by Joe Murphy, Melbourne Australia.
I’ve worked as a shelf stacker in a grocery store for over twenty years now. For the last 13 years I have been working at night. Shift workers in my line of work mostly consist of those just finishing school or those at university. It is something young adults do for extra money while studying or something they do before getting their ‘real job’. For the older folks who work at night it is something they do between jobs, in general. But regardless of this, the answer I give when an acquaintance asks what I do for a crust seems to be returned by a reaction that what I do for a living is a dead-end job. Its up there (or down there) with cleaning offices and collecting garbage.
But I actually love my job. It’s not my dream job but that’s not why I love it. I love it because I bloom where I am planted. It’s not about the type of job, it’s about the work ethic one has no matter what the actual job is.
I didn’t always think this way though. I started working for a supermarket when I was fifteen but back then I wasn’t the best worker. In fact I was down right lazy. My idea of work was to get away with doing the least amount while still getting paid the same amount. I didn’t like to work, it got in the way of living my life. If there was a way out I would have taken it. The lotto numbers never worked for me and my illustrious rock star career didn’t pan out either so I remained at the supermarket and took lots of sickies instead.
Now, I am a Christian. I love God very much. He is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. In Him I trust. But I still have a few wires loose. Don’t we all?
Speaking of Christianity, I love to share my faith with others but I don’t like pushing it on others. Especially those I don’t know very well. So at work (and other places) I like to get to know people first before sharing the gospel. People don’t generally push their worldview on other people so I don’t generally push mine on them. In saying that though, Christians are called to go out and spread the good news. Most if not all other world views do not teach this.
So how do we do it without putting people off? Do you come on too strong sometimes? Does it push people away? Must we persist and push our worldview on others or are there other ways that are actually more effective? I want to share with you my experience of witnessing in the workplace. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Firstly, it doesn’t start with preaching. It starts with working. And this is where I got it wrong from the start. Preaching comes in many different forms and of those forms some don’t require any talking. Your actions speak louder than your words and your work ethic plays a major role with your Christian witness in the workplace. I didn’t catch on to this for quite some time. I was happy to share my faith with those who asked but there was a conflict with my faith and my work ethic. The first to notice this were my bosses. They saw a young man with a belief system that wasn’t much good in real life. I had a faith without works. A dead faith.
So I went through a teething process. As a genuine believer I knew I had the Holy Spirit and I knew I could come to Him at any time and have Him shine His light in my heart and share with me the things that still need work. Just to let you know, this was always done in a gentle, convicting manner, never via condemnation. But in any case, this took time. A long time. Faith and works was something I never understood properly. Sometimes I would finish the week feeling good about the hard work ethic I had but at the same time felt burnt out. On other weeks I’d end the week not feeling burnt out at all but ashamed of myself with a heavy load of guilt for not giving 100 percent. I couldn’t get the right balance so I lived week in and week out constantly anxious and stressed about my contradictory understanding of faith and works. Little did I know, it wasn’t about balance at all.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
How can this be so? My line of work isn’t light. There is nothing physically easy about it and because of that it is burdensome. There is not rest. Take a look through history and you will see for yourself believers throughout time that are broken, beaten and scarred. What is easy and light about that? They make my work issues minuscule in comparison. Either there is a contradiction in the inerrent Word of God or there is something I am missing, something very important.
So I prayed, “Reveal to me God where it is that I am going wrong. Renew my mind because I’m confused. My mind is not convinced of this verse (Matt 11:30). I know your Word is true but I don’t get it.” Over time, God revealed it to me. Here is what I learned:
“Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:18
Have you ever done something for somebody because you love them? Have you ever put in a fair amount of effort for something you considered worth making the effort for? What you are doing in those situations is showing your love by your works. For example, when I got married I made a covenant with my wife to have and to hold from that day forth, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. From that day on I could respond to that covenant in two ways; one way was to think of every good deed I did inside my marriage as a chore or a rule. Mowing lawns, doing dishes, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets and making the bed etc. Even spending more time with my wife. This becomes very burdensome. Or I could do every good deed as a response to the love that I have for my wife. One way hopes to be loved in return by doing good things for my wife, the other is doing good things for my wife just because I love her, or because I loved her first.
Doing good works just because I love my wife doesn’t feel like work at all. Because it isn’t. So what has any of this got to do with my job? I don’t have a love for my job like I do my wife. If it were my dream job maybe my passion for it would keep me going strong but stacking shelves in the middle of the night isn’t exactly a dream job. So what’s the go? Bare with me and keep reading.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
Faith is only as strong as the object in which it is placed. We place our faith in Jesus Christ. He is the object in which our faith is placed. We don’t have a faith in our own faith. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. Having faith in our own faith is like trusting your own works to get you through the week at work. You might think you are doing the right thing but you get burnt out doing it because your ‘works’ are not done from your faith in Jesus Christ.
