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CHRISTIANS In The WORKPLACE

by Alex Wilson

A Christian lady I know works as a nurses’ assistant in a hospital obstetrics department, helping in the delivery room. (That’s an important point; don’t miss it.) One year in late August her daughter told her, “Mom, I guess you’ll have to work harder than ever next Monday, since it will be Labor Day.”

Well, for most of us, at least five days a week are labor days, so it is important that we think about Christians and our labor.

A GLARING OVERSIGHT

For some years I taught classes in Christian ethics, first in Manila and later at the School of Biblical Studies. Thus I have had opportunity to examine many books related to the broad field of Christian standards, character and conduct. One fact struck me quite forcibly: very few books deal with the duties, problems and possibilities of Christians in their daily jobs. How deplorable! Of course there are numerous ethical issues that we disciples ought to understand and be active about: abortion, pornography, drugs, declining family closeness, homelessness, world starvation, prison reform, women’s rights, racial discrimination, divorce, war and peace, genetic engineering, etc. On and on the list could go. But amid all these matters, if we overlook our responsibilities to live Biblically in our careers–at the office, store, factory or school–then we are foolish indeed. John Redekop hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “For many Christians the severest test of consistent Christian living comes during the average 90,000 hours which they spend on the job from their first day until retirement. In industry after industry and business after business, Christians find themselves facing an ethical crunch.” Unless we help our church-members in these areas, many of them will flounder and fail repeatedly.

INTENSE PRESSURES, DIFFICULT DILEMMAS

Some of our members face problems like these (which we need to understand so we can extend empathy and practical teaching and assistance):

Sylvia sat opposite me, apologizing that she had not been to church. She asked if I minded if she smoked. From the look on her face she had been drinking, too. She was an unstable person with a broken marriage behind her. Several years ago she had become a Christian. She worked in a factory and there faced temptations and pressures which the majority of Christians know nothing about.

She spoke of some of the things that went on at work–the private showing of porno films during the lunch break, the cheap magazines passed round full of lurid pictures, the non-stop talk about sex, the dirty jokes, the swearing. She fought a constant battle against being drawn into these things. Workmates wanted to know why she was so stand-offish. “Because I’m a Christian, I’ve given up that sort of stuff.” As a result came queer looks, tittering, jibes and mockery, the attempt to break her and make her throw overboard “all that holy nonsense.” Sometimes she had done just that, for she had found the going too hard. But Christ always brought her back.

Other Christians, in the managerial ranks, face struggles that are different but just as intense. An executive agonized as he competed with other companies for a major contract with the Pentagon. The competition was using call girls, hunting lodges, and under-the-table payments as part of the bargaining chips. This Christian’s problem was of mammoth proportions. The issue was not whether he would compromise his own career. But if he lost the contract more than 600 of his employees could lose their jobs. What to do?

Most people’s jobs are somewhere in between that of the high executive and the lowly assembly-line worker. But the point is still true: following Christ in the workplace can be tough, and we should strengthen one another in this area.

“GOD IS MY CO-PILOT”

As usual, the book of James offers some pointed advice.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

James is not saying it is wrong to plan ahead, to make projections for the future. But we should plan humbly, and seek God’s will, and be prepared for Him to change our plans. We should be prayerful, and take the Lord as our Partner–or rather, Boss. When we make Him the Boss, then the ultimate responsibility is His, and that’s quite a load off our chest! Note the following true example of this fact.

A Christian was a senior executive in a corporation. He went to his pastor about a problem he had with a junior executive under him. “For five years this man has not worked up to the level of his ability. He’s very capable, but he has always worked far less and far worse than he is able to do. And it’s my responsibility to deal with him and this problem.”

The pastor asked what seemed to him an obvious question: “Have you prayed for him?” That startled the businessman; he winced as though hit in the face. “Why no,” he admitted, “I never have!” “Then I’d try that to start with,” replied the pastor. . . and an interruption at that point ended the conversation.

Later that day the man phoned the pastor. “For the first time I’ve prayed for that man; and God has impressed on me that I have got to start talking differently to him.” The next day he sent the junior executive a note. “Something happened to me at church yesterday. I believe God wants me to have another conversation with you.”

They met for lunch that noon, talked, and even had prayer together! Not only that, but they arranged to do the same the following week. For four weeks they ate, talked and prayed together—and the strained relationship was healed. The Lord helped the younger man to see himself in a new way, and apathy turned to diligence.

The fifth time they met together he commented, “You know, others in this company need help like this, too. Why don’t we start some group meetings?” They did … and nine weeks later a man remarked, “I’ve worked here for twenty-five years and I’ve never seen such a change in the whole atmosphere as we’ve had in the past couple of months.” Loving personal concern, which produced real listening and sharing, all in the context of prayer to a God who cares about every-day, “secular” life … and a transformation occurred. It could happen elsewhere, too.

May we too trust our God enough to invite Him into every aspect of our lives. If we do, He will bring newness into our work, and maybe into our co-workers too.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33