MONDAY MORNING, rush hour, road construction. Six words that bring despair to the heart of the commuter. Six words that describe one reason why so many working Americans spend Monday morning mourning Monday.
During one such frustrating commute into Washington, D.C., I observed a traffic flagman actually dancing as he performed his job. Seemingly oblivious to the July sun, cacophonous car horns, and angry gestures from impatient commuters, the man swung his orange flags in wide graceful arcs and called out friendly greetings to passing motorists.
Astounded by the genuine joy this man exhibited in what most would consider a dead-end job, I rolled down my window and asked him how he could be so enthusiastic, considering the heat and hostility that surrounded him.
“I’m happy because I’m not working for the man,” he shouted back. “I’m a flagman for Jesus.”
As pleased as I was by the flagman’s response, I wondered how many Christians share his profound understanding of work. Though we may earn more money than the flagman and labor under more favorable conditions, a careful examination of our inner attitudes toward work may reveal a very different perspective. We work because we must. Or, as one of my Christian coworkers used to groan, “It’s all part of the curse.”
The Apostle Paul, however, teaches a radically different view toward work. Far from considering human labor as servile and beneath man’s dignity as did the Greeks and Romans of his day, Paul extols the value of work. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,” he implores the believers in Colosse (Col. 3:23). And to the Ephesians he writes, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Eph. 6:7).
What does it mean to work for the Lord on a daily basis? Do people who work wholeheartedly, as if they are serving the Lord, look any different from those who work hard just to get ahead in life? And if so, how? God’s Word suggests at least three defining characteristics of a person who sets out every morning for the office or the factory to work as unto Christ.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a big-city police officer. When I walked into the precinct where I was assigned my rookie year, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. Because I was so grateful to God for allowing the fulfillment of a life dream, I decided to begin sharing my faith with the other officers as quickly as possible. I started with my street-hardened sergeant.
I was barely able to tell him I was a Christian before he interrupted and asked what kind of police officer I would be. Startled by his question, I said I didn’t know yet. “Neither do I,” he replied. “When and if you prove yourself to be a good cop, then you can come talk to me about God.”
The Bible is replete with men and women who understood that a primary component of working as unto the Lord was a daily striving for excellence in whatever their occupation. Whether it be Bezalel and Oholiab engaged in the craftsmanship of the tabernacle (Exodus 31), Daniel and his young friends studying to become the greatest scholars in Babylon (Daniel 1), or the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31, it was the skill of their hands that set them apart.
My desire to share my faith effectively with my fellow police officers required that I work without complaint to be the best cop I could be. At the end of my second year with the department, I was named Officer of the Year. During the presentation ceremony, I gave credit to the training I’d received from my superiors and also explained how I wore my uniform every day in service to Christ. Following the event, that street-hardened sergeant congratulated me and said he was ready to talk about God.
“Do you see a man skilled in his work?” Prov. 22:29 asks. “He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” Working for the Lord on a daily basis means striving to become the best company president or restaurant dishwasher possible. And wherever there is a visibly Christ-centered pursuit of excellence, there needs to be another equally visible characteristic.
A Servant’s Heart
Jesus came to earth to work. “My food,” He explained to His disciples, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:34). On nine more occasions recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to His work, always with the attitude of an obedient servant to His Father. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).
But Jesus was not only a servant to His Father in heaven; He was equally a servant to those subordinate to His command. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). In this same manner, those who work as unto the Lord, whether employer or employee, are to do so with a servant’s heart.
In the third chapter of Colossians, the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of working relationships after having reminded believers (both employers and employees) that they are “God’s chosen people” and that they are to “bear with each other” and “forgive . . . one another” (Col. 3:12-13). He begins by encouraging servants to obey their masters “in everything,” not just when the boss is looking in order “to win [his] favor.” Instead, servants are to obey their employers with “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Col. 3:22). Employers are reminded that they are to provide their servants with what is “right and fair,” because they, too, are servants to “a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).
