what they were doing, but what their work said to all who observed.  Paul writes:

“We always thank God for you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what happened when we visited  you.”  (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4,7-9)

The work, labor, and endurance of the Thessalonians became a model for the entire region.  People everywhere could look at them and see how to put into practice the gospel of Jesus that was being preached.  When they turned to God, their lives were transformed and nothing would be the same again.  All it took was watching and listening to them and you would see the change that had taken place and become “infected” yourself.

So how do we experience that kind of a change so that our work , whatever it is, proclaims the transforming power of Jesus?  The key can be found in six words that we are familiar with separately, but rarely consider together.  Work, labor, and endurance are terms we are likely familiar with and don’t really care for or embrace all that willingly.  They are not things that we often rejoice over or long for more of — at least not until they are missing completely from our life. 

Yet Paul takes each of these words and connects it with a word that unlocks the incredible power of transformation.  Faith, love, and hope — words that we are quite familiar with from Paul.  Yet words we rarely connect with work, labor and endurance like Paul does.  The gospel came to the Thessalonians, “not simply with words but also with power” because their work was connected to faith, their labor was connected to love, and their endurance was connected to hope.

What does your work say?  Is your work, labor and love being done with faith, love, and hope in order to unleash the power of the gospel?  I pray that your work and my work says quite loudly that we are workers for God.  May people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven and say of us, “your faith in God has become known everywhere”.

Who Are You Working For?

As you consider the title question, Who Are You Working For, I imagine that a number of answers could probably come to mind.  The natural first thought is, “My employer — the person, company, or entity from which I draw a paycheck.”  Perhaps you even think a little deeper, considering the people that are the reason you work.  Maybe it is a spouse, family, children, parents, or someone that you have a desire to provide for so you would say, “I’m working for them.”  Maybe it is yourself.  Not that you are necessarily self-employed, but you are working so that you can have the things you want.

Sometimes it is easy to miss the Biblical instruction about our work ethic because the writers use language and terminology that our American culture — and much of the world — isn’t intimately familiar with, or we simply avoid considering it.  Paul, for example, consistently addresses how slaves ought to react to their masters and how masters ought to treat their slaves.  It is as if we come to those passages and we just skip over them because we are neither slave or master.  In doing so, we miss some valuable lessons that could be ours if we better understood how the principles being taught apply to each of us today.

For example, Paul’s writing in Colossians 3:22-4:1 begins, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters . . .”.  Instead of skipping over this section until we find something we think applies, why don’t we consider how Paul might have written this part of the letter if he were writing to today’s culture.  Perhaps something like this:

Employees, obey your earthly employers in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human employers, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Those who do wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.  Bosses, provide your employees with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Boss in heaven.

Changing a few words so that I can see myself more easily doesn’t change the principles that God wants us to get.  This passage isn’t a Biblical mandate for, or against, slavery.  It is a Spirit breathed teaching on how God wants us to see the work we do.  Even when “forced” to do a task we don’t like, God says to do it with sincerity and reverence for Him.  How often does an employer give instructions that we don’t like and we mutter under our breath and mock our boss the entire time we carry out the task?  That wouldn’t be “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord”, would it?  We get sidetracked so easily from the Biblical principle, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord”.  What would life be like if Christians everywhere actually lived this principle consistently?  What would your life, and my life, be like if we put this teaching into practice daily?

I can’t help but think of the contrasts I have noticed at a local Taco Bell that I’ve been known to frequent.  I actually hadn’t been to this particular location for quite some time.  It simply had gotten to the point that it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  Oh, the food was good and the customer service was even okay.  I couldn’t stand the fighting that was constant behind the counter and in the kitchen.  If there were any Christians that worked there at the time, it wasn’t obvious.  They definitely hadn’t applied the above verses out of Colossians to their situation at work.  The managers would be yelling at the employees about work needing done and the speed in which it wasn’t being accomplished.  The employees would be yelling back at the managers about anything and everything — it didn’t have to even be work related.  Both sides, when the other would turn away and do something, would mock each other to anyone who would pay attention.  Needless to say, it only took a couple of visits with that going on before I decided I really didn’t need Taco Bell that badly.

I ended up back there a few weeks ago after a six month or so break.  I couldn’t believe the difference!  Everyone was working together — from employee to manager.  The words being spoken between them were words that were helpful and encouraging.  Requests were made of one another and I don’t think I heard any demands.  The normal “standing around, that’s not my job” attitude seemed to be missing.  There was an overall willingness to pitch in and do whatever needed done.  Taking food orders, cleaning, filling orders, taking out trash, or whatever else needed done, simply got done with no complaint.  The shift supervisor?  She’s a Christian creating an atmosphere where everyone is doing their work for God, not for men — whether they know it or not. 

Living out this teaching from Colossians 3 does make a difference.  It is so radically different from the way the world typically operates that it stands out and can’t help but be noticed.

In whatever we do, I pray that you and I would work at it with all our heart, knowing it is the Lord we work for.

Work That Counts!

