Monday, November 29, 2010


In thinking about the themes of mercy, love, and thankfulness from last week, and forgiveness in the workplace, which I anticipate writing about in the near future, I think that perhaps something very important to remember is that we do these things, we try to honor God in our workplace because of His Grace to us. Even when your subordinates screw up, your coworkers back-stab you, and your supervisors treat you worse than you deserve, remember that they are also sinners in need of a Savior, that they are also imperfect. The parable of the unmerciful servant is convicting. We have been forgiven a debt that can never be repaid, no matter how well our job pays us. That's a powerful perspective to have. We have mercy on others and show love, even to our enemies at work because God has shown such an immense love to us.

I have another purpose for writing about grace. One might look at the last 80+ posts and see them very much as a list of things to do or not do in the workplace. "If I do these things and avoid doing these things, I will honor God in my work." So you try to live by those lists and everything is going well for the first few days until Joe comes in late and you yell at him for messing up your day. Or your coworker Sally tries to double cross you, so you let her have it. "Uh oh, I blew it. I'm not living by the lists." I want to really emphasize this--the ideas about which I'm blogging are in no way lists of do's and don't's. While the Bible is full of commands and admonitions, that's not the "way" to God. Instead, the ideas that I've written in terms of honoring God at work are things to do because God has forgiven you for not being perfect. He knows that you're going to mess up. That's why He sent Jesus to begin with.

I don't want anyone to read this blog as a Pharisaical law of how to act at work. Instead, think of these as ideas about how to honor God because of His wonderful grace.

Friday, November 26, 2010


This holiday season, be sure to be thankful for the blessing that God has given. If you have a job, be sure to include that in your thanksgiving--many people do not. Spend time rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks whatever your circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love Your Enemies...What About Your Coworkers?

Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-35

The Bible is replete with the idea of love. John 4 says that describes the very nature of God as being love ("God is love"). In the two passages listed above, Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies. That doesn't seem right. Jesus, are you sure you got that right? Didn't you mean love your friends? It's pretty counter intuitive to love your enemies. And I don't think that Jesus is talking about loving them with the motivation that Paul mentions in Romans 12:20 of "heaping coals onto their heads." If that's the only motivation that gets you to show kindness to a rival, I suppose that's better than nothing. But I think, given the context of each passage, I think Jesus means to show genuine regard for your enemies. Watch out for them. Treat them, not with hostility, but with kindness. You've probably experienced a coworker or two that, while you might not use the term "enemy," they certainly weren't on the same side as you. We prefer "rival" or "competitor" in a business setting. How can you love your rivals? If a coworker is competing with you for the same promotion, how can you love him or her? Jesus says that everyone loves those who help them and are likely to love back. But Jesus demonstrated love for us, before we loved him (Romans 5: 6-8).

Perhaps one way to show love is to smile. Genuinely, not the kind of smile that says "I'm really angry on the inside." Perhaps a genuine compliment to your rival or about your rival to someone else. Maybe making sure he or she has equal access to information or to face-time with your boss. I don't think that loving your enemy means that you automatically cede the promotion to him or her. But perhaps making sure that you are judged on merits, not on any unfair advantage that tilts your way. And then, whether you get the promotion or not, be sure to be gracious in winning or in losing.

Another way to show love is forgiveness if someone wrongs you. I'll have a post in the not too distance future that focuses specifically on forgiveness. Forgiving others who cheat you, lie to you, or in any other way wrong you is a central part of turning the other cheek. Loving your enemies means not seeking revenge.

What are some other ways you can love your rivals? And what would the outcome be if you did that? I know it's tempting to say that they'd take advantage of you, and that may be very true in the short term. But what would happen long term? For the most part, Jesus never won over most of His rivals, but look at what happened because He loved them anyway.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blessed are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:22-35
cf Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:29

For the next few posts, I would like to look at the idea of mercy in the workplace. Today, I'm giving an overview and looking at supervisors and mercy. Wednesday, it will be the idea of forgiveness, particularly in terms of relating to coworkers and others at work. Friday, we'll stop and think about thankfulness. Finally, Monday, we'll talk about why do this at all, what is our motivation for thinking about mercy when those around us often don't.

Mercy is not a popular concept in what is generally thought of as a "dog-eat-dog" world where you have to "look out for number one" to "get ahead" in the "rat race." Those metaphors are much more widely accepted than "be merciful."

What does it even mean to be merciful? Does it mean that your supervisor can treat you like dirt and get away with it? Should coworkers be able to backstab you and know that you won't do anything? Does it mean to let employees slack off?

