Friday, June 24, 2011

Constant Improvement

One thing I think is critically important to remember is that honoring God at work isn't something that happens and then you're done. It requires constant attention. It's a daily decision rather than a one-time event.

Last week, on the one year anniversary of starting this blog, I challenged myself and all of you to do something different this week, something to honor God that you wouldn't normally do. For me, it was really focusing on work-life balance. I love my job. And like many of your jobs, there's always more to do than there are hours in the day (even during the summer). Those two things together mean that it's hard for me to "turn off" work at the end of the day. It's very easy for me to tell my wife that I need just a few more minutes, very easy to bring my laptop into the living room or dining table. If we're just going to watch TV anyway, why can't I multi-task. Well, this week, I wanted to really separate work time and family time. And for the most part, I was successful. I'll admit that Wednesday, I let things slide a bit. I had a major deadline this week, and I worked quite a bit after dinner on Wednesday. But there were other times during the week when I spent time with my wife or with our son when I could have been working. And I tried to make it quality time rather than multi-tasking time.

I've still got a way to go, on that issue and a host of others. What about you? How did you do? And if you missed last Friday's challenge, consider it a challenge for next week. How can you honor God this next week in a way that you really haven't before? For me, I think the thing that I want to focus on next is sarcasm and the way that I talk to people. What will it be for you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today is my birthday, which probably has me thinking about celebrations a little more than normal. As I read the Old Testament, celebrations were a regular part of Israeli life. Look at Leviticus 23. The whole chapter is a description of the feasts that God wanted His people to celebrate, including the Passover, the First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, and the list goes on and on. But celebrations weren't limited to Leviticus. David celebrated as the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-19). After rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah organized a parade to celebrate (Nehemiah 12:27-43). The example of Nehemiah is particularly interesting because Nehemiah recognizes the specific contributions of the people to the rebuilding effort (Nehemiah 3:1-32).

What do you do to celebrate where you work? Is there some type of ritual that you participate in when someone does something great?

If you're a supervisor, do you celebrate the accomplishments of your subordinates? Recognize the hard work of those around you. Encourage them. And celebrate!

Monday, June 20, 2011

What If I Hate My Job?

Acts 17:26-28
cf Philippians 4:10-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When my wife and I were in college, the preacher at the church we attended used to quote parts of Acts 17 in at least 50% of his sermons. He especially liked verse 27 because it lays out why God created humanity--so they would seek Him. The passage is part of Paul's speech to the Athenians from the Areopagus. I've been told a lot of tourists take this passage with them to Athens and imagine him speaking it as they are visiting.

As Paul is making his case for a God above the pantheon of Greek gods, he says something very interesting. Actually, he says a lot of interesting things, but at least one thing that is very pertinent for work. In verse 26, Paul says that God "made all the nations" and "marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands." I think that's interesting because it shows that where you are living and the fact that you are living in 2011 are accidental.

There's an interesting extension of that idea. What if God marked out the appointed times and boundaries of your professional life? What if God intentionally put you in the job you're in now?

It's a particularly interesting question if you don't like your job. In this economy, a lot of people are stuck in jobs they hate because there aren't other options. Perhaps you pray and pray for a new opportunity, but every interview leads to a dead end. And you feel a little guilty--after all, you have a job. Shouldn't you be thankful for that? You go back and forth between hopeful prayer, frustrations at that prayer seemingly going unanswered, and guilt over not being grateful for what you have. Sound familiar?

My wife and I have experienced something similar. After the recent birth of our first child, my wife wished she could stay home, but our financial obligations wouldn't allow it. Throughout her maternity leave, as the time came to return to work, we prayed fervently for flexible work alternatives. But none came, and the prayers seemed unanswered.

It's hard to offer her or anyone else advice in that situation. The risk is either being like Job's friends ("you're not praying with enough faith") or offering platitudes that sound empty ("maybe this is God's plan").

So how should one respond? I don't have a perfect answer for that, but I can put together pieces of an answer. First, keep praying. Jesus told parables that speak of persistent prayer (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8) Paul talked about praying constantly for churches. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says "pray continually." Second, remember that your attitude shouldn't depend on your circumstances. There's a difference between wishing things were different and letting those wishes consume you. No doubt that when Paul was hungry or in need (Philippians 4:10-12), he didn't stop wishing he had something to eat. But he had an attitude of contentment. Paul tells the Philippians and Thessalonians to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). How do you be content despite wanting different circumstances? You can't do it by yourself, and neither could Paul. He could "do all things through Christ." Remember that, at the end of the day, He is all that matters.

One final thought. Saying that you can do all things through Jesus doesn't make the frustration of your current job go away. Remembering God doesn't automatically make a bad job into a great one. Even though you shouldn't give up praying, God may not say "yes" to that prayer. And worst of all, it may never make sense to you. God never promises good jobs or that things will make sense (although sometimes He may give both). He promises His life and Himself and He comes through on both.

