by Ava Pennington
“It’s not fair, Lord! I want to serve you in fulltime ministry, but I’m stuck in this secular job.”
For 20 years, I worked as a human resources executive. A grueling commute extended my already demanding workdays. I would race home, grab a bite to eat, and hurry to a small group meeting in someone’s home or a discipleship meeting at church. All the while I longed for the day I’d have enough money to serve the Lord fulltime.
Sound familiar? You have a heart for God and a desire to serve him. But you have a family to support, children to put through college, and bills to pay. You are so busy “making a living” that a life of ministry just doesn’t fit in.
Adam usually gets the blame for trapping us in jobs we don’t like, to pay bills we don’t want, to live lives we don’t enjoy. If he and Eve had not disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, we would not be stuck working today, right? We think of secular work as a necessary evil—the means by which we earn enough money for the things we really want to do.
But that’s not how God views work—ours or his.
God Works . . . and God Delegates
God is a worker. Psalm 111:2 tells us, “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” The first of his works of which we are aware is the glorious work of creation. Not only did God work to bring creation into existence, he delighted in his work. Genesis 1:31 tells us, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued to work.
God placed life in his creation (Genesis 2:7), gives life to us today (John 5:21), and holds his creation together through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:17). When the crown of his creation—humanity—rebelled, God initiated and completed the work of redemption through his Son (Galatians 3:13).
Since God works, work must be a good thing. And God has shared this good thing with us.
We usually associate work with the curse after Adam sinned, but God has always expected humanity to work. From the beginning, God delegated the responsibility of managing and cultivating the Garden of Eden to Adam (Genesis 2:15). Before sin entered the world, God had commanded man to “rule” over creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
Subduing and ruling creation isn’t the only task God delegated to people. He has also prepared work for us to accomplish in Christ. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
When we consider “good works,” we may think of religious or charitable activities. Fulltime ministry often tops the list. After all, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:13-15,
‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
Of course, preaching the gospel or other fulltime ministry has eternal value. But our secular work has eternal value as well.
Our Priorities vs. God’s Priorities
Many of us work to pay bills, to fulfill a sense of belonging, or to obtain significance through titles and positions. However, God created us to work to bring glory to him and obtain significance by fulfilling the purpose for which he created us. Our faithfulness in earthly work also prepares us for greater things (see Luke 16:10).
Those greater things may include an increased awareness of God’s presence throughout the day as we depend on him in every circumstance. Annoying coworkers, unreasonable managers, long hours, taxing commutes—God can use all these things to drive us to our knees, to his Word, and to him.
God wants us to view him as our ultimate boss. It’s the modern equivalent of what Paul referred to when he spoke about the ancient employment relationship between slave and master.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men (Ephesians 6:5-7).
We have a choice. Instead of responding like our unbelieving coworkers, what would happen if we asked God to enable us to see our difficult circumstances from his perspective? As we manifest integrity and faith in the way we respond to our managers, coworkers, and customers, we earn the privilege of speaking about our Savior.
Falling Short of Our Calling
Before we can share our faith in the workplace, we must live our faith in the workplace. But living our faith does not mean we should leave tracts on coworkers’ desks or read the Bible on company time.
During my tenure in Human Resources, I was called to intervene in a disciplinary situation. The employee began each workday by reading her Bible, and she complained about being unfairly disciplined for being a Christian. She thought that by reading her Bible each morning, she was sharing her faith with her supervisor and coworkers. However, because she read her Bible at her desk after her workday officially began, her behavior created animosity toward the gospel, and toward her. She made an impact, but it was a negative impact.
Spiritual influence does not depend on title, salary, or seniority. We don’t have to be in management nor wield an open Bible to influence our workplace for Christ. Leaving a secular workplace for a Christian organization is not necessarily the answer, either.
Charles Spurgeon, in his devotional Morning and Evening (Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), wrote, “Some people have the foolish notion that the only way they can live for God is to become a minister or a missionary . . . . it is not the office, it is earnestness. It is not the position, it is grace that enables us to glorify God.”
Glorifying God Day by Day
God has given us guidance in his Word to help us glorify him in the workplace. He calls us to be prepared. Peter exhorted believers to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). We need to know what we believe and why we believe it to be prepared to answer others’ questions. Being unprepared results in missed opportunities as we play spiritual hide-and-seek with those who need an intimate relationship with God.
Be gentle and respectful. While we should never be ashamed of the gospel, 2 Timothy 2:23 also tells us we should not be argumentative as we share Christ.
Peter tells us that when we share our faith, we are to do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). If we reflect the reality of our faith in the way we live and work, others will want to know the source of our peace and hope. There is no room for bullying others by forcing the Bible on them.
Be dependent on the Holy Spirit. Often, our faith in Christ will be most clearly communicated as we respond to difficult people and circumstances. We are called to reflect Christ in all we do. But if we try to do it on our own, we’ll become exhausted and eventually burn out.
Oswald Chambers noted, “It is impossible to get exhausted in work for God. We get exhausted when we try to do God’s work in our own way.” Whatever we do, we must do through Jesus Christ by the enabling power of his Spirit (Philippians 4:13).
Be above reproach. We are also called to be above reproach, showing that we can be fully trusted. Doing so makes “the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10). Arriving late, sharing the latest confidential news about a coworker, or taking office supplies for personal use do not make the gospel attractive.
Motive and Reward
Christians work for Jesus Christ whether in Christian ministry or a secular workplace (Colossians 3:23). Either way, God calls us to serve him by serving others, just as Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Full-time ministry happens wherever God has placed us.
Our motive should always be to glorify him, regardless of our position. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’
When we do, then like the servant in Matthew 25:21, we will hear our Boss say, “Well done.”
Ava Pennington is a freelance writer in Stuart, Florida.
On a Lighter Note
As we are evaluating our attitudes toward our jobs, let’s take a breather and look at things from a different perspective.
Consider which comic strip character best describes you and the way you relate to your job. Are you:
Dilbert—Cynical and unhappy about micromanaging trials and blunders that abound in your workplace?
Dagwood—Relaxed and detached to the extreme, sometimes falling asleep at your desk?
Cathy—Overwhelmed by work, considering it as one of the “four basic guilt groups” (along with love, food, and mom) that plague your life?
B.C.—Feeling like work has you between a rock and a hard place, but occasionally getting a glimpse of God in the process?