Hope is trusting God in all things. That means all things. In this scenario all means all and that is all all means. This includes your job. ‘Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ – Philippians 1:6. You no longer work for a human boss. You work for God. Watchman Nee in his awesome book ‘The Normal Christian Life’ calls God ‘Resident Boss’. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1. Put your hope in Him and he will carry it out.
Love is the greatest of all these. It is from your love of God that you do your work. It is not in your love of the job. Even if you had your dream job, your passion will never carry it to completion. “The very highest point the will can reach is that of willingness.” – Watchman Nee. When you give your heart to Christ you no longer live by your own will but by the will of God. His will has no boundaries. It is not in the love of your pay check, nor is it in the love of ones boss that we do our hard work, even if he is the best boss in the world.
Jesus calls the Church his bride. Another hint, I think, on the analogy of marriage I used earlier. Like in marriage, we can take our jobs in two ways. We can work in faith, hope and love or we can work in the flesh and burn ourselves out.
So what does evangelism look like when in the work place? I would love to show you but before I do I must say something first. All to the glory of God. I have a work ethic now that is the way it is, only because of God carrying it on to completion. It has nothing to do with me and I cannot take any credit for it. So please don’t think I am ‘holier than thou’ as you read this. I am just your average Joe. I am snow covered dung and all my good deeds off my own back are like filthy rags before the Lord.
When you turn up to work in Faith, Hope and Love, everything is different. Whether you feel it or not you are working as though working for the Lord himself. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” – Colossians 3:23. This isn’t a mode of existence set aside just for Sunday morning. This is your new way to live every day. It is your new identity and it doesn’t stop after you clock off from work. It carries over in everything you do. Done this way, no matter what you do, the yoke is easy and the burden islight.
Now when I work, the physical energy used increases as I work in faith, hope and love but the stress levels and that burnt out feeling are non-existent. Yes I come home physically exhausted, but because I did everything I did that night in faith, hope and love, it matters not. “Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Cor 4:16. This I believe to be what is called ‘Walking in the Spirit’.
Another way to describe it is the difference between living from the tree of Life or living from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Walking in the Spirit (faith, hope and love) is the tree of Life and does not access the tree of good and evil in any way whatsoever. For example, when I am at work I work above and beyond the call of duty. We have a standard shelf filling rate of 45 boxes an hour. So if I can unpack 45 boxes from a delivery and stack the contents neatly on the shelf within the hour, I’m doing my job. I work an 8 hour shift with a 1 hour lunch break. So all up I am expected to fill 360 boxes onto the shelf before my shift is over. However, most of my deliveries are well above that amount. They are usually between 500-700 boxes each night. 360 boxes is all that is required and the rest is left to be done by someone else. But I don’t live by those rules. I aim at getting all 700 boxes done, and then some if possible.
Most of my work colleagues get paid the exact same pay rate that I do. It wouldn’t be fair if I got more boxes away every hour than other colleagues would it? What if your boss who is on a much higher pay rate doesn’t do half of what I can get done?This is wrong no? I have the right to complain yes? All things fair it would be nice to have some sort of reciprocation yes?
It depends how you look at it. If I were to get all 700 boxes done by working in the flesh and not by the walking in the Spirit (faith, hope and love) a few things happen; Firstly, this is totally possible to do. I have the physicality to do it. Most people in fact, if they put their mind to it, can work this way day in and day out. They are often called workaholics though. But what does their life outside of work look like? Do they even have a life outside of work? Are they always complaining, negative and generally a stick in the mud?
For the Christian, when working from the flesh the awareness of what is right and wrong stands to attention. One is constantly conscious of what is fair and what is not when working from the flesh. It stews in the mind and given enough time begins to eat you up. The burden of 700 boxes is no longer light and you begin to feed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The yoke is no longer easy and the tree of Life is nowhere to be found. All cares and troubles in the workplace are now determined and lived out by what is good and evil, right and wrong. Your demeanor and work ethic is dependent on justifying what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. Your whole outlook on life sways depending on how you are treated by others and what others think of you. You are pressured into getting as much done as you did the previous shift, because that would be good, keeping up your high standards.
Did you ever notice that the tree of knowledge is the knowledge of not just evil but good as well? Have you ever wondered why? Is the knowledge of good a bad thing? When it is about autonomy, yes it is bad and that is why God highly recommended Adam not to eat from it. When man becomes the arbiter of good and evil, he becomes the ultimate authority in the matter. This is why the entire world is groaning in travail. This is why the Jews thought it ‘good’ to stone any woman caught in adultery. But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t even touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You get a glimpse of it when he talks to an adulterous woman who had just been caught in the very act says, “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you.”
