Vocational Health: Getting Smart About Work

Vocational Health: Getting Smart About Work


50 Days of Transformation

November 9, 2014

Cornerstone Community Church

It won Dolly Parton an award for the Best Country Song of 1980, and was the theme song for a movie released the same year: “9 to 5.” Most of us have heard Dolly sing this line sometimes in our lives: “Working 9 to 5 ain’t no way to make a living.” But here’s the thing – I know many of you who would give anything if you only had to work from 9 to 5. For many of us who live and work in the Silicon Valley, work consumes not just 40 hours a week, but 50, 60, 70 and even 80 hours a week. And that doesn’t include commute time, which can add another 10 hours a week, nor the time spent preparing for work, thinking about work, and worrying about work. Quite simply, for most people, the large majority of our time each week is spent on work.

This morning our goal is to learn from the Bible how to work smarter so we can be vocationally healthy. You have probably heard the story of the lumberjack who bought a power saw because the salesman told him that his productivity would increase dramatically by using the power saw, and he wouldn’t have to work as hard. The lumberjack – often slandered in the telling of this story as a Norwegian – went to the forest the next morning and began using his new saw to cut down as many trees as he could. By the end of the day he discovered that he had only cut down 10 trees – the same as he had done without the power saw. Reasoning that he must not be doing something right, he went back to the salesman and explained his situation. The salesman showed him some different techniques and sent the lumberjack on his way.

The next day the lumberjack went to work and, using the new techniques, cut down 12 trees. But while he had cut down more trees, he was absolutely exhausted. He went back to the salesman and explained the problem. The salesman decided the best way to help the lumberjack was to go out with him to the woods day to demonstrate the proper way to hold the saw and get the maximum benefit from its power. That next morning the lumberjack watched as the salesman pulled the cord and started the motor. The salesman could tell the lumberjack was yelling something at him, but he couldn’t make out the words. He stopped the saw, turned and said to the lumberjack, “Do you have a question?” “Yes,” said the lumberjack, “What’s that noise?”

We all need to learn how to work smarter and not just harder if we want to be vocationally healthy. We could all benefit from getting smart about work, from developing God’s perspective about our work. If you are like me, you probably have a number of deeply profound theological questions about work that you would like to ask God, such as:

  • What’s the point?
  • Is this really necessary?
  • Am I being punished?
  • What are the benefits?

The real question we all have about our work is, “What is the meaning of work?” We don’t mind that work is hard or even painful, as long as our work is meaningful, as long as we sense that there is some purpose, some value to our work. Do you remember the song “Heigh Ho” in “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs?” The Dwarfs work in a mine digging for diamonds. However, they don’t understand what diamonds are or why they’re valuable. So they sing, “We dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, though we don’t know what we dig them for.” That’s how too many of us feel about our jobs. We dig or type or write or build or sell, but we really don’t have a clue why we’re doing it, other than to get a check.

Think about that for a moment. We spend the majority of our waking hours doing something we have no clue why we’re doing. Have you ever caught your kids doing something that you didn’t want them to do, and you asked them a basic question as an introduction to your lecture: “Why are you doing that?” Before your child is old enough to talk his way out of the situation, he’ll probably say “I don't know.” And if you are a sarcastic parent, like I was often tempted to be, you might be apt to say, “Well that’s pretty silly, isn’t it. That’s not very smart to do something for no reason.”

And our kids might ask us the same question – how smart are we for spending the majority of our waking hours doing something for no clear and compelling reason? We need to get smart about work and come to understand its value and purpose and meaning in our lives. So let’s discover what God has to teach us about how we can work smarter and healthier so that we can pour some meaning into the one activity that occupies the majority of our time.

Get Smart About The Meaning of Work

In spite of its many inherent problems and difficulties, work, the Bible tells us is valuable and precious, every much a gift from God as is the gift of life. Work, God says, is both intrinsically valuable and instrumentally valuable.

Let me illustrate the difference between “intrinsic” and “instrumental” value. Take, for example, a piece of wood.

