Monday, May 30, 2011

Work Time Versus Family Time

When I was growing up, my Dad was at work by 8 and was nearly always home shortly after 5. When he got home, he generally relaxed, often with my sister and me, until dinner. After dinner, he would either watch TV (with my mother, sister, and me), work in the garage, or some combination of those two things. Weekends were spent much the same way or on a family trip. But whatever was going on, work was generally confined to 8:00-5:00, Monday through Friday.

Some people still enjoy that schedule, but for more and more of us, 5:00 is no longer a hard-and-fast boundary between work time and family time. I use 5:00 as an example, recognizing that there are many who's jobs have shifts that end at 3:00, 7:00, or myriad other times. My point is that the line between "work time" and "family time" has become blurred for many. I put myself in that group. I blogged last week about how I sometimes promise to leave at 5:00 only to find myself walking out the door much closer to 6:00 than I'd like. Technology has compounded this movement by making it possible to work from home much more easily.

You might not think that the Bible has much to say about that. After all, "God helps those that help themselves" (I'm still looking for that in the Bible). Perhaps you were encouraged to "work all the hours that God sends." I've already posted about how
God expects us to work, and I'm not contradicting that now. But there's another side to life. God also expects us to be committed to family as well. That doesn't just mean providing for families. It also means teaching children. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 talks about the responsibility of parents to tell children what God has done. Any teacher can tell you how difficult it is to teach something to anyone without a relationship. You can't teach your children if you are never around--you have to invest in relationships with them. And God's plan is for both parents to be involved in that. 2 Timothy 1:5 talks about how important Timothy's mother and grandmother are in his faith while Ephesians 6:4 says that fathers are also responsible for training their children in the Lord. Paul doesn't say these things to place guilt or extra burdens on single parents. Instead, he is emphasizing the need to not be absent in children's lives.

Today is a holiday in America. Families are getting together for picnics and cookouts. Even if you cannot do so, find time this week to devote to your family. Many people have said "no one ever died wishing they'd spent more time at the office," and I think that is a very true statement. Make a commitment this week to spend time away from work and your laptop or smart phone where you can be fully present for your family. And if you cannot be with family this week, seek out those around you who have no family and be community for them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Time "On the Clock": The Other Side of Balance

As I said Wednesday, God calls us to a life of balancing work obligations and time away from work. A big part of that is time worshipping Him (which was the subject of Wednesday's post) and time with family and community (which will be the subject of Monday's post). But in between those outside-of-work commitments, there is an important point: God calls us to use our time at work wisely.

It used to be that perhaps the most flagrant abuses of "company time" might be daydreaming at your desk, taking a long lunch break, or having someone else clock you in early. No more. With many workers have access to computers, distractions abound. Now employees can check personal email accounts, facebook, blogs (including this one), and any number of other activities. Smart phones with all of those functions plus a number of games only add to the list of things that we can do in our work time that really have nothing to do with work.

But are those things really wrong. Here's a great post by Susan Dimickele on Social Networking or Notworking that really lays out some of the ethical challenges of this gray issue. On the one hand, these people (called "Tworkers") are spending company time on personal issues, which amounts to stealing from one's workplace. It's a big enough problem that a number of businesses are blocking social media cites from employees' computers. On the other hand, according to research that Dimickele cites, Tworkers tend to be more productive than those who do not distract themselves with social media.

For the Christian, another dilemma is the missed opportunities to build relationships with coworkers and others, relationships that might lead to chances to share your faith. Dimickele points out the irony in technologies that encourage virtual communities while tempting us to neglect the people around us.

Work-life balance is becoming an important value, particularly for younger generations of workers. And I believe it's a value that is consistent with the Bible's emphasis on times of rest and on the importance of family time. However, work-life balance also means that one must work. That may not mean abstaining from distractions completely, but it certainly does mean doing what it takes to be faithful to the tasks you are given.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Genesis 2:1-3
In your job, are there some projects that seem like they'll never get finished. I have several of those that I'm working on right now. It seems like, no matter how much I put into them, they'll always be more to do. And it's not so bad because I like working on them. But there's the dilemma. Because I like these projects and because they require a lot of work, it's easy to get so wrapped up in them that I forget about everything else. Pretty soon, leaving work at 5:00 becomes 5:30, 6:00, or 6:30, and I get home later and later. Or maybe I start spending the evenings buried in my laptop or smart phone. Pretty soon, it becomes harder and harder to spend time with family on the weekend because I've got too many other things going on.

Does that sound familiar? Maybe for you, it's because you feel like you need to get ahead or impress your boss. Maybe your industry is one of those that has become a 24/7 industry. Whatever the reason, it's become harder and harder to keep work confined to "work" time.