For me, one of the easist things to remember is to "turn the other cheek," which is found in Matthew 5:39 and in Luke 6:29. That really speaks to the first two situations presented above. Yes, your supervisor can treat you like dirt, and you should still respect, obey, and pray for your supervisor. Yes, your coworkers can backstab you and not expect retaliation. I don't think that means that you have to constantly put yourself in position to be backstabbed, but if it happens, you need to turn the other cheek. I'll continue this line of thought on Wednesday.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to show mercy in a workplace is in relating to your subordinates. Think about the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:22-35. The servant was forgiven a debt that he could never repay. Even if the servant worked all of his life, he could never repay his debt, so the Master forgave it. No questions asked. Balance equals zero. What did this servant do? He went out and found another servant that owed almost nothing, assaulted and threatened him, and demanded money "or else!" Naturally, the Master was dismayed and threw the unmerciful servant in jail until he could pay his debt (which basically equated to a lifetime sentence). So think about your situation. God, the Master, has forgiven you a debt of sin that you could never repay. No matter how hard you worked and how much your job paid, you would never be able to repay the debt, so God said, "no problem, I got this one." What's your move? Are you the unmerciful servant, ready to pounce on someone that crosses you? Remember that, however they wrong you, it cannot compare to the sin that you've been forgiven! Hold your subordinates to a high standard. But remember to supervisor them with an ample supply of mercy for you have been shown incredible mercy yourself (which will be the subject of Friday's post).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Be Different

Matthew 5:11-16

After describing a series of countercultural behaviors and calling those who practice such behaviors "blessed," Jesus saves the strangest for last. Blessed are you when others insult you. What? Blessed are you when others falsely say bad things about you. Are you kidding? Seriously, are you saying that it's a good thing when others treat me poorly? Yes, that's exactly what Jesus is saying if people are treating you poorly because you are living for Him. You see, when you live your life as a reflection of Jesus, whether at work or in any other context, people will notice. And it's not always going to be the kind of attention you're going to want. Living like Jesus is going to make you different, and most people don't like people that are different. People may make you an outcast. People may leave you out. In a sense, it's the child's game of kickball, and you may get picked last. If that happens because you've treated others poorly or for reasons other than Jesus, this passage doesn't apply to you. But as long as you are persecuted because of Jesus, you can take heart--people did the same thing to prophets (and to Jesus' disciples after this passage was written). Jesus tells us that Christians will have troubles in this world (John 16:33). But He also tells us that we can make it through those insults, persecutions, and slander because He has overcome the world.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9

I’ve blogged about people who fan the fires of conflict in their workplaces by
interfering or by gossiping. But what about those people who are able to diffuse tense feelings and defensiveness in others and bring peace? You’ve probably seen that type of person. He or she is much rarer than the gossip or the defensive person. The peacemaker is one who shows people the big picture. This person refuses to worry about earthly struggles, but knows that being with Jesus is everything. That doesn’t mean the peacemaker is an absent-minded worker. On the contrary, he or she knows that work is for God’s glory. They are optimistically content because they know that God is in control. And other people see those qualities. We admire people who can resolve conflict. It’s not that people never disagree—it’s that those conflicts don’t boil over into wars between people in the office.

What kind of influence are you? Are you a peacemaker or are you one who fans the fire? I would like to say that I’m a peacemaker, and sometimes that’s true. Other times, I am guilty of gossiping about a feud or of egging someone on in getting revenge. But I’m working on it. I’m working on being a peacemaker because I want a child of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fishers of People

Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:2-11
cf Matthew 9:9-12; Luke 19:1-10

The next month or so will focus on the Gospels. As much as possible, I’ve tried to group stories from multiple places together. Let’s explore what Jesus Himself said about work while He was on earth doing His Father’s work.

What would you think if someone came to you, told you to leave your job, and gave you a vague idea of what you would be doing with your time without any details of pay, benefits, or long-terms security? That’s exactly what happened to Peter, Andrew, and the other apostles. Jesus said, “follow me.” And they left their nets and followed him. I’ve talked with a number of people who have gone through a mid-life career change, some by choice, most from necessity. But none of them have described anything quite like that. We don’t have any evidence that the apostles suspected Jesus was the Messiah yet. He must have been quite charismatic to attract their attention like that. We know that at least some of them still fell back on those old jobs from time to time (John 21). Later, after the Holy Spirit showed them what was going on, I wonder if they ever reminisced about that life change.

