Friday, October 29, 2010

You Can't Take It With You.

Ecclesiastes 1:3; 2:18-26; 4:4-8; 5:18

"What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?" The teacher is disappointed to not find purpose in any of the work that he completes. In chapter 2, he laments that he has to leave everything to his descendants, but he doesn't know whether they will be wise or foolish. Toiling days, restless nights, but you still can't take it with you.

In chapter 4, the Teacher suggests that work and achievements come from our envying of others. He describes the woe of one who works, who sacrifices tranquility and contentment, but cannot find satisfaction.

He sums up this idea of the meaning of work in chapter 5: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot." I have to admit that these are not the most hopeful passages in the Bible nor are they the easiest to make sense of. Part of the issue is why are you working. Are you working because you enjoy what you do? Are you working to provide for your family? Or are you working to accumulate? In the first two instances, I think the Bible is clear that this is a good think. "It is good and proper for a man to ...find satisfaction in his toilsome labor." As a professor, I tell people that I get paid to do what I enjoy doing. That's a good thing, according to Ecclesiastes. Are you working to provide for family? That's a good thing, too, according to
other places in the Bible as well as this passage. The teacher's condemnation of the man working in chapter 4 was that he had no family--he was alone and working to accumulate. That's the danger, working to accumulate stuff that you cannot enjoy. It's not that the stuff accumulated is bad (5:19-20). It's the attitude and endless hours spent doing something other than honoring God.

Think about why you are working. Is it to provide food and shelter/clothing for your family? Or is it to pay off the house or car that you couldn't really afford but had to have? Think about your priorities and then consider what you really gain from your "toil under the sun."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conflict with Coworkers

Proverbs 26:17-20

These verses have to do with general principles regarding conflict, but I think they are as applicable within a workplace as they are in any other context. Verse 17 says, "Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own." Pretty powerful imagery. Have you ever seen two people upset with each other and wanted to help? It's only natural to want to make peace if two people around you are in conflict. But be careful. You may be seen as taking sides, or your friend may turn on you specifically for not taking sides. Anything you say can be misinterpreted. Be very careful.

The next two verses have to do with sarcasm or practical jokes. "Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!" People that know me really well will tell you that I love to kid around. Many people consider a good sense of humor a must for dealing with people. But be careful how you use humor. Sometimes people don't get the joke, particularly when they are the target. Playing a trick on someone or making a coworker believe something that isn't true and saying, "Gotcha!" can backfire.

Finally, verse 20 (as well as verse 22) warns about the danger of gossip. How much worse are conflicts when people start talking about them?! Whereas two coworkers might otherwise let a conflict between them die out, when the rest of the office is talking about it, the conflict grows bigger and bigger. People take sides and tell each person that he or she is justified in being upset. Misinformation is rampant as rumors get back to each side. Pretty soon, the positions are locked and the chances of managing the conflict while preserving relationships dwindle. The metaphor of this proverb is apt: the fire of office conflict might die out, but gossip rekindles hurts, indignation, and anger to keep it going.

I think these are interesting thoughts about coworker conflicts, particularly applicable in today's workplaces where dealing with people is a must.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Honest Scales

Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23
cf Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:11

Another prominent theme in Proverbs is that of unfair scales. In an economy before digital scales where merchants would carry measuring cups and weights/scales for doing business, one way to “get ahead” was to have one set of measures for buying goods that perhaps were slightly over-sized (so you got more than you paid for) and another set for selling goods that were undersized (so you sold less than they paid for). This was
condemned in Leviticus, but apparently the practice was common enough to still be an issue by the time Proverbs is compiled. Proverbs 11:1 states that God “abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” Proverbs 16 praises the business person who exercises honesty in business practices saying, “honest scales and balances are from the Lord.” In chapter 20, we learn that God “detests” unfair weights and scales.

And it seems that the Israelites didn’t listen particularly well to these proverbs. One of the complaints against both the people of Israel before they were conquered was that they were using dishonest scales. Amos says that God will not forget dishonest business practices, particularly when they disadvantage the poor and needy. Micah says that a person with unfair scales would not be acquitted.

So what about you? Are you honest in your business transactions? Are you looking for accounting tricks so that you come out ahead of others? When you deal with customers or clients, are you using the same yardstick with them that you would expect from your distributors? Whatever it is, take time today to consider the equivalent to unfair scales in your own industry. How can you ensure that your transactions are fair? If you feel confident there, then consider your transactions with the government. Are you trying to find a reason that those golf clubs really are a medical deduction? Are you honest about the money you made last year? You wouldn’t want a client being dishonest about the money they owe you, so reconsider your honesty with the money you owe the government.