Friday, June 17, 2011

One Year

So today is the one year birthday for this blog, and this is the 167th post. It's kind of fun looking back at it all. I started this blog because I realized that my faith didn't always shape how I interacted with others at work and didn't always affect the advice that I gave to those seeking my counsel. So I read through the Bible looking at what God says about work.

Rather than sharing an insight today, I'd like you to do something. Over the weekend, think about how you can take something from a post that you've read and apply it. Make sure that it's something you don't normally do already. Work it into your routine this week. Maybe it's focusing on
work-life balance. Perhaps it's talking with tact and love to those around you. Maybe you need to relate better to a supervisor or coworker. Or maybe you need to treat your subordinates better. Pray about something that you can apply next week. Then, between Monday and Friday, watch what happens. Feel free to comment here or email me so that your experiences can encourage others. Next Friday, I'll post my experience doing this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Selfishness really goes back to when we're babies and toddlers. When a baby is born, the baby thinks that he or she is the center of the universe. Toddlers begin to understand that there are others with needs, which is often a rude awakening (hence the "terrible twos"). As we grow through childhood, one of the important lessons that we learn is to share with others, to acknowledge that we aren't the only one who is important. Parents and teachers help with those lessons.

Unfortunately, lessons don't always stick. As we become adults, there often isn't someone to remind us to share (or to say "please" and "thank you"). We forget, particularly at work, and start to hoard information or resources. We don't give credit to others when it is due to them. Rhonda Owen-Smith says that "competitiveness and the desire for recognition create a selfish and insecure nature, especially in the work environment." Remember, no one can serve two masters, and that includes yourself. If you are only focused on what's best for you, you cannot be focused on God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Follow up on Dealing with Difficult Subordinates

Friday's post was about dealing with difficult subordinates as a Christian. I wanted to follow up on that post because I think it's anything but black and white. As a supervisor, you need people to be productive and to be focused on the organization's goals, which sometimes means you have to prod people to get them to work. At the same time, I posted last week about the importance of mercy when communicating with subordinates. It's really a balancing act, with justice on one side (giving people the rewards and punishments that they deserve so that they'll work hard) and mercy on the other side (recognizing that you have been spared the punishments you deserve and promised incredible, unearned rewards).

I think about that balance as I interact with students in my classes. It's not a perfect analogy, but in some ways, they are like subordinates. When they challenge the way that I graded an assignment, I have to balance justice and mercy. I want the class to be rigorous and an "A" to mean something. That means setting high expectations and enforcing standards when those expectations aren't met. On the other hand, let's say a student turns something in late. I want to temper that justice with mercy. Yes, I want the student to learn the importance of deadlines, but as a Christian, I want to be merciful.

It is a tough dilemma to balance these things. No doubt, sometimes I err on either side. You will also. But keeping both sides in mind is important. Micah 6:8 says to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." Be just with your subordinates. But love mercy--really seek out ways that you can model mercy and forgiveness with them. Then walk humbly with God, knowing that you will not be perfect in justice or mercy. And be thankful that you have a Master who is perfect in both!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What to do about difficult subordinates

This finishes the week of dealing with difficult people. It may seem strange to talk about "dealing" with difficult subordinates. After all, by definition, they are subordinate, subject to sanctions, driven by rewards that you give out. It should be a simple thing to reward behavior that is easy to work with while punishing behavior that is difficult, right?

It's rarely that straightforward. Practically, there might be constraints on how much you can punish a difficult subordinate--you may have to deal with more than you'd like. But more importantly, is a heavy-handed approach with subordinates always the most Christian way to supervise? That's not to say that a Christian supervisor can't expect discipline and hard work from subordinates. But what does the Bible say about interacting with the people that report to you, particularly when they are "problem" people?

First, remember that we are told to love. Subordinates aren't supposed to be exempt from that love. You need to love those who report to you. One way to show love is to lead as a servant rather than as a tyrant. Think about how you can serve your subordinates. Another way to love is to show mercy to subordinates. Think about the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:22-35). He was shown mercy by the Master, yet he showed no mercy to his fellow servant. In the story, you might think of the second servant who owed the first servant as his subordinate. You have been shown more mercy by the Master than you can ever repay. By comparison, whatever your subordinate does to you is small. You are called to be merciful. Part of that mercy is genuine forgiveness. Paul called Philemon to forgive his "subordinate" Onesimus. Onesimus deserved death according to Roman law. Surely your subordinates are not that bad!

