[This message was shared during the worship celebration of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on August 12, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, feel free to worship with us on an upcoming Sunday morning. Worship celebrations start at 10:00AM.]Psalm 139:13-18Titus 3:9-11
Recently, a man spoke enthusiastically with me about his work. “You love your job, don’t you?” I asked him. “I do,” he said. “And I’m good at it.” He blushed after he said that and began to stammer an embarrassed explanation.
I stopped him. I knew that he wasn't an egomaniac. Nor was he a workaholic, someone who derived all his identity and self-worth from the job. He’s healthy and balanced. And, like most people who do their jobs well, he’s someone who's happy with his work.
The Old Testament tells us that finding enjoyment in our work is a blessing from God. It’s a blessing I think that God wants all of us to enjoy, though the realities of this fallen world often get in the way of that happening in our daily paying gigs.
And sometimes, our jobs pay the bills, making it possible for us to pursue our most important work elsewhere. I think of a woman Ann and I know. She has an advanced professional degree. She’s competent in her field. But after her children were raised, she decided to take a part-time entry level job. It allows her to continue to contribute to the household income. More importantly though, it gives her the freedom to do what she feels is really
her life’s work: serving as the volunteer minister to the elderly at her church.
That woman, every bit as much as the man who told me that he was good at his job is happy with her work.
What does it take for us to be happy with our work, whether it entails working sixty or more hours a week at a high-level position or forty to fifty at a minimum wage position?
There are no doubt many reasons. But I want to suggest four basic elements derived from the Bible that go into being happy with work. I’ll speak of three today.
The first element, I think, is obvious. People who enjoy their work usually have jobs composed of using their God-given talents
In Psalm 139, David tells God, “it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance...” God has made all of us according to specific blueprints and it's true what I've often told my Catechism students through the years, "God doesn't make junk!"When we perform work that uses the unique design God imprints on us, it’s likely to make us happy
And because our whole lives are meant to offer praise to God, finding and performing work that matches our personalities and passions is also one way we can offer our lives in worship to the God we know in Jesus Christ
During our recent vacation to Virginia, in addition to visiting with family, we saw several important historical sites, among them Appomatox Court House, where Grant surrendered to Lee and the moving National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
There were several helpful, informative staff and volunteers at Appomatox Court House. But we were a little disappointed by the less than informative people stationed in the home of Wilmer McLean, the actual site where Grant and Lee met in 1865.
What a contrast they were to the enthusiastic sixty-something man who took us around the D-Day Memorial! With detail and passion, he spoke of the significance of each part of the place, as well as of the plans for a theater there using money donated by Steven Spielberg.
The difference between those in the McLean home and the man at the D-Day Memorial? The first two people were just doing jobs. The man at the D-Day Memorial was doing something for which he was made! His passion shone through!Not all of us have the luxury of finding work that matches our innermost beings
. That’s a sad fact in our sinful, fallen world.
- Single moms, for example, often simply have to take what work they can find in order to support their families.
- Family obligations can force people to stay on jobs they dislike because of needed insurance benefits.
- Some people are denied the work for which they’re made because of discrimination, be it based on race, gender, or age.
These are tragic facts and one of the things we need to do as Christians is encourage one another in the face of such realities. When we get together before and after worship each week, our discussions should be about more than the weather or the Reds. We should offer one another support. We should listen to one another and offer to pray for one another. The old Wesleyan Christian custom involved believers asking each other, "How is it with your soul?"
We Christians also need to be among the first to speak out against discrimination in society, against anything that prevents people from using their God-given gifts and abilities!But, I also believe that since God takes such great care in designing each one of us, it’s very important that we pay attention to what our talents and passions are
. They may lead us to our life’s work.
In the neighborhood in which I grew up was a little boy who often gathered all the spare chairs, stuffed animals, and little sisters he could round up at home and then play “church,” complete with a sermon. That should have taught me what my life’s work was to be, but it took years for me to find out that my God-given passion was also my vocation.
Element number one in job happiness is working at what you’re made for. But there’s a second element that helps us to be happy with our work.