Isn't it interesting that the first mention of work in the Bible is God resting from His work? Look at Genesis 2: "By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work" (emphasis mine). God didn't need to rest. He has infinite power, infinite time, infinite ability to get stuff accomplished. He couldn't have been tired. So why rest? I believe God rested for three reasons.

First, He rested to show that work is temporary, that it has an end. Even God's creation work was finite. Sometimes we get caught up in the business and busy-ness of life that we forget how short our time on earth is. We forget the difference between temporary things and eternal things. God taking time to rest reminds us to keep our work here in perspective.

Second, God rested as an example for us. Remember we are created in His image. Just like God, we have the desire to create, the desire to work. It's how He made us. But unlike God, we do not have limitless endurance. God knew that we would need rest, a time to abstain from work, to catch our breath. There is a story about a traveler in Africa who engaged a local tribe to help him carry supplies on his journey. For several days, they woke early and traveled very fast for the locals knew the terrain very well. On the fourth day, the traveler awoke, eager to make more progress and complete his trip early. But he was confused and exasperated when his guides and companions refused to move. Frustrated, he asked what was going on. Through a translator, they explained that they needed to wait for their souls to catch up with their bodies. God knew that we would need time to pause, in the words of the story, to let our souls catch up with our bodies.

Third, and most importantly, God rested so that His creation would worship Him. Every day is a day of worship and everything we do should bring honor and praise to God. But sometimes, our schedules make extended times of worship difficult. Look at verse 3: "Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" I think God rested on the seventh day because He calls us to take time away from work to honor Him and to worship Him without the distractions of work around us. We still need to work. But periodically, we need time to stop and do nothing but worship.

How does this apply to you? It's a call for balance. Don't let work creep into family time. Take a look at your priorities and make changes if you need to. Then let those priorities determine how you spend your time, rather than letting your time determine your priorities. And as you re-evaluate time, consider where you can add holy rest. I confess that I am speaking as much to myself as anyone else. But I am committing to you that I am taking a hard look at how I spend my time and I challenge you to do the same.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Working in a "Christian" Organization

It's interesting to think about how your faith might be challenged while working in a Christian organization. On the one hand, you'd think that working in an organization where the leadership claims to use Christian principles to make decisions would make it easier to live out your faith. I think that's true to a large extent. I've had the opportunity to work for several universities that were unabashedly Christian, and it was much easier to be open about your faith at these institutions.

There is almost more pressure in a sense (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). You know that your work is expected to honor God. You know that people are holding you to a higher standard.

I can remember a time in college where the engine in my car was making funny noises. A friend recommended a Christian mechanic. The store had Bible verses all over the walls, giving me the assurance that I was dealing with someone who's business was run by someone with similar values. Unfortunately, this person said that the noise was not a major problem--two days later, my engine seized. It reminded me that to be a good Christian mechanic, you first have to be a good mechanic.

A friend of mine one time chose to not go with a fellow church member for a job for similar reasons. He didn't want there to be awkwardness if the job went wrong.

If you work at a Christian organization, don't assume that gives you leeway for sub-standard work. At the same time, enjoy the freedom to be open about your faith at work. It's a freedom that many do not have. But don't fall into complacency. I'm sure you realize that, just because your organization is led by a Christian, that doesn't mean that you are immune from faith challenges at work.

Friday, May 20, 2011

No One Can Serve Two Masters

Matthew 6:24; Luke 16: 13

I've posted before about the difficulties faced by early Christians as they tried to buy and sell things. Greek and Roman marketplaces often required customers and merchants to pay homage to the local god before they could shop or sell their goods. For the Christian, then, it was either compromise your faith or be completely left out of commerce. But we have it easier, right? We don't have to sacrifice to Zeus in order to keep our jobs, so there's no problem with serving two masters.

But how many times have you compromised your faith in little ways where you work? Maybe you've taken off early but said you worked a full day. Have you participated in office gossip, so as not to be the only one left out? What about taken credit for work that someone else did? And "they won't miss these office supplies, will they?" Or, "sure, that's a legitimate business expense."

There are lots of little things that creep up that can challenge our faith at work. These things don't seem like that big of a deal, but each time we do something that dishonors God, no matter how small it seems to us, we are serving another master.

I really appreciated this post from Godspotting with Sheila. She describes seeing a salesperson probably losing sales because he was more committed to searching the Scriptures with someone than he was to making the sale. What "little" choices do you face where you are tempted to serve another master? Make the right choices today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Do You Ever Feel Like Your Work Is Painful Toil?