I wrote the following as a church newsletter article in March 2002 and previously posted it as “Work That Really Pays!”  The verse is today’s text in our “View From The Top: What Does God Say?” study, so I’ve just copied my old writing here as a reminder.  -tom   

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:58

Does your work make a difference?  Do you ever end the day feeling that all of your efforts were a waste of time?  How often do you wonder what you are really accomplishing in life?

The Bible gives a simply stated solution to living a life that counts.  We find it in many places, including the verse above.  The problem, as in many Biblical truths, comes in the application.  It is easy enough to read a command, “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord”, but it is a completely different thing to actually live it out each and every day.  We read along in our Bibles and see the word “always” and assume that this must only apply to those who work in full time professional ministry.  However, the context of this verse indicates it is meant for all believers who have the hope and assurance of a ressurection of the dead.  That is the “therefore” part of the verse.  Since death has been defeated and we have the assurance of life eternal with Jesus, we know our work is never in vain when it is the work of the Lord being done.

Teaching, serving, giving, sharing, cleaning, etc., are all things that are very necessary to the work of the Lord continuing within the local church.  The work of the Lord is also done wherever you are when you take seriously the Lord’s command to make disciples.  When you devote your life to making disciples, you truly “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven”.  As you live a life committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus, you will have found work that really pays

May God bless your work for Him.

You Want ME To Do WHAT!?

I imagine the silence was deafening.  The meal was prepared.  The table was set.  The food was spread before them.  Yet everyone knew one thing was not yet done.  One thing so simple, yet no one wanted to do it.  No volunteer stepped forward and said, “Let me.” 

You’ve been there, right?  In the middle of a group, surrounded by awkward silence because everyone is avoiding the one thing that needs done and no one wants to do it.  To bring it up seems so trivial because all eyes become focused on you with one question, “If it is so important to you, why don’t you do it yourself?” 

And so the waiting game begins.  Who will break first?  Will anyone break at all?  Will we finish what we gathered for and leave — with the one obvious task left unaddressed and undone?  Don’t look at me, I brought the drinks!  . . . Well, I made arrangements for the banquet room!  . . . Is that right?  Well, I’m actually comfortable the way I am so I don’t care if we leave this whole matter undone!

Is it possible for deafening silence to get even more silent?  If so, what happens next had to silence not only the words, but the very inner-most part of this gathering.  Let’s listen in:

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”  (John 13:3-5)

What!  This can’t be!  Someone needed to do this task, but not Him!  I mean, this is Jesus . . . Son of God . . . Messiah!  The one person in the room that I acknowledge as above me and better in every way.  Why is He doing this?  He should have picked someone, I mean, I would have even done this if He had asked and I knew I was doing it for Him!  But do it Himself?  This can’t be right!  Why?

Why?  It had to be the question in each person’s mind around the table that night in the upper room.  In the midst of the silence and questioning, Jesus points that out as He concludes washing their feet and asks the disciples, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  He evidently knows that they don’t understand, and without an explanation we wouldn’t get it either.  So He explains.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do a I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  (John 13:13-17)

Jesus wanted His disciples, and us, to understand that living the life of a servant was mandatory for His followers.  If Jesus would humble Himself and become obedient, even to death on a cross — and to serving His disciples — how willingly should we imitate His example and serve others?  We’re not greater than our master, are we?  We’re not above the one who sent us, are we?  As workers for God, how much more should we adopt the attitude of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve? 

I pray that the next time that you or I are in the midst of a group, or even by our self, avoiding something because no one wants to do it, we would remember the example of Jesus and step forward to serve!

Who Are YOU Looking Out For?

As I continue the study series this week, “God Says I Am A Worker”, I’m reminded of a line I heard last week as my daughter was watching a recording of a “Seventh Heaven” episode.  Throughout the series, the oldest son, Matt, seems to struggle with the concept of getting and keeping a job.  This was the case in the episode I overheard.  At one point, the dad, Rev. Camden, tells his son that there is an important lesson about work that he has yet to learn.  After getting a job and getting fired and/or quitting it on the same day, Matt is curious about what this secret lesson might be.  The answer is simple and straightforward:  “Being an employee means that your number one goal is to make your employer look good.”  To which Matt quickly responds, “I guess I’ll have to do a better job of selecting an employer next time!”

As I thought about that conversation, I couldn’t help but think of today’s text in this study series, Philippians 2:19-24.

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.  I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.  For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.  I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.  And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”

We see that Paul’s interest in how the Philippian Christians are doing causes him to make plans to send Timothy to get a first-hand report.  Timothy is chosen because of those around Paul, there is no one like Timothy.  Paul understood that Timothy would go, not to see what benefit he could gain or how he could be helped along in ministry, but with the purpose of concern for those he would visit.  As I read this passage, it could have been written today — “For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”  Our society is filled with messages that command us to “look out for number one”.  We are told, “if you don’t take care of yourself, then nobody will”.  So as a society, we raise up individuals who know nothing of genuine concern for another’s welfare

Timothy had learned on a larger scale that lesson Rev. Camden wanted his son to know — As a worker, your number one priority is to make the one you work for look good!  As a Christian, the One we work for is God.  Who issues your paycheck and what you do occupationally isn’t the issue as much as who is really in charge of your life?  Paul knew that Timothy was different than everyone else around him.  Paul knew this because Timothy had learned those lessons of putting Jesus first and the needs of others ahead of his own from Paul himself.  Timothy learned as a son to Paul, eager to imitate and please this “father” in his life. 