A survey was once done among the supervisors of engineers. Engineering would be a total mystery to me. It involves numbers and intractable mathematics. It's quantifiable. You would think that being a successful engineer would only about getting the numbers right. But when these supervisors were asked to identify the reasons they'd dismissed engineers from their jobs in the preceding five years, something like 80% of the fired engineers weren't fired because they were incompetent. They were fired for an inability to work with others.
That doesn’t mean that engineers are a bad lot. It means that no matter what our fields, we have to work with people
.Good relationships with those with whom we work is another thing that makes us happy with our work
Of course, everybody has some run-ins with the people with whom they work. The Bible seems to teach that conflict with others, even those we love--especially
those we love--is an inevitable part of life. In the New Testament book of Ephesians
, we're told, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger...” The Bible is telling us, “Be honest about your emotions. Work out your differences with others.”
In Matthew 18:15-20
, Jesus discusses how Christians are to resolve difference. We’ve incorporated this process into the constitution of Friendship Church. But you can apply Jesus’ principles for conflict resolution to your families and to your places of work, too.
The process is simple:
- When you have a problem with someone, go to them first.
- Don’t gossip about it.
- Explain how you feel to the person with whom you have a problem.
- Listen to the other person.
- Work together toward a common solution.
- Most importantly, submit the whole situation to God in prayer. God should be the third member of every relationship we have. This is true even if the other person doesn't believe in God. You can invite God into any circumstance, a partner Who's with you all the time.
Usually, that will do the trick. You’ll achieve reconciliation that allows you to enjoy your job. But if not, the two of you need to go to your supervisor for adjudication and resolution.Putting Jesus’ method for conflict resolution into effect isn’t always easy
. It can be uncomfortable.
In my former parish, I made a stupid mistake--allowing a burn barrel fire to spill out of the barrel and onto the neighboring softball field. I was able to quickly put out the fire. But the softball field was black and I felt awful about it. I got word though that one of my church members was telling people that I had blamed the children of the congregation for the fire. I was upset. Especially because I’d had such good rapport with this man before. I was angry. So, I picked up my phone and called the man and asked him if he’d said this about the incident. “Yes.” “Why?” I asked him. “You know me better than that. You know I wouldn’t blame someone else for something I did.” “I know, Pastor,” he said. “Sometimes I’m a gossip. I’m sorry.” From that day forward, that man and I were good friends. The New Testament tells us
, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Of course, not all of our efforts to be on good terms with those with whom we work will be successful. Not everybody wants to live peaceably
. In our second lesson for today, Paul writes to a young pastor Titus that if some folks are consistent troublemakers in the church, he needs to quit hanging out with them.
We may reach an analogous place in our work lives. Co-workers or supervisors may make our work lives unbearable. We may have to ask to be switched to a different department. We may have to quit our jobs and find other employment. I believe that if we’ve made efforts at reconciliation and accommodation, God will help us find new places of work where we can
Work at what you’re good at. Seek to maintain positive personal relationships on the job. There’s another element that the Bible mentions that relates to job happiness.
My best man’s father was forced to quit high school and enter the work force at age seventeen when his own father died under tragic circumstances. This could have led Stan to spend his work life as one of those resentful workers who wait for five o’clock each day so that they can wait for age sixty five so that they can spend retirement waiting for Golden Corral to open.
But that isn’t what happened. Instead, he rose to an important position in one of Columbus’ largest banks. He was always enthusiastic and in fact, loved his job and his co-workers so much, that he stayed beyond the usual retirement age. He’s seventy-eight years old now and recently had a cancer scare. But he can still bench press 250-pounds! The last time I saw him, he grabbed my friend by the scruff of the neck and said, “I love my boy!” Then, he grabbed me and added, “I love both my boys!”The third element for job happiness is having the right attitude, a commitment to doing your best every day, and then doing it
I love the wisdom from God that King Solomon put down in the Old Testament
, “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest.”
Want to be happy with your work?
- Do what God built you to do.
- Work on maintaining positive relations with others.
- Work on maintaining positive relations with others. Throw yourself into your work with a good attitude.
Next week, we’ll talk about a fourth element of job happiness, when we tackle the subject of “Hope for the Workaholic.”