This article by Elsa Houtz, Discipleship Journal Issue 84, 1994, has been adapted by Nancy Catan for BCBP businessmen and professionals in today’s marketplace. We are challenged to examine the priorities in our lives in light of the blessings and gifts that God has given us as well as in view of our mission and vision as members of the BCBP.
How important is WORK in your life? Is it wrong for us to enjoy our work itself, or to enjoy the tangible and intangible benefits it makes possible? No. After all, God established work and gave it a role in our lives. Scripture tells us that for a person to “accept his lot and be happy in his work … is a gift of God.” (Eccl. 5:19).
How then, do we know whether work has its proper position in our lives, or if it has assumed the role of an idol, dictating our spiritual and earthly goals instead of being shaped by them? There are four criteria we need to check out as we examine our perspective regarding work.
1. Do work-related considerations drive the majority of my decisions?
If we find ourselves making important decisions based more on how they will affect our work than on a desire to do God’s will, then our work is encroaching on God’s place of sovereignty in our life.
Do we remain members of the BCBP for the many business contacts it offers or because we receive spiritual nourishing and guidance? Do we choose to go to work early and/or stay late because of the “demands” of work, thereby skipping the chapter assembly or action group meeting (we need our rest) and forgetting to set aside time for prayer and mediation (I’ll be late for work … or … I’m just too tired!)? Do we miss the Family Day outing because we need to catch up on our work or our sleep?
2. Do I require those around me to be governed by the demands of my work?
Most of us have periods at work that are busier than others, and those around us need to be flexible enough to cope with such busy times and schedule changes. But to constantly allow work responsibilities to dictate not only our own schedules but also those of our family and friends may reflect misaligned priorities. We may even use work as an excuse not to fulfill other responsibilities.
Do we limit our children’s participation in sports, school activities or hobbies because we’re not willing to adjust our work schedules to accommodate them? Do we give family and BCBP only the leftovers of our time, while our “prime time” goes to on-the-job relationships? Do unexpected work issues take precedence over scheduled family time or BCBP meetings? If so, we may need to examine our hearts and see what motivates our choices about how our time will be spent.
3. Is my self-worth rooted in my work?
Our work or the material rewards it gives should not be necessary to make us feel good about ourselves. Our inherent value and self-worth stem from the fact that we are children of God, created in His image. Our value, therefore, comes from God, not from what we produce, achieve, or earn. If we, for whatever reason, be it sickness or accident or desire, are not able to work, this does not mean that we are worthless, that our life has lost its importance. Work has become an idol in our lives if we find ourselves relying increasingly and/or exclusively on it for our sense of worth and importance.
4. Am I sacrificing God’s sacred trusts on the altar of work?
The way we spend not only our time but also our talent is a direct reflection of our priorities. God entrusts to us a great many things: the joys and responsibilities of family; the time, talent and ability to respond to the needs of a desperate world; the opportunity to change individual lives, social conditions, and public policy; the talent to reveal Him to others in ways that are uniquely ours; the role of bringing Christ to a marketplace that doesn’t know Him.
Work becomes an idol when we are willing to sacrifice these trusts from God in the interests of pursuing our work and its rewards. It is sad to see the great number of people today to whom God has given special talents and abilities, but who use them only to advance their careers while local parishes need qualified people to help in church programs, or when the BCBP governance calls for a mission team to help set up a new breakfast venue.
Stewardship is one of the greatest challenges to the Christian who has been blessed with the talent, skill, and training to be successful in the workplace. The dilemma of choosing the fast career tract – and the price it exacts – over a more balanced lifestyle is a difficult and often painful one. The factors involved are not only economic but also touch basic issues of self-esteem, the pressure of others’ opinions, cultural and religious norms and expectations, traditional and non-traditional roles, long-range security, and, above all, obedience to God’s call. As in so many areas of life, there are no pat answers.
Our challenge as Christians is to continually seek the best way to serve God with the gifts He has given us, rather than using them solely for our own gratification. In short, we are to manage our work, no vice versa. When we let our work manage us, either unwittingly or out of our own selfish ambition, then we are in danger of falling into idolatry.
Our work is truly a blessing from God, a tool and a resource that we can use for His glory as we respond to His call and carry out His work in our world. Our work should never be the goal of our life, or the reason for our existence. If it is, then we have failed to respond to God’s goodness and will be found wanting when we are asked by God: “Why should I let you enter into my kingdom?”
Reprinted from Kapatiran, July-August 2000