Wood - sitting alone, no intrinsic value; no value inherent in it

- can have great value instrumentally

- can be used as doorstop; carved into sculpture, bowl

By contrast to wood, people have intrinsic value. People have value even if they can’t perform any function. Babies, for example, can’t do much, but they are of infinite worth in and of themselves.

Work, somewhat like people, has both intrinsic and instrumental value. I think we could each fairly easily make a list of the ways work has instrumental value. For example, work is an instrument, a means, by which we earn money to take care of ourselves. We work to pay our bills, to buy food, to buy a home, to finance our education. And the Bible tells us that it is appropriate to work for just that reason.

Our brothers, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep away from all brothers who are living a lazy life and who do not follow the instructions that we gave them. You yourselves know very well that you should do just what we did. We were not lazy when we were with you. We did not accept anyone’s support without paying for it. Instead, we worked and toiled; we kept working day and night so as not to be an expense to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to demand our support; we did it to be an example for you to follow. While we were with you, we used to tell you, “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.”

We say this because we hear that there are some people among you who live lazy lives and who do nothing except meddle in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command these people and warn them to lead orderly lives and work to earn their own living.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, GNB

Work is also a means, an instrument, by which we take care of our family. I work, not just to feed myself, but to feed my wife and my kids. I work to pay for our house, to pay for our cars, to pay for our medical insurance and property insurance. And again, the Bible tells us that we are to work for this reason:

But if anyone does not take care of his relatives, especially the members of his own family, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8, GNB

Third, work is an instrument by which we are able to give to those in need.

The man who used to rob must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for himself and to be able to help the poor.

Ephesians 4:28, GNB

Because I work, I am able to not only care for me and my family, but I am able to give to our church, to support two young children overseas through Food for the Hungry, to give to Samaritan’s Purse, to support pastors in training in India, and to give to a handful of other causes that our family supports. Work is valuable because it is a means by which we are able to give to people in need.

Fourth, work has instrumental value because it is a means by which we can serve other people. The Bible often tells us to be servants, and Jesus, through his life and death modeled what it means to live a life of servanthood. Often we think of serving people only in terms of activities related to church, or PTA, or Brownies, etc. But our work – where many of us spend the bulk of our waking hours – is also a means of serving people. The travel agent serves people by helping people get flights, hotels, etc. so they can visit family, make a business meeting, or get to a hospital. The anchorman serves us by keeping us informed of what’s important. In every job, assuming your job is lawful, there are people for whom you are performing a legitimate service. For that reason, your work has value. (Since I’m still a member of the California Bar, please forgive me for poking a little fun at those of us who have worked in the legal profession.)

Q:Why does California have the most lawyers and New

Jersey the most toxic-waste dumps?

A:Because New Jersey had first choice.

Q:Why did the Post Office recall the lawyer stamp?

A:Because people didn’t know which side to spit on.)

Fifth, work has instrumental value because it is a means by which we can love God, which Jesus said is the greatest commandment. Jesus taught us that we love God by obeying Him. And the Bible clearly commands us, as we have seen, to work. By working, and by working with the proper attitude, as I’ll discuss in a moment, we express our love for God. Here’s what that means – the next time you leave the house in the morning instead of saying, “Honey, I’m going to work,” say “Honey, I’m going to love God now!” You don’t have to be on your hands and knees praying to love God or singing a chorus or going to church or even vote Republican. You can love God by working.

But work also has intrinsic value in addition to its instrumental value. First, the Bible tells us that work is a gift of God:

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, NIV

A gift has intrinsic value, even if it has no instrumental value at all. When she was a little girl Stephanie colored me a tie on a piece of scrap paper and gave it to me as a gift. That paper had no instrumental value at all; I couldn’t actually wear it. But it had great intrinsic value simply because it is a gift from my daughter. And I bet your house is filled with those kinds of gifts, gifts with intrinsic value even if lacking in instrumental value.