As you show love to difficult subordinates, there are a few other practical things to consider. I really like Proverbs advice that a "gentle answer turns away wrath" (15:1). You may be tempted to respond strongly when a direct report is insubordinate or makes a mistake. That's where this proverb comes in handy. You have the authority to respond strongly, but perhaps a gentle answer will come nearer leading to a productive and committed employee than a harsh response. Another practical consideration is what to do when you hear subordinates talking about you. We like to poke fun at others. I can remember doing imitations of my bosses, and I'm sure that's a pretty common occurrence in most workplaces. Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 suggests that you should be careful how you respond when subordinates are venting about you. After all, how many times have you shared your frustrations about a supervisor with someone else?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dealing with Difficult Coworkers

Monday's post focused on difficult supervisors. Today's is about difficult coworkers. Friday's will be from a third perspective, that of a supervisor dealing with difficult subordinates, kind of a hard-to-deal-with theme for the week.

A caveat is order--there are no easy answers, for dealing with any of these difficult people. If there was an easy solution, from the Bible or anywhere else, they wouldn't be called "difficult" people. Being around these people puts us in a bind. On the one hand, they make us miserable in some way, either through annoying personal habits, causing us extra work, and/or creating fear in us for our jobs or some aspect of our jobs. On the other hand, such people seem very tough to avoid. Looking at the Bible doesn't necessarily provide any easy answers in the sense that being faithful at work doesn't necessarily make these people go away.

There's an old saying that if there's no difficult person in your workplace, look in the mirror. While it's certainly true that some workplaces may not have any truly tough people to deal with as this adage implies, it is important to self-reflect and think about your own habits and how they might be considered "difficult" by those around you. Do you think too highly of yourself, your accomplishments, or the respect that's due you? If so, remember what Jesus said about seating arrangements based on honor--be sure to take the
place of least honor. Do you spread gossip about others? It's so hard to not participate when others bring up juicy tidbits about people around the office. It's even harder when you know others know things that you don't know. How might your gossip affect your coworkers? If you say, "it wouldn't affect them," then why are you talking about them when they aren't around? What about sarcasm or practical jokes? They seem harmless enough. Proverbs 26:18-19 says "Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!" The very next verse warns of gossip and how gossip is related to quarrelling.

So the first step in dealing with a difficult coworkers is to examine yourself.

After that, the guiding principle is love. That sounds pretty simple, but the reality is pretty complex and very counter-cultural. Think about what it would be like to love your rivals or those who you know will backstab you. Remember, Jesus doesn't just say "love the popular guy or gal at the office." Jesus says "love your enemies." That goes against the "dog-eat-dog" world of business in which most of us work. And it may cost you--your rivals might capitalize on graciousness. Your supervisor might think that you don't have the killer instinct he or she is looking for. But loving your enemies (and thereby loving God) is more important than any promotion, any account, any assignment, any raise that you could ever hope to get.

One way to love others is to live out the
Golden Rule. How do you want this difficult coworker to treat you? Then that's how you need to treat them. Make no mistake--you're not doing it to win them over. There's no guarantee that, when you treat them this way, they will stop being difficult coworkers. Jesus calls us to a higher standard than how others treat us--He calls us to love regardless.

Another way to love others is to remember that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Remember that Jesus love you before you were lovable (Romans 5:8). Remember that the other person is only human. They need the same forgiveness that you need and have through Jesus. It takes time and lots of effort, but try to forgive them (even if they don't deserve or ask for forgiveness).

Like I said at the beginning of the post, no easy answers. That all sounds great on a computer screen, but the reality is a lot harder than reading it on a blog. It's a process, not a one-time event. Thank goodness for God's grace in trying to love others.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Difficult Supervisors

As students and friends start telling me about their jobs, one thing that I hear from time to time is what it’s like to work for terrible supervisors. I’ve heard stories of bosses who expect subordinates to politic and brown-nose, supervisors who never recognize accomplishments, and more micro-managers than I can count. I had a student this past semester tell me that she was excited to get out of college and into the “real world” where people around her would be competent and responsible and always do their work. I told her to let me know if she ever found that to be true. The fact is, there are a lot of really bad people who are in charge of things. Scott Adams has done very well portraying that type of boss in his Dilbert cartoons. The reason Dilbert’s plights are so funny is that there’s a ring of truth in them. The same could be said with Michael Scott’s antic’s on NBC’s The Office. Ideas such as the Peter Principle humorously explain that good workers may be promoted up a hierarchy until they reach a position for which they are not qualified. Then they stay in that position (sometimes indefinitely). We laugh, in part because we can identify with the workers in each. There are some really lousy bosses out there, which is even worse when you consider that one of the biggest factors in job satisfaction is one’s relationship with a supervisor.

So what does the Christian do when he or she works for such a poor supervisor? You might not like the answer all that much. First, pray for your boss. That’s not praying that he or she gets fired or transferred. God calls us to intercede on behalf of those around us. Second, remember that you have to submit to your boss. It doesn’t matter if that respect is deserved or not. The Bible is relatively clear that workers should be sincerely submissive. That’s particularly tough with a difficult boss. If you boss is incompetent, it’s hard not to make fun of him or her. If your boss is belligerent or doesn’t respect you, it’s hard not to look for ways to get back at him or her.