God calls us to honesty in all of our transactions. As people of God, we need to be “above reproach” in this matter. We need to set examples for others in terms of fairness.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Gentle Answer

Proverbs 15:1

This is a “general living” proverb instead of being workplace specific, but I think it applies to work very neatly. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Whether you are correcting someone, giving advice, or just venting about how you think things should be, a gentle tone and a little bit of tact go a long way. When someone says something offensive to you, instead of responding in kind, consider a gentle answer. When a subordinate (or coworker or supervisor) screws up, consider responding with a gentle answer. In any situation where you are heating up, try to take a second to cool down and respond to the people in that situation with a gentle answer. That can go a long way toward soothing relationships than reacting defensively, which tends to “stir up anger.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mere Talk

Proverbs 14:23

Have you ever known those people who talk about work, but never seem to do any? Those people who always have the next great idea but never do anything to make that idea happen? Those people who never can get ahead and they spend all their time telling you about it (instead of working)? Listen to Proverbs 14:23—“all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” One interpretation of the book of Proverbs is that it contains truisms, things that are generally, but not universally true. That might be a good way to look at this verse. There are people who work very hard, but cannot say they’ve made a profit yet. But I think the general principle of the verse stands: talking about what you’re going to do without taking action is never going to get you there. You’ve got to work.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5, 26; 18:9; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 24:30-34; 26:13-16

Laziness is one of the most common themes in the book of Proverbs. Consider these thoughts:

"Lazy hands make someone poor" (10:4).

"As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him" (10:26, an indictment against the lazy worker).

"One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys" (18:9).

And my favorite, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" (6:6).

Perhaps you know someone who just never seems to want to work. Someone who always seems to be scheming how to get out of working. These proverbs don't condemn vacations and relaxation. But the point is that there comes a time when you have to get to work. This is just a handful of the verses that talk about and condemn laziness. Use a concordance and find more. Then get to work. If you're tempted to slack off this week, go outside and watch the ants.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't Withhold Good

Prov. 3:27-30

This set of proverbs is not specifically about work, but I think it's very applicable. Don't withhold good from those who deserve it when it's within your power to act. In other words, if you can help someone, do it. All work can be isolating from time to time, especially in workplaces that foster competition and pit coworker against coworker. That can create the temptation that you can ignore the needs of others while working on your tasks. This proverb counters that to some extent. If it's within your power to help someone, do it.

Don't say to your neighbor, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give it to you then," when you now have it with you. I kind of see this as a "pay what you owe" to people proverb as well as fulfilling other commitments. God saw this as important even as He gave the Law to the Israelites in the desert. Just like you should not withhold good from others, you shouldn't try to get out of paying what they have worked for.

Finally, don't plan to harm a neighbor who trusts you and has done you know harm. In business, people sometimes feel the need to get ahead of someone else and will preemptively strike them so that the other person doesn't have time to anticipate the attack. This proverb is saying, don't do that. If people are working and at peace with you, don't plot to backstab them.

Interesting thoughts for daily life in general, but particularly insightful as one applies them to work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere?

Psalm 12:2-4

David is pretty harsh when it comes to people who flatter others. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more...Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, "We will triumph with our tongues." Ouch. The passage considers the flatterer to be ungodly, and David asks God to cut off the tongues of flatterers. David isn't condemning those who compliment others. In fact, genuinely complimenting your boss can go a long way. David also isn't talking about
using tact when it comes to your conversations with others. The reference here is to the person who "bends" the truth to win favor with another. Perhaps your boss completes a project that you could have done better but you tell your boss that it's the greatest thing you've ever seen. Or maybe you're competing for a promotion but you tell your coworker that he/she deserves it more, even when you don't think that's true. Compliments are an important part of interaction, whether in the workplace or in other parts of life. But if you're going to compliment someone, be sure that your compliment is true.

David is also talking specifically about those people who pridefully think they can talk their way out of trouble and into gain. So one issue is making sure your compliments are honest, but the second issue is that you are not relying on what you say for career success. As a communication studies professor, I am all about the importance of talk at work. In many ways, it's the coin of the realm. But relying too heavily on your communication ability, thinking you can communicate so well that you can achieve success for yourself, means that you are not relying on God and giving him credit for your accomplishments.

Be careful with flattering. Compliment. Be tactful. But be honest, and remember that you serve God alone.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Possible Theme Verse

Colossians 3:17

This verse is one of those that might serve as a great theme for this blog in general. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord. I think that verse really captures a lot of why I want to explore these ideas. Whatever your profession, work at it as if you're working for Christ. The idea is repeated a few verses later after Paul has talked about husband/wife relationships and master/slave relationships. Do everything as if working for God.

If you are new to this blog, here's a post that explains a little bit about the order (or lack of) in terms of going through the Bible as well as three types of passages that seem to be relevant to being Christian at work.