Take a minute to think about your career. Obviously, if you have trouble working and serving God, maybe you should think about a change (think about Matthew and Zacchaeus). But fishing wasn’t an “evil” job. Jesus just knew they could do more. Where is God calling you to more? How can you, with your “good” job, glorify God even more? What vocational commitments is He asking of you?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wisdom and Tact

Daniel 2:14-16

This is Part Two of Daniel's tips on disagreeing with your boss. To set the scene for you, Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream and wants someone to interpret it. But he knows that if he tells the dream to his advisors, they'll make up an interpretation that they think he wants to hear (sounds like those subordinates that
always tell you what you want to hear). So he tells his advisors to tell him what he dreamed as well as the interpretation. Naturally, they thought this request was unfair, but when they couldn't do it, Nebuchadnezzar was ready to kill everyone in the court, including Daniel. When the executioner came to Daniel, "Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact." The executioner explains the problem, Daniel asks for a little time, and eventually he explains the dream.

You know, if an executioner came to your office door, I can think of a lot of potential reactions, but very few of them have anything to do with "wisdom and tact." Yet that's sometimes exactly what's required. When your boss is being irrational, don't get defensive--respond with wisdom and tact. When an undeserving coworker gets a promotion, don't hostile--respond with wisdom and tact. Wisdom is knowing what to say, when to say it, and especially what not to say. It's avoiding defensiveness and personal attacks. It's not being hasty. Tact is all about how you say something, your tone of voice and body language. Can you be respectful even when others aren't? Notice that Daniel responded before he had received any assurance of a stay in the execution. That is, he used wisdom and tact, regardless of the outcome. In today's workplaces, there are lots of king's executioners, and they come in many different forms. The next time you see one, try to resist the urge to scream and flea the "city." Try to resist the urge to fight back. Instead, try to respond with wisdom and tact.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Disagree with Your Boss

Daniel 1:8-14

Grumbing and complaining get a bad rap as people think about how to live as Christians. But there's a difference between the grumbling that angered God as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and complaints/suggestions that are designed to improve your workplace or help you to do your work more effectively. Most of us have experienced those times in our work where we could do our job more efficiently or more satisfyingly if it wasn't for this particular policy. Or maybe you've had the experience of dealing with a boss that was unaware of some habit or practice that he or she did that was really holding the organization back. In those moments, you have a choice: Disagree or remain silent. And if you disagree, you have another choice regarding how you disagree. Do you say something to your supervisor or vent to your coworkers? Do you present a solution to the problem or make sarcastic comments?

I've posted before about the importance of honest disagreement in organizations, and I've encouraged supervisors to listen to employees' dissent. Daniel gives more details in terms of how to do so. Daniel and his friends have been taken from Judah and brought to Babylon, to the king's court. They are told to eat rich foods so that they will appear healthy, but Daniel doesn't want "to defile himself." So look what he said to his overseer. First, Daniel 1:8 says that he "asked for permission." That means that he was probably pretty humble as he disagreed with the supervisor. Second, he was dissenting from the right motives, in this case, faithfulness to God. It wasn't to get ahead. That's important. Third, he recognized his supervisor's goals and sought to match his own goals with those of his supervisor's. That's too important to overlook. The overseer explains what he needs to accomplish in verse 10. Then, in verses 11-14, Daniel explains how both he and the overseer can get what they want.

That's three keys to dissenting in the workplace. First, be humble. That automatically rules out sarcasm and threats. Remember to respect your supervisor. Second, dissent from the right motives, which generally will exclude selfishness. That doesn't mean that you can't pursue personal benefits. Maybe it just limits you to not pursuing personal benefits at the expense of others. Third, recognize the organization's goals and your supervisor's goals and try to frame your dissent in such a way that it accomplishes what you want and what he/she wants.

Dissent can help an organization to grow. Don't be afraid to disagree. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. Friday's post will continue to explore what Daniel says about healthy dissent.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Little" Actions Matter a Lot

Isaiah 58:3
cf Malachi 3:5

In Isaiah 58, God is telling His people why He's mad at them, even though they seem to be fasting all the time. Hey, that's a good thing, right? But God says that their fasting isn't affecting the rest of their actions. They're still fighting with each other. And important for our study, they're exploiting their workers, even though they claim to be serving God. This is another one of those passages that says to me that exploiting workers is a bad thing. Just because you CAN make an employee do something doesn't mean that you SHOULD make him or her do it. As a supervisor, your actions matter. And just because you are honoring God in one aspect of your life (such as Sunday morning) does not relieve you from the responsibility of honoring God in other aspects (such as Monday). God cares how you treat your subordinates. That doesn't mean that you can expect high standards. But there's a line between high standards with discipline and exploitation.

