Monday, August 30, 2010

Stand Out From the Crowd

1 Peter 1:13-17; 2:1, 12

These are not work-specific passages, but in just a few short verses, Peter gives some interesting ideas, ideas that are far from what you coworkers might expect. Be self-controlled. Set your mind on Christ. Be holy. Stay away from malice.
Don't lie. Get rid of hypocrisy. Don't be envious. Don't slander others. Crave spiritual growth. More than a laundry list of do's and don't's, this is a recipe for how to not fit in. But that's the point. We talk about our kids and their desire to fit in at school. Yet we're no different from them. But Peter is telling us to be different. "Live such good lives among [your coworkers] that, though they [don't accept or understand you], they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." Stand out from the crowd.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Encourage One Another

Hebrews 3:13
cf Hebrews 10:25

This passage is a little bit of a stretch in terms of applications to workplaces. The writer of Hebrews is telling Christians to encourage each other. However, I think the idea of being an encourager is something that can be applied beyond just the Church context. Consider the people around you at work. How can you be an encouragement to them? Showing encouragement to others may be one of the most important ways that you can reflect Christ to them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let Your Yes Be Yes...

James 5:12

Jesus said it first, and James re-emphasizes it here. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Say what you mean. I think many times we get caught up in saying what people want to hear. It's part of office politics. And don't get me wrong, I do think a certain amount of audience analysis is a good thing. But when everything is said and done, you need to say what you mean and follow through with anything you commit to. When you say one thing, mean it. If you say that you'll do something, then do it. Don't be duplicitous. It's a great thing when people know they can take you at your word.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pay People What You Owe Them

James 5:4

"Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." Pretty strong language, particularly if you supervise others. The context of this passage is a warning to the rich who got that way on the backs of the poor, one of the consistent themes in James. The application has to do with what it means to be a good supervisor or manager. Pay people what you owe them. It's unfortunate, but I hear stories of managers and owners trying to find loopholes to avoid paying their employees the money for which they've worked. James is saying, pay what you owe to your workers.

It's a little bit more of a stretch, but this might be extrapolated to say, pay a wage that your workers can live with. There is a lot of talk these days about a living wage, which recognizes that minimum wage is usually not enough to live on, particularly with a family. As I said, it's not explicitly mentioned here, but I think this living wage is very consistent with the overall message--don't try to increase what you have by not giving your workers the pay they deserve.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Do Not Boast about Tomorrow

James 4:13-16

I am a big fan of day planners and to do lists. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to have a plan before I do anything. My dayplanner is divided into an elaborate, color-coded system of plans for the year, for the month, for the week, and for the day. In some ways, this passage in James 4 is one of the hardest passages in the whole Bible for me.

James is specifically talking to merchants here, but I think the principle applies to almost every profession. How often do we make plans based on our desires and goals without considering God? I heard a preacher one time take this a step further. He said that we make our own plans and then "apply the gravy of God's will." What he meant was we made up our mind what we wanted to do and then looked for reasons why our plan was God's plan. James is strictly condemning that.

I'm not going to abandon my dayplanner. And I don't think that's even the point. The point of this passage is what priorities underlie the goals and schedules that you make. Think about that. What is driving you as you set goals and fill schedules? Is it ambition? Is it a quest for more stuff or for more influence? Or are you driven by God? Are you making goals based on a relentless desire to worship your Lord? Actually, the scary thing is that you ARE driven by a relentless desire to worship your lord, whether it is God or anything else. These passages emphasize that the "things" that we might be pursuing are very temporary, here today and gone tomorrow. That goes for increased influence or prestige, a bigger home, a fancier title. None of it will last. James is encouraging his readers to plan based on eternity, to plan based on God's plans.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


James 4:11
cf James 5:9

Don't slander others. The context here refers specifically to gossiping about other Christians, but I think the idea about not gossiping period is born out in other passages. Let's be completely honest--it's tough not to join in when others are talking about someone. You may fear being left out. You may want the approval and acceptance that comes from sharing "your" stories about the subject of the gossip. It's easy to justify spreading rumors with things like "it's not gossip if it's true" and "it's not gossip, they really need to know what this person is like." Most of us have used those or similar justifications. To be fair, this specific passage may be focused on spreading falsehoods about others, but think about this. When you tell stories about someone behind their back, you are typically only giving one side of what happened, a side heavily influenced by your perceptions. Presenting your side of things as the only side is just as false as telling a bald-faced lie, but that is what you do when you gossip about someone.

