We were swamped as we tried to load the deluge of packages into the brown trucks on either side of the belt. Jeremy came storming up the conveyer toward me, yelling, “Nate!”
I looked up inquisitively, but before I could respond, he tossed a package down onto the belt and asked, “Is it because you’re a Christian; is that why you’re so happy here?”
As a matter of fact, it was.
My fourteen years at UPS were hard. I spent nearly every day begging God to move me to do other things. I even tried to force his hand a couple of times by putting my house up for sale or giving away half our income, so he’d have to come in and whisk us all away to the mission field or a fulltime ministry post. God didn’t budge and neither did I. He had more to teach me and I had much more to learn.
Not everyone who becomes a follower of Christ is called to enter into fulltime religious service. It’s just not sustainable. Every Christian is called to fulltime ministry regardless of who writes the paychecks.
Many of the early followers of Christ were slaves. We might feel like we’re stuck in our jobs, but they really were. They might have been redeemed from service to sin, but they continued to owe the waking hours of their days to their earthly masters.
Paul had these words of exhortation for them:
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 people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
We don’t call employment slavery, but the two have some things in common. Much of our freedom both in how we use our time and in what tasks we must perform are dictated by our employers. Just like the slaves to whom Paul wrote, we can still offer that time and those tasks to God and in so doing experience the joy which comes from obedience.
It may sound hard to believe, but I’ve come to understand that any person working at any honest occupation can perform any task in the perfect joy of the Lord. Paul told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always. To perform our jobs with joy, we just need to know how to work “in the Lord.” Below are ways that I learned to do my work for him.
Spend the first 30 minutes of the day getting centered.
I know others have suggested this as well, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it except to say that when I started my day with Bible reading and prayer I found that I could claim the various opportunities and trials for God that much easier. When I didn’t spend the time with God, I spent all day reacting in my flesh to the demands imposed on me.
In other words, if I gave my first 30 minutes to God, I got the rest of the day back. If I neglected that first 30 minutes, the rest of the day was a loss. That’s a pretty good investment, wouldn’t you agree?
Even though most people agree, so few actually commit to spending those first 30 minutes with God. I often hear, “I already have to get up early to get ready for work. I just can’t get up another 30 minutes earlier.”
You can and you know that you can. Stop lying to yourself and to God.
For about half of my career at UPS I had to clock in at 4 AM and I still devoted that first 30 minutes to God. I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal. If anything, I’m illustrating my dire need for God. I needed grace more than I needed sleep. You do too.
As for the sleep I missed in the morning, did you know that clocks used to be round? That’s because they were constructed to measure cyclical rhythms. When I got up 30 minutes earlier for a few days, going to bed 30 minutes earlier became a natural consequence. Problem solved.
Even when I netted less sleep, I found that I didn’t need as much because working under his yoke gives rest.
Work is worship.
I grew up in the modern era when kids were told that if they believed in themselves they could be anything they wanted to be. As millions of aspiring astronauts accepted lesser positions to pay the bills, we discovered that faith in oneself wasn’t quite the propellant we thought it was.
Things happen. Opportunities come to some that don’t come to others. A rice farmer in southeast Asia is probably always going to farm rice. Someone with average academic ability and few financial resources will most likely not become the premier neurosurgeon in the world.
The same humanism which preaches unlimited potential simultaneously condemns certain pursuits as necessary evils. Those who work in blue collar or clerical professions have accepted that narrative and don’t bother to find value in their work. Instead, they endure the 40-60 hours at work so they can engage in activities which they value after they clock out. As the song goes, “Everybody’s Workin’ for the Weekend.” Consequently, those in “lower level” employment report higher incidences of alcohol abuse.
God wants you to know that no matter what type of work you do it’s valuable to him. We can reclaim Monday through Friday when we stop working for the weekend and start working for God.
I’ve always craved significance. As a manual laborer at UPS, I could neither find nor manufacture any sense of value from my work. I worked to support my family and my reward was going home to see them. A noble aim I’m sure you would agree, but what about those hours spent on the clock? Was that span of time just something to endure?
In The Normal Christian Life Watchman Nee explains the story from the Gospels of the woman with the alabaster jar. Brother Nee asserts that while some saw the breaking of the jar and the outpouring of the ointment as wasteful, Jesus accepted it as an extravagant gift of love.
When believers love Christ enough to “waste” themselves on him, the gospel has accomplished its goal. Satisfaction in our work comes not from doing some noble task but from offering every task no matter how mundane as an offering for his pleasure. As Nee says,
The first thing is this: Everything should be to the satisfaction of the Son of God. It is only when He is satisfied that we shall be satisfied and the sinner will be satisfied. I have never met a soul who has set out to satisfy the Lord and has not been satisfied himself. It is impossible. Our satisfaction comes unfailingly when we satisfy Him first.
Much of what we do at work won’t be significant or valuable by the world’s standards, but it can still be glorious by God’s standards when we offer it to him.
Maybe you’re wondering how tightening the lug nut on a widget could be a gift to Jesus. Well, if God is sovereign and you’ve offered your life to him, then the fact that you tighten lug nuts on widgets must be of his design, right? If he gave you that task at this point in your life, then you worship him when you enthusiastically tighten those dudes with excellence.
God is in the details.
What would it be like to work for an omniscient manager who cared not only about tasks getting done adequately but cared about every detail of every task? Talk about micromanaging! And yet, if we go to work for Jesus at our job, that’s exactly the kind of manager we work for. That might sound oppressive, but it’s actually very liberating.
When we start focusing on doing excellent work in every detail, our jobs become more manageable. Our boss might want us to perform eighty-two disparate tasks per day, but that could only be possible if we cut corners. A commitment to excellence restores us to the realistic human parameters which we were created to inhabit. Let me give you an example of how this worked for me at UPS and hopefully, you’ll be able to generalize to your job.
