Thursday, April 16, 2020

Wanted: Effective, Consistent Witnesses in the Workplace

Wow, how life can change in such a short time! Only a few weeks ago, everything was humming along, the economy was robust, nearly everyone that wanted a job could find one, and many were anxiously anticipating the annual basketball obsession called “March Madness.”

Then the China virus, Wuhan virus, Coronavirus, COVID-19, or whatever you want to call it, burst upon the scene. Suddenly, up was down, and down was up. “March Madness” took on new meaning. Millions having service-related jobs became unemployed, or at least laid off for the duration, and lots of folks were discovering what working from home is all about.

I’ve had a home office for years, so it’s not much of an adjustment for me. But this whole social distancing thing, avoiding close interpersonal contact of any kind, is different even for people who can handle large quantities of “alone time.”

We all wish there were a specific ending time for this massive, international health crisis. Besides the fear, we also hate the uncertainty, not knowing the what’s and when’s and how’s. But as they say, inside every dark cloud is a silver lining, and as we’re self-quarantining, maybe we can use this as a time to “reboot,” to reset our perspectives and priorities.

When things were normal, many of us perceived work as a “necessary evil.” We considered our jobs as a means for paying the bills, and they also consumed time between weekends. But for lots of people, if they could find a way for eliminating work, they’d quickly respond, “Where do I sign?” Circumstances changed, of course, and lots of folks can’t wait to report for work again. Home’s familiar confines have become too familiar, and everyone’s ready for a return to normalcy.

Once this crisis starts fading in the rearview mirror, however – as crises eventually do – the gratitude we feel for having somewhere to go to work will begin to fade, too. Sooner than we might expect, it will regain “necessary evil” status. Which is unfortunate, because that’s not what it’s intended to be.

From the start, God planned work to be a blessing, not a curse. In the Bible’s opening chapters, it’s clear He ordained labor – although at first it was neither hard nor tedious. It says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Humankind was given the privilege of overseeing the Lord’s creation.

Then, of course, the first man and woman messed it all up by disobeying God’s simple command to stay clear of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The result of their sin was the proverbial game-changer: “…Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you…. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:17:19).

So when your boss says you have to rewrite that proposal you’ve worked so hard on, blame Adam and Eve. When that sale you expected to close falls through, blame them. When you’re teaching a class in school and the kids won’t pay attention, blame the first man and woman. And when you’re working in your yard and find weeds growing faster than your flowers, yup, it’s their fault!

But it’s that way for everybody. Even the best job gives its pains in the neck. So we can grumble and complain or, given this bit of a respite from our accustomed “rat race,” we can re-examine the Lord’s desire for us as His emissaries. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 puts it, “Christ’s ambassadors.” Many of us spend more of our waking hours in the workplace than anywhere else, including at home or in church, so as Jesus’ followers, there’s no better place to represent Him.

How do we do this? There are lots of ways, but here are just a few:
    - We can pursue our work, no matter how mundane, with excellence. 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.” Someone has said, “God doesn’t make junk” – and we shouldn’t, either.

    - Recognize our work is part of God’s calling on our lives. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Again, our work is more than whatever our boss tells us to do; it’s a sacred, God-ordained assignment.

    - Our work also can provide a platform for us to serve as witnesses for Christ, through our performance and attitudes, as well as our words. The entirety of 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 

Many of the people with whom we work shoulder to shoulder – when we’re not practicing social distancing – won’t ever darken the door of a church on their own initiative. So, in a sense, the workplace is where we can bring Christ to them. Acts 1:8 declares, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Exactly how are we to do this? Colossians 4:5-6 tells us: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

This global virus crisis has disrupted everyday life and work for all of us. Perhaps this is a time when God would want us to pray, acknowledging He’s calling us to represent Him in the best possible way through the high quality of our work, and asking for wisdom to recognize opportunities He sends our way.

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