In another passage, Paul talks about gossip as stirring up trouble. In another place, he condemns "godless chatter," which certainly relates to gossip and slander. In yet a third place, he specifically states that slaves shouldn't slander their master, which might relate to not gossiping about your supervisor. The point is clear--gossip is a bad deal.

Think about what happens when you gossip or slander. Yes, it's true that you may experience the solidarity that comes from a common experience. In the moment, gossip does bring gossipers together. But then it also creates one of two mentalities. First, gossip creates an "us versus them" mentality when you are gossiping about someone that you don't like. Or, gossip can create an "at least we're better than that" attitude when you are gossiping about someone else's unfortunate circumstances. So you either reinforce an attitude of malice or superiority toward someone else, someone who is created in God's image and who is loved by God. And you are doing it based only on partial information, when you don't know the whole story. No wonder Paul and James are so tough on gossipers.

It's tough to not gossip. We want to join in, we want to share what we know. And we want to know what others know. When everyone is sharing stories, it's hard to stay silent, walk away, or even speak up about not talking about that person. But at work or anywhere else, it's the right thing to do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Causes Conflict

James 4:1-10

Do you ever find yourself having conflicts with people more frequently than usually? Are there certain issues that are "hot button" issues with you? And more importantly, do the people that you work with know what those issues are? James has an interesting perspective on conflicts. The context for this passage is more closely related to church conflict, but I think the principles can be extrapolated to workplace conflicts as well. Why do you have conflicts? James says because of "the desires that battle within you." You want something, but you don't get it. Then you respond by killing and coveting. In a workplace, perhaps we could add you respond by backstabbing, lying, cheating, manipulating. The list goes on and on. James responds, "You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." You do not receive because you ask with wrong (read: selfish) motives. Think about the things that you fight for/about at work. Are you fighting with wrong motives? Be honest with yourself on this one. It's all too easy to say no, I'm fighting for the betterment of the company. But is that your real motivation, more than trying to make your own life more convenient.

The cure is in verses 6-10. Look at how many times James uses the words humble or submit. I don't know that humbling yourself will get you out of every conflict because not everyone will be doing that also. But your approach to conflict will be radically different. Instead of "how can I get my way," perhaps your thoughts will be "how can God be glorified through my interaction with this other person." Then ask God to help you do that. He won't disappoint you as you ask with unselfish motives.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Envy and Selfish Ambition

James 3:14-16

James says that "where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." Isn't it interesting how much temptation can be reduced to envy and/or to selfish ambition. We want what someone else has so we lie or cheat to get it. We want to be better than a coworker, so we backstab him or her to make sure they know we're the best. What is even more interesting is that James says such things are the opposite of godly wisdom. Godly wisdom, according to James is considerate, submissive, and merciful, among other things. Even knowing that envy and selfish ambition are at odds with God's wisdom, I will be the first to admit that I have bragged about things that I have done to stay on top and to keep others down. I don't think there's a switch to flip to turn those things off. Perhaps it starts with a desire for a quiet life, rather than a desire to be better than everyone else. To that, you might remember that working for the Lord means showing love to everyone around you. It will take incremental steps, probably with a number of backslides, but living life by God's wisdom rather than envy and selfish ambition is important, at work or anywhere else.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why Work?

I want to pause periodically as I go through scripture to reflect on themes that are emerging from passages related to work. Today is one of those pauses.

One of the things that really stands out as I look at some of the recent posts from 1 and 2 Thessalonians and a few other places is how important it is to work and not be idle. Bible commentaries tell us that one of the major struggles that the Thessalonians faced was the temptation to do nothing as they waited for Christ's return. If Jesus was coming back, why should we spend times working, especially for those who don't like their jobs. Paul came down pretty hard on them, "if you don't work, you don't eat." In other places, Paul talks about the point of working as providing for one's family while not being a burden on others.

Everyone has days when they'd rather not be at work. Days when you would rather not deal with your boss. Days when you would rather spend that time with family. Days when you may not want to even get out of bed. Paul is saying that, in the fallen world in which we live, work is necessary, whether we want to do so or not. Remember, God told Adam that he would survive on the basis of working, which was part of Adam's curse. It's not that work itself is the curse--God wanted Adam and Eve to work the Garden even before they sinned. But perhaps the "daily grind" is one way to describe work because of God's curse on Adam. I love my job. I can't believe I get paid to do things I really like. But there are still those days that I'd much rather be doing something else. Sometimes that comes from selfishness. Perhaps you've seen the bumper sticker, "I'd rather be fishing," or similar ones. Other times, we may not want to go to work for very legitimate reasons like spending time with family or volunteering to help the needy. Those are noble ways to spend time, and scripture certainly emphasizes the importance of both. But those activities should not be excuses for not working.