Did you know that there are 340 separate methods to correctly deliver and pick up packages for UPS? That’s a lot to keep up with and all of them conflicted with the unspoken prime directive, “Get it done fast.” For instance, official UPS package car driver training specifies that speed limits must be observed and that running was prohibited (no really!). For me, a commitment to faithfulness in the details meant that I had to surrender outcomes in order to focus on the process. I no longer carried the responsibility to get back to the center by 7 PM. I only had to walk, not run, to the door of the next house.
Attending to the details tangibly shifts the recipient of our efforts from our earthly employer to Christ. While the supervisors at UPS had to teach us all 340 delivery methods, they really only cared that everything got done without a reportable incident. I suspect that’s the unstated priority of your supervisor as well. So, when I took the time and intention to attend to the details, I did it solely to please Christ.
In those times, everything seemed to fall into my periphery and he and I enjoyed fellowship over the task together. When working people read passages like the one above from Ephesians, they often come to see Christ as some sort of garnish on the steaming pile their employer heaped on the center of their plate. I discovered that when we attend to excellence in the details, it’s our employer that slides off into the margins of our days.
Not only does this approach transcend managerial tension, it also sets us free from our own tyrannical agendas. Really, we go to work for ourselves. We do what the boss says so we won’t get in trouble or so we’ll be promoted. As we perform tasks at work, we try to mitigate the difficult or distasteful aspects while emphasizing the more positive ones. We look for positive recognition and remuneration.
All of this focus on self puts us at odds with our workplace (and really the very fabric of reality). Dig out the mission statement of your company. Does it say, “To make (your name) happy?” If so, whoever wrote it was lying. Your company has its own agenda. Your coworkers have their own. Your clients, suppliers, vendors, partners, customers, etc. all have theirs. As these competing agendas clash with our own, we experience painful frustration.
But what if our agenda becomes to offer service to God through excellent work? Then when that dump truck pulls out in front of you and goes 25 miles per hour, you won’t feel the need to pound on your steering wheel and yell because, while he might have hindered your ability to make bonus, he’s not touched your ability to offer service to God through excellent work.
Go the second mile.
There’s a meme that reads, “This would be a great job if it wasn’t for the customers.” Have you ever felt that way? Perhaps you have a strong work ethic and you enjoy being productive. Maybe checking things off your task list energizes you to do more. Unfortunately, we can’t just focus on task because without customers, there would be no tasks to do.
Whether your customers come in through the front door or whether they work in the cubicle one floor up, the people who we’re hired to serve often demand more from us than we feel they are due. In those moments, it can feel like we’re being extorted and coerced. Then, our sense of personal justice wells up causing tension within as we grit our teeth and say, “Sure, I can do that” while constructing a much longer and more satisfying response in our minds.
Capitulating to unreasonable demands gouges our very sense of personal autonomy. Is there another way that doesn’t land us in the ranks of the unemployed or incarcerated?
Most people know Jesus’ instruction that we should, “turn the other cheek” when we are wronged. It’s one of those commands in the Bible that we agree would be great if people kept, but don’t. But I want to go on record to say that Christ’s response to evil people (a.k.a. customers) set me free from the existential crisis imposed by unreasonable demands.
UPS delivery methods stipulate that when a driver arrives at the dock he must announce to the receiving clerk how many packages he will be delivering there, get a signature, line the packages up on the receiving dock, walk along the lines of packages scanning each one, then press “enter” and get outta there. Every one of those stipulations was designed to maximize the speed at which a commercial delivery can be completed.
Unfortunately, receiving clerks are generally pretty sedentary people and they don’t like having to pick up and palletize packages strewn along their docks. One in particular insisted that I put the packages on pallets for him or he wouldn’t sign for them. What to do? His stop was early in my route and I needed to get his packages out of my way. Also, he worked for a large enough customer that my supervisor would require me to comply regardless of company policy. So, I groused about having to put the packages on pallets. I disdained this man behind his back. Every morning, I dreaded making this stop and then once it was made I resented that my time and freewill had been taken from me.
Then, I considered Christ’s words about how to deal with evil people:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. – Matthew 5:38-41
When the clerk insisted that I palletize the packages, I said, “Sure thing, would you like for me to roll the pallets over to your staging area?”
And that’s what I did.
Maybe you don’t see this as much of a solution to injustice, but I tell you it was one of the most liberating moments of my life. I discovered that when Jesus told us to go the second mile, he was showing us how to reclaim the first one.
Before this man forced me to put the boxes on pallets, rules defined the requirements on my service to him. I was already a slave but to the rule and not to him. The rules defined my responsibilities and into them I read my rights – to only perform what they stipulated. In the second mile, I discovered that my goal shifted from adhering to rules to demonstrating love through service.
I couldn’t find that truth in the first mile. In the first mile, I wasn’t calling the shots. I was being coerced.
But, the second mile was my choice and having exerted my choice to love and serve in the second mile filled the first mile with love and service as well. Christ came to relinquish his own rights in order to extravagantly love and serve evil people like me. In the second mile, I find fellowship with him who my soul loves.
Trust God with the outcomes.
Nothing I’ve said so far would be possible if God didn’t really know and care. We couldn’t offer our efforts to him in worship unless he waited to receive them and poured out his grace in response. A focus on the process of our tasks would land us solidly in hot water if he didn’t take care of the end results. Going the second mile would leave us completely bereft if he didn’t live up to his promise to multiply our offering to him. In other words, we must have a living faith in order to find real, lasting joy in all that is necessary and mundane.
Faith is the shift that sets us free even while we go to work.