Genesis 3:17-19

Do you ever feel like going to work is painful toil? I'm not talking about just having "one of those days." I mean the day-in-day-out exhaustion, the "I don't know if I can go on like this" kind of feeling that makes you not want to get out of bed. Maybe it's your supervisor, the tasks that you do, or your commute. Or maybe it's just not being able to do what you want, having to spend your time doing what someone else tells you to do. Why isn't work more fun?

There are a lot of people who enjoy what they do--I include myself in that category. But I would bet that even those of us who like our jobs have days where we're less than satisfied. That's part of being human. Literally. God told Adam that "through painful toil you will eat the sweat of your brow you will eat your food." That was the Adam-specific punishment because he and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We had always been
meant to work--God put Adam in the Garden to tend the plants. But now, the nature of work changed. It was going to be harder. There would be failures, frustrations, and other things interfering with our work (i.e., thorns and thistles). From then until eternity, work would never be as pleasant as it had been before.

That doesn't mean that work is something to evade. Remember that the Bible emphasizes the importance of working. God calls you to faithfulness where you are. God put you where you are at the time that you live so that you would seek Him (Acts 17:26-28).

Knowing that you have a job in an economy where many people don't may help some, but it's not going to make an unpleasant job into a great one. God never promises that work will be fun. In fact, He promises the opposite. But He calls you to faithfulness in spite of the difficulties of your job.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Created to Work

Genesis 2:15

God created Adam to work! When God was busy creating the heavens and the earth, His plan was always for humanity to work, taking care of His creation. Adam wasn't put into the garden to live a life of idleness. Genesis 2:15 says "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Just a few verses earlier, Genesis notes that, after creation but before humanity, "there was no one to work the ground" (2:5). Adam wasn't created to be lazy--he was made to work!

There are some in our society who see work as a burden. People look forward to the end of the day. Some are "working for the weekend." Others are counting the days until retirement. But God intended us to be doing something rather than sitting idle.

I wonder why. This was before Adam and Eve sinned, so life should be perfect. Why would God want us to work? I think one reason is because He works. The Bible begins with six days of God working and contrasts that with His rest. The rest of the Bible is about God working out our salvation. God is an active god. Since we're created in His image (Genesis 1:26), we too are created to be active.

Today is Monday, a day that has the reputation of being a "downer" day. It's the day that is the furthest from Friday and the weekend. But instead of thinking that you have to make it through the week so that you can rest on the weekend, remember that you are doing what you were created to do. This week, work with purpose--you were made to work.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Unless the Lord Builds the House...

Psalm 127:1-2

How often do you pray about what you do at work? Do you ask God's guidance before undertaking a new project or accepting the next assignment? I've already posted about the
Israelites' experiences when they didn't seek God. Psalm 127 provides an interesting perspective on this issue as well. "Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain." Unless God is guiding your work, you are working in vain. Pretty sobering, isn't it? I know there have been more times than I can count when I've started a research project or began preparing for a class without seeking God first.

Look at verse two: "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat." Do you ever feel like you're working harder and harder without seeing any payoff? Verse two finishes this way: "for He grants sleep to those He loves." God gives peace to those people who are seeking Him. Peace so that they can sleep at night. Peace so that they do not have to spend hours upon hours spinning their wheels.

Remember one of the faults of the people at Babel was that they were working for their own glory and not seeking God. If you feel like you're working harder and harder but not getting anywhere, ask yourself how often you are seeking God's direction at work. Ask whether God is guiding the work that you are doing. Don't labor in vain.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Honoring God Through Work

The smallest, most mundane moments at work are opportunities to honor God. Another blogger tells the story of her experience at Big Lots!, where she was amazed at the courtesy and service of an employee there. Here is an employee that might be the manager or might be a minimum wage worker. Yet he had a great attitude about work and fully devoted himself to his responsibility to help a customer. And regardless of his faith, this woman saw his service as a glory to God.

In almost every job, there are mundane or even boring tasks, those things that we just have to do. I love what I do, but as a professor, there are always little things that seem to get in the way of the really important parts of my job. But with everything, whether big or small, enjoyable or annoying, with each thing that I do in my work, I have the opportunity to honor God. So do you. Today and the rest of this week, try to see each task that you complete as your chance to honor your Savior. You don't have to be carrying a Bible to testify about Jesus--sometimes, all you have to do is be polite and helpful!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sharing Your Experiences

I've been posting for nearly a year on this blog. Kind of cool to have that milestone coming up in a little over a month. I teach workplace communication classes at my university, so I have students sharing their experiences with me regarding workplace communication in general. I'm interested in some of your experiences with how your faith and your work intersect. How are you different at work because you are a Christian? How do you express your faith at work? How do you wish you could do things differently? Feel free to comment on this post. If you'd prefer to not share quite that openly, feel free to contact me and share. I won't post anything that would identify you or that you tell me not to post. But I'd like to hear the types of ways that people are being Christian in their workplace, partly for my own curiosity, but mostly because I think it would be encouraging for all of us.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What Are You Sacrificing?