Having emphasized the importance of spending time working, there's another extreme--spending too much time working. Many jobs push the envelope of a 40-hour work week, and our technology today blurs the line between work time and family time even more. Think about the last time you checked your work email while spending time with at home with family. One "answer" might be the quiet life, that Paul encourages in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Paul argues that working and living a quiet life are not mutually exclusive goals. Another approach might be protecting the idea of a Sabbath rest, a time where you stop working. The Bible describes work as important, but certainly Paul knew when it was time to stop making tents and spend time with people around him, developing relationships with people (Timothy, for example) and planting seeds about Jesus. If you've been overworking, perhaps you need to adjust your priorities with regard to your time.

So working too little and working too much are both extremes to be avoided. The goal is a search for balance. If you think about Paul's "job" as a tentmaker, it wasn't really what defined him. He did it to pay the bills, so to speak. To provide for himself and not be a burden on others. But his workplace ambition may have been tempered by his understanding of his place in the world and what was really important. If you are tempted by idleness, are you a burden on others? How can you provide for yourself? (But again, I think these passages refer to those who could work but weren't doing so, not those who were unable to work.) Or, if you are struggling with being a workaholic, consider how God would want you to define yourself.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Faith and Works at Work

James 2:14-26

Some consider this passage as the central idea for the book of James. How do faith and works relate to each other? The implications of that question are beyond the scope of this blog, but James' statements of demonstrating faith is certainly relevant to our discussion. "What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? ... I will show you my faith by what I do." One of the ways we demonstrate our faith is through the way we act at work. As God moves in our lives, it should affect us beyond what happens on Sundays. This passage argues that, perhaps more strongly than anywhere else in the Bible.

Friday, August 6, 2010


James 2:9

James wrote this in the context of church, arguing against church leaders showing favoritism. But I think the application holds true in workplaces as well. Don't show favoritism in your business decisions. That doesn't mean that you cannot make decisions based on what is best for your company, but it does mean that you need to take everyone's needs into consideration, even those who may not benefit you as much. A common theme in James, Jesus' teachings, and the Old Testament is taking care of widows and orphans. In those societies, widows and orphans were typically the lowest classes of people, those least able to take care of themselves. Think about who might be equivalent in your workplace or sphere of contact. Be careful not to show favoritism against these people in favor of people with whom you more closely identify.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Listen, then Speak

James 1:19
cf James 1:26; 3:3-12

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. It doesn't make sense. If we're going to get our way, we have to persuade people around us, we have to argue for our position. We have to make them see things our way. Our culture is all about talking. But James is saying something here that most of the best salespeople already know--the best communicators are the best listeners. First, listening values the other person, important in a biblical perspective. But also, listening clues you in on the other person's needs and desires. You're better able to match your message to what they want to hear. Don't forget the last phrase--be slow to get angry. One way to read that in context might be "don't get defensive." When we get defensive, the parts of our brains that enable empathy as well as rationale thought get less blood flow--those things get shut down. The result is that we're unable to listen. God knew it all along--listen first and don't get defensive.

The tips in James 1:26 and 3:3-12 are also relevant here--watch what you say. How many times have you said something and immediately thought, "Oh, I wish I could take that back?" Too often, comments slip out that wiser people would have let go unsaid. James is recognizing that, reiterating that we need to be slow to speak.

The two skills, listening and speaking, go hand-in-hand. You cannot be quick to listen if you're worried about what you need to say. And why bother being slow to speak if you're not willing to listen to the other person? Work on these things. You're not going to get better at them overnight, but you'll benefit tremendously in your workplace as you work at them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Waiting for Promotions and Accomplishments

James 1:2-4, 9, 17

A lot of James is based on general behavior. That is, it's not work-specific like many of the passages that I've tried to post about. Even so, there are so many work-related lessons in this short book that I could not pass over these general statements. For example, James 1:2-4 talks about patience in suffering. James is writing to Christians who are suffering because of their faith. Perhaps you have suffered in your workplace because you are not willing to stoop to the level of others around you or because you have a higher ethical standard than others. Hang in there.

James 1:9 talks about being ok if you are in humble positions. Regardless of what your job is, work at it with all that you have. Take pride in where you are. Life is not about possessions and status.

Or what about James 1:17? Every good gift is from above. Think about that last promotion you received. Did you thank God for it? Or did you chalk it up to your intelligence and talent (who gave you those?)?

I'm going to use the next few posts to discuss some of the lessons for work that I see in James.