Do you know where that line is? If not, think about treating subordinates with respect and dignity. Think about whether you would want a supervisor to treat you that way (but remember not to romanticize the things you went through to get to where you are--"in my day, we had to walk up hill to and from work, and thanked our employer for the chance to work for free all day.")

Part of not exploiting workers is paying them a fair price for the work they do, rather than trying to get every drop of labor out of them while paying them as little as possible. Some might say that's just business. But your life is not just business. Malachi 3:5 says that God will testify against you if you are not paying workers what you owe them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

These are interesting contrasts in Ecclesiastes. Last time, I blogged about how employees should not complain about their boss or even have overly negative thoughts about him or her because of how things get back to people. Today's passage is the other side of Wednesday's admonition to not speak poorly of your supervisor. If you're a supervisor, don't think badly of employees that speak poorly of you. Why not? Look at verse 22: "for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others." You weren't always a supervisor. Be very careful before you get defensive and lash out at your subordinate. Did you ever complain about a supervisor? Did you ever vent to someone else, thinking that your supervisor would never find out? It doesn't matter whether it was years ago or only yesterday. Don't punish (even in small ways) a subordinate for doing something that you yourself did. Even if your supervisor was not so generous. Instead, use the opportunity to think about your performance as a supervisor. Sure, sometimes employees complain and they're just complaining. But a lot of times, those complaints have more grounds that you might think at first. So if you happen to hear about an employee who is venting to someone about you, don't get defensive. Chuckle a bit to yourself as you remember your own times of doing that. Then think about what truth there might be in the employee's frustration. You'll be a better supervisor, your employee may appreciate any changes (and will certainly not appreciate any defensiveness on your part), and your whole workplace may be better as a result of your restraint.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Will the Little Birdy Hear?

Ecclesiastes 10:20

Ecclesiastes 10 closes on an interesting note, with wisdom that almost sounds like it belongs in a storybook or cartoon. The Teacher describes a person, in his or her bedroom, complaining about the king. A bird in that room goes and relays your complaint to the king. Sounds funny, right? But here's the thing--the point is that you never know when something that you say will get back to someone that you didn't intend. Now think about that in the workplace. "Do not revile your [boss], even in your thoughts." Let's face it. There are some terrible bosses out there. You may have one. Even if you do, be very careful about how you think about him or her. When you dwell on how much you hate your boss, those thoughts are probably going to leak out, no matter how much you try to hide it. People are going to find out. And when they do, either because your tone and behaviors betray you or because you vent to someone, you never know when those thoughts will get back to your boss. Instead, better to pray for your boss. Better to support him or her. Obey. Respect. Even if they are against you, be subject to them. Above all, don't "revile" them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Thoughts on Flattery

Proverbs 26:24-26, 28:23

Let's be clear. When the Bible uses the word "flattery," it's not referring to giving genuine compliments. That is a practice that's almost always a great idea. No,
flattery in the Bible is telling people what they want to hear, usually when you don't believe what you say. "Yes, boss, that's a great idea." "I don't know what management was thinking, you really deserved that promotion." "Will do, whatever you say." Those thoughts could be sincere acknowledgements of a boss or coworker. But on the other hand, they could also be insincere attempts to win attention or influence others. It's that second classification that the Bible warns against. Look at verses 24 and 25: "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart." Another way to read "disguises himself with his lips" might be "thinks he (or she) can talk his way out of anything." Again, there's the deceit factor. These are not genuine compliments that are being dished out. Verse 28 says that a flattering mouth works ruin. Pretty harsh.

Be sure of this. If you think you can work your way up the ladder and avoid disappointments by telling people what you think they want to hear, watch out! Verse 27 says that it's probably going to come back to haunt you, and verse 26 states that your (mis)deeds will be publicly exposed. People will eventually catch on, and all the talking in the world may not make things right. Perhaps worst of all, people will begin to not trust you, and that trust may be very hard to win back.

Proverbs 28:23 has a fitting final word on all of this. False flattery may help you advance or help you to influence others. But at the end of the day, "he who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue." That is to say, that people want others around them that they can trust. In the workplace, competent managers are those who don't surround themselves with yes-people, those who tell them what they want to hear. Competent managers surround themselves with people who look at things objectively and speak the truth (with
tact), even when it means disagreeing.