This is a very different way to think; and to live. So too is working as if working for the Lord himself. When you walk in the Spirit you are being fed from the tree of Life and it sustains you. Even though the tree of good and evil is still there, you don’t feed from it. Doing things by the tree of good and evil, it is all about fairness. You may work harder than most in your workplace. You should be rightly compensated then yes? If not you are totally justified to slow down and only work at the pace everyone else does. That’s fair isn’t it? By living from the tree of good and evil I shouldn’t have to keep any standards higher than 45 boxes per hour. But if I do keep a higher standard, I’m doing it for other reasons than your love for God. You do it to get in good with the boss. You do it to feel good about yourself and pat yourself on the back. You do it in order to get something from it. Compensation. That is good yes? This is justified yes? There is nothing wrong with that. Work hard and you’ll get what you want. If not, work even harder. Burn yourself out in the process and if things still don’t go your way, blame everyone else, or blame the system. You are perfectly justified to think this way yes?
Working from the tree of Life however, there is no fruit on the tree bares any resemblance to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You don’t show up to work in a mood that is dependent on how you are going to be treated. You don’t alter your work ethic depending on how the others around you are working. You don’t change your attitude as soon as something doesn’t go your way. You don’t work to make a good impression, you work as if working for the Lord himself. For resident boss, His standards are higher than your boss, and in faith hope and love, the yoke is easy and the burden is light even though the standards are much higher.
In the Spirit you don’t worry about who else is working hard and who is not. You don’t have to trouble yourself in making a good impression. You have no reason to be stressed out or anxious as there is nothing to be stressed or anxious about when your focus is on something other than good and evil, something other than your autonomous self. You have no negative thoughts about what others are doing or not doing, or what they think of you. When one walks in the Spirit, they do not become discouraged. There are no shameful or hidden deeds in the Spirit. No deceptiveness. These things only occur when we walk in the flesh. When in the Spirit you are patient and kind. You are not envious of other workers or anyone around you, nor are you big headed about yourself. You aren’t rude to anyone, nor are you easily angered and you don’t resent anyone or anything. You become an enduring creature, bearing all that is on your plate with the kind of perseverance that comes from another world.
I want you to understand the difference, or how easily we miscue and sometimes merge walking in the Spirit with works of the flesh. This took me some time to understand properly so I’ll attempt explain it as best I can in the shortest amount of space.
“They do not get their qualities from a class: they belong to that class because they have those qualities.” – C.S. Lewis
Too often we read the Bible primarily as a rule book. Do this, don’t do that. We try and follow the rule book as best we can, to keep on the straight and narrow path.
One of the most famous Bible readings at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Love is patient, love is kind… But when we read these verses, we read them like this… Love is patient and love is kind so I should try to be more patient and kind. Love isn’t envious, it doesn’t brag and isn’t puffed. I must therefore keep track of my enviousness and my fat head and pull myself up when these thoughts come to mind. Love is not rude so I should try my best not to be rude. Love is not self-serving either so I’ve really gotta try to stop thinking of myself all the time and serve others. Love isn’t angry or resentful as well so I must watch my temper.
The problem with this interpretation is that we think these are rules and regulations and that we are the ones to work them out. But really, God is the one who shines in our hearts to give us the light and it is in him and from him that we do all things. We don’t ‘try’ to do any of these of our own accord. All of our works come out of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So don’t try to be more loving and more patient, love **is** patient and kind. You derive your patience and kindness from a source not in the flesh but in the Spirit. All our good deeds in the flesh are like filthy rags remember. But in our sin stained bodies, our clay jars, there is a treasure, an extraordinary power the belongs to God and does not come from us.
So while at work, walk in the Spirit, feed from the tree of Life in faith, hope and love. Do this and watch your entire world open up. This isn’t just a way of living that gets you through your day or your week. It may give you rest and make your burden light but that is not all it does. Remember the two greatest commandments? To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind… and, Love your neighbour as yourself. Apply this in the workplace and what results is evangelism that works. You will have an impact on your work colleagues, your boss, his boss and the list goes on.
What you do at work counts for all eternity. You may not realise it but you may very well be entertaining angels. It is living and walking in Christ that impacts people’s lives, not your own autonomy. It is working as if working for the Lord himself that allows others around you to wonder why you are the way you are. It is walking in the Spirit that opens doors for you personally but also opens people’s hearts to hear what you have to say. It’s hard work and it comes with a lot of persecution. Even though you walk in the Spirit your body will groan in travail. It will eventually wear out, just like everybody else’s. So use it while you can, the best way you know how. All your soul, all your strength, all your mind and all your heart. Now that is a great way to share the Good News.
“We experience trouble on every side, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed but not driven to despair. We are persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal bodies” – 2 Cor 4:6-11
Lord be the path in which my feet tread,
the latch upon the door of my lips,
the light that shines through my eyes,
the music of my ears,
the marrow of my understanding,
the strength of my will,
the power of my affection,
the sweetness of my memory.
– Puritan prayer
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” – C.S. Lewis
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” – Zechariah 4:6