A good friend of mine, Steve Graves, recently asked me to write an article about practical faith in the professional world on his site. Steve is a organizational strategist and coach who has been very helpful to me in my transition from full-time local church ministry to leading the Church Resources division at LifeWay. I encourage you to check out his site for some great content. The following blog post is a post I originally wrote for his blog. You can find the original post here.
As believers in the workplace, we are driven by a holy calling to offer our best, to do our jobs “enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord not for men.” In other words, our faith should ramp up our professional intensity and our commitment, not diminish it.
Yet if you are like me, offering my best can drift into making my job my everything, the place where I find my worth and meaning. Many of us have a tendency to place our jobs and our performance in them on the thrones of our lives. Søren Kierkegaard believed that “sin is finding our identity in anything other than Him.”
Sadly, no one wins when we make our profession our god. The organization ultimately does not benefit because we can become people who are too easily crushed with a bad report, people who adversely affect the culture of our teams with our volatility. And clearly we don’t benefit as we aren’t really quenched, not really satisfied.
The early church father, Augustine, in his classic work Confessions recounts an evening when he was out with some friends and noticed a drunken beggar. Augustine pointed out the beggar’s misery to his friends. The beggar’s god was the bottle and it had taken everything from him, and left him on the streets to beg. Then Augustine realized the beggar actually had it better than he. Augustine was just as empty, just as miserable in his attempts to find fulfillment in knowledge or influence. At least the beggar had the alcohol to numb him from his pain. Of the experience Augustine wrote:
I was still eagerly aspiring to honors, money, and matrimony; and You did mock me. In pursuit of these ambitions I endured the most bitter hardships, in which You were being the more gracious the less You would allow anything that was not You to grow sweet to me.
God is good and gracious to us to not allow our jobs to ultimately quench us. Because if they did, we would not find the greater satisfaction in knowing Him.
But how do we reconcile offering our best, working in our professions with great skill, enthusiasm, and intensity with not making our job our god? Can we do both? Can we really be excellent in our professions without drifting into idolatry? The solution is not to love our jobs less. The solution is to love our God more. CS Lewis, in writing about our tendency to love others more than God, stated:
It is probably impossible to love any human being simply ‘too much’. We may love him too much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love of God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy.
The same applies to our professions. If we love them more than God, no one wins. Yet we overcome our tendency to make them our gods not by telling ourselves we will love them less, but loving our God more – by allowing our passion for Him to be the overarching passion that drives our lives.