But what about today? What happens if my boss is an ogre who does everything he can to make my life miserable? How can I work as unto the Lord?
At one point in my police career, I worked under a supervisor who was antagonistic toward my Christian faith. Daily he reminded me that it was against department policy to share my faith while on duty.
One night, while training a rookie officer, I was dispatched to the scene of an attempted suicide. Pulling into the driveway, I saw a woman trying to inhale carbon monoxide fumes through a hose attached to her car’s exhaust. Frantic to prevent a needless death, I struggled to pull the woman away from the car and into the house.
Over the next hour, as I listened to the woman weep over all the tragedy that was her life, I felt compelled to share my faith. There were, however, two problems: my supervisor and the rookie officer. Officially, if I shared my faith, I would risk not only my career but also the career of the younger officer. Therefore, before I spoke with the woman about Christ, I explained to the rookie officer what I was about to do and permitted him to leave the scene.
I shared with the woman for some time. Then I phoned my pastor and asked him if he would come and stay with the woman until her husband arrived home. This was another risky decision.
When I left the scene, I went immediately to my supervisor and told him what I had done and why. He said the decision would cost me my badge. He was wrong.
The next morning, the chief of police received a phone call from a very influential man who wanted to thank the police department for training their officers in religion and for sending a pastor to his house. “My wife is a new person. Thank you.” The chief was more than happy to take the credit.
When I look at the letter of commendation I received for that incident, it reminds me that I am a servant in the workplace. I am a servant to the supervisor who doesn’t understand my faith, and I show him respect by obeying him and telling him truthfully when I have not. I am a servant to the officer under my command, and I offer to him what is right and fair. Above all, I am a servant of Christ. And whether in the police department or teaching in Indonesia as I do today, I work as unto the Lord.
A laborer for the Lord continually pursues skilled hands, a servant’s heart, and one final thing.
A Sincere Hope
The Apostle Paul had some strong words regarding work for the believers in Thessalonica. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Paul took pride in his commitment to working hard, and directed the Thessalonians to imitate his example (2 Thess. 3:7-8). And yet, when explaining the motivation for his labor among the Thessalonians, Paul poses a question — one we might ask ourselves at the beginning of each workday: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (1 Thess. 2:19).
When I was a college student, I worked on a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ. One of the goals of our summer was to invite our employer to an end-of-summer banquet where the gospel was presented. Unfortunately, my employer was an angry, mean-spirited storekeeper who had been invited summer after summer by loving students yet never attended a banquet.
Hector was a quiet Mexican-American student who worked with me at the store. Regularly, he would endure racial slurs from our employer, yet he never responded in anger. There were days when the harassing was so great that I would beg Hector to find another job. He only smiled and continued his work.
At the end of the project, I walked to the closing banquet feeling sorry for Hector. He had wasted an entire summer working for a boss who wasn’t worthy of his labor. Imagine my surprise when I entered the banquet hall and saw our employer sitting next to Hector. Why had he come?
In a voice cracked with emotion, our boss explained the reason for his presence.
Throughout the summer, unknown to anyone, Hector had been sneaking into the storekeeper’s disheveled warehouses and working through the night to organize and catalog the merchandise. In the final week of the summer, the storekeeper discovered Hector’s skilled demonstration of servanthood.
What had been Hector’s hope in working so hard? Was it not his boss’s salvation? And what banquet had Hector been laboring toward? Wasn’t it the one where Jesus would be sitting at the head table?
Working as unto the Lord is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. It can transform a wearisome job into a spiritual act of worship. Often, when I find myself frustrated with work, I think of the flagman. I picture him standing in the midst of morning traffic, spinning flags with skilled hands, shouting encouragement from a servant’s heart, and demonstrating confidence in a sincere hope that somehow his job is impacting people’s lives. And it is. After all, he’s working for The Man.
Written by Jamie Winship, coordinator of the English as a Second Language program at the Bandung Alliance International School in West Java, Indonesia. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > used for non-profit teaching purposes only.