This blog explores what it means to be Christian at work, when "church friends" aren't around and God may not be the first thing that naturally comes to mind. But just because you may not work in a building with a steeple on top doesn't mean that God is any less concerned with you and with how you are acting. In fact, I would say you have an even better opportunity to stand out as a servant of Christ at work, where no one expects you to act different, than you do on Sunday mornings, where people around you are also acting Christ-like. How can you do your job "in the name of the Lord Jesus?" How will the "words" and "deeds" of your work reflect Christ this week? As you begin the week today, think about how you can use the week to serve God, not just at a building during Sunday worship, but every day no matter where you are and who is around you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Pt. 3

Ephesians 4:25-32

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

How many conversations at work would be different if we followed that admonition? Only say what is helpful and benefits others. Wow, I think about everything I've said this week, and I have to admit that I have said things at work that probably didn't build others up. My big one is sarcasm. What about you? Any gossiping or grumbling under your breath? What about your humor? I put sarcasm as something that's not particularly helpful to others, but a lot of humor might also fall under "coarse joking" that Paul discusses in Ephesians 5:4. The idea of limiting speech to only what is wholesome, helpful for building up, and beneficial seems an awful lot like a vow of silence to some, I would guess. That's part of the "new self" to which Paul is calling the Ephesians (and us by extension). We are called to be different, and how we talk is certainly one way to show how unique God's people are in workplaces where unwholesome talk may be the norm. It's tough to change all at once, but make the effort and let God's grace and His Spirit work in you.

Paul returns to the idea of getting rid of hate and ungodly anger and replacing it with kindness in verses 31 and 32. Then, 5:1 serves as an endpost to this list of holy living thoughts. Think about talk. Deal with anger. Be honest. Because by doing these things, you are imitating Christ. And you choose to imitate him because you are a dearly loved child. I think that perspective is always important. These things aren't items on a holiness checklist--we imitate Christ at work because we're God's children and want to serve Him as Lord of our lives.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Pt. 2

Ephesians 4:25-32

After encouraging the Ephesians to be honest and to deal with anger, Paul then says that they must not steal. Instead, they must do something useful with their hands. In other words, they need to work to support themselves. The first implication is to not steal from your workplace. Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with instructions on not taking what is not yours. This includes the types of embezzlement that ends up on the news. But it also means don't steal office supplies, those little things that no one will miss. It also means time, either by misreporting your work time or by using work time for non-work tasks. Paul is saying don't steal, and I think it's important to consider all the "little" ways that we can steal at work, in addition to the "big" ones.

Second, this is a reinforcement of the importance of work. Paul doesn't just say don't steal. He tells the Ephesian Christians to replace stealing with work. Working is to occupy their time and provide for their needs so that they don't need to steal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Attitude, New Self, Created to be like God, Part 1

Ephesians 4:25-32

This passage has a great deal to say about holy living, so much so that I'm going to break it up over a few posts. The passage starts with "therefore," and a preacher friend of mine used to say that whenever you see "therefore," you have to look at what came "before." In verses 22-24, Paul says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." With the idea of a new attitude and a new self, both of which were created to be like God, Paul describes several ways in which the new self is different from the old self. These are general living verses, but several are very applicable to workplaces as well.

Paul begins by encouraging the Ephesians to be truthful (see also Col. 3:8-14). I can't think of very many things that will erode your relationships faster at work (or anywhere else) than dishonesty. We're not necessarily talking about Enron-sized dishonesty (although that's included, too). I know when I'm just about caught up on everything and someone asks me if I have a minute to do a particular task, it's very tempting to say, "no, I'm just swamped right now." Or what about being behind on a project, but when the boss asks how it's going, saying, "fine, almost finished with it." There are any number of times when we may have the opportunity to tell a "white lie." But in this passage and in Colossians, Paul reminds us that we are called to be different from people around us.

Paul also calls us to be careful with our anger. Many people have heard the phrase "don't let the sun go down on your anger." This doesn't mean that you can't take a short time to cool off before dealing with a problem. What Paul is saying is don't let things fester. When someone really makes me mad, my natural inclination is to stew. Sure I may be nice to the person's face, but inside, I'm thinking about how I'm going to get back at them or I'm imagining bad things happening to them. So what happens after that? Are things better? Typically not. In fact, what usually happens is I'm tenser, more upset, but they are usually oblivious to my distress. I lose out on sleep and peace because I'm dwelling on what they did and what I'd like to see happen to them rather than spending time thinking about better things. If you're angry (for the right reasons), be angry. But don't dwell on it. Say something, don't say something, but either way, move on.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Ephesians 6:5-9
cf Colossians 3:22-4:1

After encouraging slaves to obey, Paul next turns to how masters should behave toward slaves. I think this relates to being a good supervisor. Ephesians 6:9 says that masters should treat slaves with respect and not threaten them. I don't think this means sacrificing standards, but I do think that it indicates that supervisors should not exalt their power over subordinates. Look at the next part of verse 9--the same God is over both supervisors and employees, and being a supervisor does not make you better in God's eyes. Colossians 4:1 says that masters should treat slaves rightly and fairly. I think, because of their greater power in organizations, supervisors have an even greater obligation than employees do to treat others with respect. You may have the ability to have people do what you want and to impose sanctions while withholding privileges. But I think that God calls you to be very careful doing so, making sure that you aren't exercising authority just because the organizational chart says you can. Remember, the Egyptians were condemned because they were "ruthless in imposing tasks." Maybe a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you're willing to do whatever it is that you're asking your subordinates to do.