I was reading about Abraham’s sacrificing Isaac a few days ago. Here was a man (Abraham) who had everything a man of his time could want except one thing (a son). God Himself speaks with Abraham and gives him a son. That's got to be a pretty good life, to be able to talk to God and to know that He's giving you what you want most in life. But only a few chapters later, you read about Abraham taking Isaac to a mountain in Moriah to sacrifice his only son. Abraham wasn't the only one who made dire sacrifices for God in the Bible. Hosea married a prostitute. God told Jeremiah not to marry or have any children. Ezekiel was married but was told not to mourn his wife when she died. Talk about sacrificing your family for your work!

The Bible is full of stories about people's sacrificing. That got me thinking, what are we really sacrifcing? Romans instructs us to be living sacrifices, but what does that really mean? For one thing, it means that your time and your money are God's, not your own. It means that you have to be willing to be unpopular or outcast at work, if that's what God requires of you. It almost certainly means that you'll be uncomfortable at times (see the awkwardness post from Monday).

What are you sacrificing for God at work? If you can't answer that question right now, perhaps you should pay attention how you spend your time and energy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Problems at Work

Do you ever have one of those days at work, when everything goes wrong? You say the wrong thing to the boss, a coworker misinterprets a situation and thinks badly about you, your top client decides to go with someone else, and on and on the list goes. It might as well be a sad country song on the radio.

I was reading something that really put days like that into perspective. Isaiah 40:6-8 says "A voice says, 'Cry out.' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' 'All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.'"

James makes a similar comparison when he says that our lives are like "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (4:14). It's hard to think about our time on Earth being like grass that only lasts a season or like a fog that rolls in and then is gone. And if your focus is only on this life, it can be depressing. When we're young, it can feel like we'll live forever, but aren't you glad we don't?? If we lived forever here on Earth, then the problems that you have now might literally last forever. If we lived forever here, then the people who persecute you would also likely be able to persecute you forever. Isn't it great that these things will pass?

The next time you have a bad day, remember--each day is one day closer to the end of the season, when the grass will be gone. The problems of a bad day, even the ones that seem to ruin everything, are only a speck in the stream of eternity.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Do I Feel Awkward?

I recently felt very convicted about an attitude toward work. But as I think about my attitude, I would bet that I'm not alone. As I mentioned a few posts ago, my wife and I recently had a baby. Since then, my supervisor has been asking for a picture to go on a video announcement board in the lobby of my building. So I pose, wearing a very school-spirited shirt. And my son was looking right at the camera, with a wide-eyed look on his face. It was a great picture. We had taken it in his room, and one of the ways that we have decorated his room is putting a scripture on the wall using vinyl lettering. It was completely accidental, but just above his head in the picture, is "The Lord will rejoice over you" (Zephaniah 3:17). And it looks like the picture was taken specifically to get the verse in the frame.

I don't know why, but when I saw that in the picture, I kind of felt awkward about sending it to my work. I thought about photo-shopping it out, but I don't really have time for things like that right now (new baby and all). It just felt weird to know that such a bold declaration would be visible for all to see. It's not that my workplace is anti-religion. In fact, my university has "Christian" in the title, even if that may not influence day-to-day decisions as much as it once did.

As I looked at the picture, I thought, "maybe no one will notice." The first thing I heard back from my supervisor was "great picture and a beautiful sentiment." No luck with the verse not being noticed. I have only been at this university a year. If it wasn't already, I guess my faith is out there (at least a partial verse of it).

Why did it feel awkward? I think part of it is general academia's hostility to religion. Part of it is wanting to be accessible to all students, not just Christian ones. A lot of it is just trying to manage impressions.

I realize it's immature. In fact, the picture is an incredible opportunity to witness to others. And it's something that I have gotten over now. But the initial reaction was hesitation and awkwardness. You may not have any problems with telling others about Jesus and may not experiences any pauses as I did. How Christian are you in your workplace? Do you look for ways to share your beliefs or do you hesitate like I did? I'm not saying that any of us should be the "Bible-banging," in-your-face coworker that no one wants to be around. Look for how you can share your beliefs with others. It may not be easy at first, and the awkwardness may not go away completely. Pray that God opens doors for you to share your faith. And when He does, walk through them.