Chapter OneThe Curse?
It seems destined to be a four-letter word. No matter how you spell it—job, career, calling—it still has curse
written all over it. Maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. After all, it was the original curse word, as Adam first lived out the consequences of his cursed life by working the land for food. To this day, work ranks among the leading obstacles in many people’s lives.
It seems the dreams of most working people revolve around arriving at a place where they’ll no longer have to go to work. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy some of the challenges along the way. But if you could dig beneath the surface, the primary objective of most people’s career is to eliminate the need for it. The primary objective of most people’s careeris to eliminate the need for it.
Advertisers play to this sentiment, tantalizing their target audiences with depictions of financial freedom and absolute autonomy. Statewide lotteries are funded, one dollar at a time, by the pipe dreams of would-be early retirees. While money is the number one obsession in our culture, the ultimate end of wealth is emancipation from the workplace.
It is common sentiment that work is something to be avoided.
Work is universally portrayed as something that gets in the way of all the other things we’d rather be doing. Work calls the shots. It’s the factory whistle that awakens us each day from the dream of a life of leisure. Work drags us from our homes and subjects us to traffic jams and the shark-infested waters of competition. Work drops us back home in a heap at the end of the day, or at the end of a long business trip. Work tells us where we can live, what we should wear, when we can go on vacation, and how much we can spend in between. Wherever our hearts turn in life, work is there dictating the pace and saying yes or no to our heartfelt passions and desires. We Are What We Do?
As young children, we are encouraged to dream of what we want to be when we grow up. Our educational system is oriented around shaping us into one of the molds that will define us as bachelors in business administration, economics, English, science, or education. Eventually, we refine our identity to the point that we fit nicely into one of the categories that can be found in the yellow pages, or a title on the organizational chart of the company where we work. And after all is settled, one of the first questions people ask when they meet us is, “What do you do?”
In our culture, we are defined by what we do. And everything else revolves around it. Wherever the career opportunities take us is where we raise our families, attend our churches, and join the neighborhood pool. What we do precedes who we are.
There’s just one problem. We don’t want anything to tell us what to do. We love autonomy. So, in allegiance to our human nature, we make it our goal to cheat the system. We work for rapid promotions, we invest for early retirement, and we play the lottery to increase our chances of getting our freedom as soon as we can…winning back control of our lives while we are still young enough to enjoy it.
As the headline for a retirement fund ad put it, “Life is two periods of play separated by forty years of work.”
So work is a curse to be endured. At least, that’s how the average person views work. But What About Christians?
Surely, we Christians hold a more enlightened view of work. We have beheld the truth that work was ordained by God even before Adam and Eve invented apple pie. We know that God Himself worked and called it good. We embrace the ideal of working “heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, NKJV). We read the Bible and learn that God uses work to mold our character and meet our needs. We understand that work will be one of our joyous assignments in Heaven, not just the lot of those condemned to the other place.
We have learned that work is not really a bad thing in God’s eyes.
And yet, when it comes to being a Christian at work, many believers don’t feel that way at all. We understand that work is not quite the curse we once thought it was. But in our quest to be a beacon of light to a lost world, we often see work as something that gets in the way. We long to live out our faith Monday through Saturday, but we have to go to work instead. We dream of how effective we could be for the Lord…if it weren’t for this lousy job. We long to live out our faith Monday through Saturday, but we have to go to work instead.
Somehow, we develop an either/or mentality: I can either be in the secular work world or I can be in ministry, but not in both. We have bifurcated work into these two distinct realms rather than seeing the both/and possibility. What if we could be in the marketplace and
be in ministry at the same time? Suppose we saw our workplace as our church and our jobs as our ministry. Suppose we went after our workplace ministry with the same fervor and passion as a twenty-six-year-old youth pastor just out of seminary.
The idea of being in ministry at work was something I had shied away from. I had been a pretty good church member, but work was a whole different ball game. Let me tell you my story, and you’ll see why ministry was pretty far from my thinking in my early career.
I was a rising star at AT&T. At age thirty, I was promoted to division level, one of the youngest ever. At thirty-three, I was to be nominated for the company’s Sloan Fellowship Program, a key prerequisite for moving up the corporate ladder. But on the heels of a transfer from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, I experienced a major disruption. What had been a smooth career path suddenly became rocky. At the same time, my marriage was in trouble, the consequence of eleven years of putting my career above everything else. Realizing that I couldn’t hold my life together by myself any longer, I turned to God for help. On a starry night I will never forget, I walked out in the backyard and told God I was finally His. I gave it all up to Him. “It’s You and me, Lord,” I said. “I am going public with my faith. I’m going to stand for something. Whatever happens, happens!”
I was changed forever that night. God gave me a new heart and a new attitude based on a deep gratitude for His forgiveness and His acceptance. I knew that I was loved for the first time in my life. I was ready to live for Him 24-7, but from that point forward, it got even harder to live a dual life.
Away from the office, I devoured Christian books and Bible teaching to feed my spiritual growth. At work, however, I struggled to live out my faith in a world that seemed completely disconnected from the God I was getting to know. I don’t mean I was struggling with sin and backsliding. For once, that wasn’t the problem. It’s just that I lived in a spiritual place that had meaning and purpose, yet I worked in an earthly place that now seemed antiquated and irrelevant. I wanted to move on to my new life, but
this old environment—work—kept getting in the way.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to reconcile those two worlds. Attempts to tell my story and share my faith at work were awkward. And my efforts to operate by biblical principles seemed hypocritical in light of the old reputation that still followed me around. I wanted people to see a reflection of God in me, but I was convinced all they could see was the same old me on a new religious kick. I felt shackled to my past.
I was so grateful for God’s forgiveness, I could hardly contain myself. He had started to restore my marriage; I was in love with my wife and kids in a way that I hadn’t known before. And I was in love with God. I needed to do something bold. I kept dreaming of how effectively I could serve Him, if I could just get away from my job.
Inevitably, I concluded that I should leave the old world and relocate permanently to a different one. After all, the disciples left their nets to follow Jesus.
So I left the world of AT&T behind and started a consulting business where I could live out my new life-purpose statement: “to glorify God by teaching biblical principles to sales and marketing executives.”
At last I was free to be the new me without the constant reminders of what I once was. I could freely talk about my faith without apprehension that I might look like a hypocrite on religious dope. I was free to play on my Christian playground without fear of interruption.
At least, that’s how I saw it.
But as I look back on that experience, I’ve come to realize I may have walked out on an incredible opportunity. What better place to fulfill my new life-purpose statement than as Division Manager of Sales at AT&T Information Systems? We had thousands of employees, hundreds of offices…there was unlimited potential. The more I understand about how God uses Christians in the marketplace, the more I realize that I had been
sitting on a spiritual gold mine back at AT&T. I just didn’t recognize it. I had been sitting on a spiritual gold mine back at AT&T.I just didn’t recognize it. Two Lives Become One
Over the past two decades, I’ve had successes both in business and in helping business people come to faith. Ironically, it took only one year for God to use the consulting business I started to lead me right back to a leadership role in the marketplace—the world of profit and loss, hiring and firing, performance reviews and sales incentives. God was faithf...