(Enjoy this first blog in a new series called Redeemed Work by David Achata. You can read part two here.)
God changes our identity so our work is no longer about personal advancement.
Recently I sat in a hotel bar with a group of executives near Boston. My job was to facilitate their quarterly meetings, help them improve professionally, and align on a simple strategy for their next season of time. At the end of a long day we sat there talking about work, laughing, and getting to know one another. This type of thing happens to me regularly.
When I’m in these meetings (before, during, or after), I think sometimes, “Does God care about this?” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12:1–2 does a great job of answering with a resounding “YES.”
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking…”
I was raised in a conservative Christian environment to believe that if you really wanted to serve God you’d work as a pastor, doctor, or teacher. It was encouraged even more to do those things as an overseas missionary or in a Christian institution. While I do believe there’s great merit in working in those environments, I’d like to present another perspective.
Redeemed Work Series
God cares so much about the world that He’s placed all types of people in all fields of work so people might experience the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23, Hab. 2:14). Does God care about my executive meetings, or your 9-5 job, or whatever it is that you fill your day with? You bet he does. Since this is the case, we ought to understand how God transforms us and our work to this end. I’d like to share a three-blog series on the this subject, Redeemed Work.
God’s paradigm affects our work in three ways.
- First: God gives us a new identity so our work is no longer about personal advancement.
- Second: God gives us a new calling, changing our mission to His restorative work.
- Third: God changes what we worship, so our work becomes a way to walk with Him.
In this first blog, I want to share how God changes our identity so our work is no longer about personal advancement.
God Changes Our Identity
Wherever we work, we face the temptation to put our identity in accomplishment or position. Jesus faced this temptation too. Satan said, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down . . .” (Matt. 4:6). In other words, “Prove who you are by what you do.”
In a similar way, Harry Potter’s identity is called into question by a talking hat that whispers, “Don’t you want to be great?” Never mind that Harry has already been named as “the most famous child who ever lived.”
Everywhere we turn, whether it’s advertisements, books, or movies, we are tempted to place our identity in something other than what God says is true of us. “You are my son,” He says to Jesus. “With you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Because of Jesus’ work, these words are true of us too (Eph. 1:5). We are God’s family. Our Dad is rich. He’s given us every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). How amazing! Working from this position of security changes everything.
How Identity Affects Work
After working as a vocational minister for ten years, I began a business as an executive coach and organizational health consultant. I quickly found that working in a different environment didn’t change my tendency to put my worth in what I did. If anything, this new environment only highlighted the problem—I wanted approval. Problem was, the business world was working against my need to be validated.
Thankfully being trained as a coach, I am equipped with “a certain set of skills” that enables me to get others to generate creative ideas to make movement on their goals. So that helped. However, the problem was still there. I wanted to make my name great (Gen. 11:4) rather than allowing God to make a name for Himself and bless the world through me (Gen. 12:1–2).
In his book on Proverbs, Bruce Waltke shares how, in scripture, the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others while the wicked “are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” Hearing it put that way, which category do you fall in?
By God’s grace, after many years, I’ve come to see my work as a way to reflect the Gospel story. Didn’t God come into the midst of man’s rebellion asking questions (Gen. 3:9)? He already knew the answers, yet He waited. So too, as a consultant, I ask and I wait because it’s what God did for me. In a similar way, I have a lawyer friend in L.A. who chose to become a public defender because he believed it was his way to reflect what was done for him through Jesus, the advocate who defended him when he needed it most (1 John. 2).
Personal Advancement Changes to Gospel Reflection
If we’re going to see the significance of our work, we must step back and ask, “How did Jesus do this for me?” Whether you’re a consultant, lawyer, or whatever, stepping back to see how Jesus did those things for you changes the mission from personal advancement to reflecting the Gospel story in whatever you do.
Have you ever thought of it this way? While many view their work as a means to wealth, survival, or significance, disciples of Jesus have an opportunity to see it differently. Because Christ worked for me, I now can work for others.
“Every Christian is to become a little Christ,” writes C.S. Lewis. “The whole purpose of a Christian is simply nothing else.” Ann Voskamp expands on this by adding, “We exist to be Little Christs. Not Little Ladder Climbers. Not Little Control Freaks. . . .”
Does this mean we blab our worldview in our workplaces without invitation? Though that’s the popular evangelical way of being a Christian at work, I don’t think this is healthy or completely right. Jesus didn’t come to cram His content down our throats. Rather, He became one of us and “moved in to our neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). Our work, then, becomes an opportunity to move in and serve as we’ve been served (Phil. 2:1-11). Doing our best work and leaving our advancement up to God is a relieving way to go about our work day.
Our jobs are part of God’s plan to redeem us and love the world. Don’t see your job as primarily a way to advance yourself. See it through God’s eyes and enter in with the aim to reflect how He cared for you through Jesus. This is why the Apostle Paul instructed the disciples in Corinth, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (1 Cor. 3:23).
God changes our identity, which enables us to work our jobs for a better reason than ourselves—our jobs are ways to serve God by serving others.
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