What submission doesn’t mean is just going with the flow just because that person outranks you at work. The Bible has several examples of subordinates who respectfully disagreed with a supervisor. Joab confronts David about mourning for Absalom (2 Samuel 14: 1-20) and about the census (2 Samuel 24:3). Daniel tells those responsible for him that he would like a different diet than the others in court (Daniel 1:8-14).

But just because you can disagree with your supervisor doesn’t mean you can gossip about him or her. Remember back to the idea of respect. Solomon describes how a little birdy might hear if someone gossips about the king. When you gossip about a boss, beware of thinking that the boss will never hear what you say.

Finally, remember that your actions toward the difficult supervisor should be filled with mercy and love. It’s more important that you show love to a difficult supervisor, even if he or she seems unlovable, than it is that you have everything go your way. After all, that boss is only human. And God has shown His mercy to all of us, even while we were “difficult.”

None of this may make a difficult boss less frustrating. In fact, it may be even harder to work for him or her. Jesus promised His disciples that they would have trouble but that He had overcome the world (John 16:33). I heard a preacher once say, “as long as He is on the throne, we’re gonna be all right.” Perhaps that’s something to take comfort in.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Do People at Work Know You're a Christian

A few years ago, a men's group that I was in studied Tony Dungy's book, "Quiet Strength." That may sound like a strange choice for a weekly devotional group. But as we went through the book, each chapter was built on situations where Coach Dungy's faith was challenged, where he had to make tough choices, or where he was forced to accept that there are somethings that are beyond his control. One thing that struck me was that, in one of the most intense industries, where your successes and failures on are display for everyone to see, Dungy met criticism with faith and failure with hope. Not necessarily hope in "next year," but hope in Christ. Another thing that struck me was that he was unashamedly Christian at work. When I think about football teams and locker rooms, that doesn't exactly seem like the type of place where religion would be all that welcome. But Dungy talked about witnessing to others and praying with coaches. Other players have similarly stood for Jesus (Reggie White comes to mind), and a few high-profile college players including Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow have also been open about their faith.

Regardless of your job and the pressures that come with it, there are opportunities for you to be a light in your workplace. Let me be clear--I'm not talking about cramming your religion down the throats of all your coworkers. Being a light in your workplace will look different for everyone. But three things are probably applicable to most. First, it means that your faith is going to affect the way you make decisions. Second, it means your faith is going to shape the way you face frustrations and difficult circumstances. Third, it means that your faith should affect how you talk about those decisions and difficulties. Make sure others know that you make decisions while thinking about Christ. And let them know that the reason you can face uncertainty in the future is God.

This weekend, take a look at whether people know you are a Christian in your workplace. Then, think about how your faith will influence you at work next week. Finally, pray for opportunities to tell others about why you do what you do, and pray for the courage to take those opportunities. I would love to hear stories about how God answers those prayers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's Rightfully Yours

Genesis 13:5-12

Genesis 13 shows us a remarkable business transaction. It's probably more common to look at the outcome of the story (Lot goes to live near Sodom and Gomorrah, which are eventually destroyed) rather than looking at the negotiation that led to that outcome. Abraham, because he was from the older generation, had the right of first choice. Think about that. He had the right to choose the best land for himself. Lot would have been stuck with the leftovers. But look at what Abraham said to Lot in verse 9: "If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left." Basically, you get to choose. You can have what's best. I'm sure people of the land would say "what was he thinking?!"

Abraham wasn't interested in pressing for his right. Let's be clear--there would have been nothing wrong with taking the best for himself. But by giving up his right to choose, Abraham was allowing God to take control. Verses 14-17 relate how God blessed Abraham because of his faith. Abraham didn't know about God's blessing ahead of time, and that blessing may not have taken the form he would have liked (for example, Abraham was still childless at this time). Those blessings also do not always come immediately. Abraham had to buy someone else's field to bury Sarah ten chapters later--he still didn't "have" the land. But he knew to trust God rather than holding on to his rights.

Sometimes, we're so concerned about protecting our rights that we forget that God can bless us, even when we allow others to trample on those rights. Jesus' instructions about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39, Luke 6:29) are a New Testament example of that same teaching. In Abraham's case, by letting go of his right and trust God, he settled a conflict (verses 7-8) and was blessed by God (verses 14-17). As you interact with others, don't worry that you don't get all of the things that you are due. Don't worry about your rights. I know that's easier to say than to do. Just trust God. His blessings may not be immediate and they may not take the form that you want or expect. But He calls you to love and trust Him more than you love and trust your rights.