Timothy’s diligence in serving with Paul in the work of the gospel, and even in serving Paul as a son, serves as an example for us.  Will you and I allow God to transform our life in such a way that someone would write of us, “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.”?  For that to happen, we must refuse the trap of “looking out for our own interest” and wholeheartedly pursue the interests of Jesus.

I pray that you and I will be genuine workers for God, striving above all else to make the One we work for look good to our community, nation, and world.

A Worker Sent By God

I had the privilege of preaching tonight in our church’s study, “A View From The Top: What Does God Say?”.  This week’s topic is focused on the subject, “God Says I Am A Worker”

As I thought about this idea in preparation for tonight’s sermon, I kept thinking about the words of Jesus that “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth workers into His harvest field.”  It is interesting to see the response to this request of Jesus.  When Jesus makes this statement at the end of Matthew 9, He is addressing His disciples.  I have to assume that since Jesus was asking, that they did as instructed and prayed that the “Lord of the harvest would send forth workers into His harvest field.” 

So, what happens?  To those that were asked to pray, Jesus says, “You’re it!”  The next chapter begins with Jesus sending out the twelve into the countryside and villages proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, and casting out demons.  The scene is repeated in Luke 10 with a larger group.  Luke 9 records the sending out of the twelve that Matthew wrote about and then Luke 10 begins with Jesus appointing seventy-two others and telling them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers.  The exact same response . . . Jesus says, “You’re it!”  The seventy-two are then sent out in pairs to be the workers in the harvest field that they had just been instructed to ask for.

When God says that I am a worker, He says that I am a sent worker.  I looked at this tonight, using SENT as an acronym for the kind of worker God has called His followers to be.

First, a worker sent by God is surrendered.  John 9 opens with the disciples of Jesus asking Him a question about who was at fault for a man’s blindness.  The response of Jesus is that no one is to blame, this man was blind for the purpose of bringing glory to God.  He then makes this statement in John 9:4:  “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work.”  Did you catch that?  It wasn’t just Jesus who needed to be about the work of His Father.  Jesus addressed His followers and said, “We must do the work of him who sent me.”  To do the work of our Father means that our will must be surrendered to Him.  As a worker sent by God my plans, my desires, my logic, my comfort, my will must be surrendered so that my work is done in a way that brings glory to God.

Secondly, a worker sent by God is equipped.  Ephesians 4 tells us that God called some to the work of apostles, some to the work of prophets, some to the work of evangelists, and some to the work of pastors and teachers for a purpose.  That purpose is to equip the body for works of serviceGod does not expect us to do the work He calls us to unprepared.  In fact, He set up a system of leadership designed to equip every follower of Jesus for works of service.  How often do Christians find themselves unprepared as a worker sent by God because they have failed to submit to the work of the leaders that God placed in their life to equip them?  God doesn’t expect His followers to naturally accomplish all the work He calls us to.  He expects us to be equipped so that He can accomplish through us all the work He has called us to.  To effectively accomplish the works of service God has called us to, we must be equipped according to His plan.

Thirdly, a worker sent by God is needed.  Continuing in the passage from Ephesians 4, we see that “from Him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  The accomplishment of the task of building the entire body of Christ as He desires requires each part to do its work.  It doesn’t matter how well we understand the function or purpose of the other parts around us, they are necessary.  Each person is needed.  Often time within church congregations, there appears to be a lack of workers when more often than not, it is simply a lack of people feeling needed.  Their part seems unimportant, so they don’t do it.  If we treated our vehicle like we often do people in a church, discarding parts that we deem unimportant, we would not have a functioning vehicle very long.  Is it any wonder why many congregations do not seem to function in a way that bears much fruit?  For the body to be what God desires for it to be each person is a worker, and each worker is needed.

Finally, a worker sent by God is transformed.  The purpose behind the equipping and each part doing its work is so that we would “all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  I don’t know about you, but that is mind-boggling to me.  It is incredible to try to wrap my mind around God pouring the complete measure of the fullness of Christ into you or me.  It won’t happen in the flesh and dirt we live in — it simply can’t.  A transformation is required.  A worker sent by God is transformed from being flesh-led to Spirit-led.  Our entire life is changed.  Paul describes it as a transformation from being an infant to a mature adult.  We’re the same person, but we’re not.  We’ve matured and developed.  Our life no longer centers around our needs, but on trusting the one we serve.  Our work isn’t about us, but about the One we work for.  Our life is lived with a completely different motivation.  We’ve been transformed from the inside out and have become true workers sent by God.

God says that you are a worker.  Are you living as “A Worker SENT By God”?  I pray that you live life Surrendered, Equipped, Needed, and Transformed as “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”(Colossians 3:23)