We know that work has intrinsic value for another reason. God himself, the Bible tells us, is a worker, and we have been created in God’s image. In other words, just as God is a worker, so He has created us to be workers.

The Bible speaks over and over about the great works of God. Genesis 1 & 2, of course, describe God’s fabulous work of Creation. But God has not stopped working; He did not retire. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and I too must work.”

What kind of work does God do? Colossians 1:16-17 tells us that God not only created the universe, but that He keeps it together. God continues to work through the Holy Spirit in each of our lives – to persuade us of right and wrong, to teach us the truth, to guide us, to protect us, and to empower us to live with integrity. And in John 14:1-3, Jesus tells us that he is at work preparing a place for us in heaven.

Genesis 1:26-30 tells us, next, that God created us in his image. This passage also tells us that God immediately put man to work – He charged man with the responsibility of caring for the animals and for the earth. What this tells us is that part of what it means to be created in God’s image is to work. In other words, in order to be fully human, to be everything God created us to be, in order to live as God meant us to live, we must work. Just as a hammer is made to hammer, just as a phone is meant for communication, we are designed to work.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well I wouldn’t mind working if I could do God’s job. What God does isn’t really work – that’s fun, creating the animals and the flowers and the rainbows.” But if you think about it, God has some of the same kinds of problems with his job as we have with ours:

Monotony – e.g. making rocks; maybe the first 100 were fun, but

the last gazillion were probably a drag.

Time pressure – “I can’t do all this in 6 days! I need more time!”

Creative pressure – e.g. “snowflake block”: “What should this

snowflake look like? Who made the rule that no two should

be the same?”

In any event, the Bible tells us that work is intrinsically valuable. It is intrinsically valuable because it is a gift of God, and because God, who is a worker Himself, created us in His image and designed us to be workers.

What this means, then, is that your work is valuable, that God cares immensely about your work. You don’t have to be an artist or a brain surgeon for your work to have value. God cares about your work as an engineer. God cares and appreciates your work in construction. Your work is worth your time. It is not futile, it is not a waste of energy. Do it with dignity and pride knowing that God has designed you to find satisfaction and joy in your work.

Get Smart About the Method of Work

As well as telling us that our work is valuable to God, the Bible also tells us that how we work is important to God. Briefly let me mention three of the ways to work smart and to work healthy. First, the smart person works enthusiastically. Did you ever have a hard week at work not because you were so busy, but because you just weren’t feeling all that enthusiastic about your job? We all have those times when we would rather be doing anything but working.

The Bible tells us, though, that we are to work enthusiastically, because God is our employer.

Slaves, obey your human masters in all things, not only when they are watching you because you want to gain their approval; but do it with a sincere heart because of your reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for men. ... For Christ is the real Master you serve.

Colossians 3:22-25, GNB

Did your ever have a boss who yelled at you? I spent a few summers when I was in high school and college working in a warehouse for a tractor company, and I had a foreman who didn’t know how to talk to us without yelling. And I remember fuming and fussing and thinking, “I don't have to take this.” Then I would recall this passage, written to slaves who I am sure were treated far more rudely and unfairly than I ever was. Yet God’s word to those slaves was, “Work hard, because I am your boss.”

Many of you likely work for bosses that are difficult people. One famous California lawsuit is about a fireman named Cole who was so abused and harassed by his boss that he ultimately had a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to communicate except by blinking. People like that, and like some of us, need a new boss, a boss who is fair, who is understanding, who values us for who we are, who is patient, who can even be fun. Another way of saying it is that the smart person works for a smart boss, for a good boss. If that’s what you need, then I have an answer – make Jesus your boss. Work for him. I guarantee that Jesus will treat you fairly when no one else does, that he will value and cherish you work when no one else thinks it’s good enough. We can work enthusiastically at whatever we do when we realize that Jesus is our boss.

Second, the smart person works ethically. Are you ever tempted to cut corners or to do things in a certain way because you know you can get away with it, whether it’s right or not? There were a few times in my career as a lawyer when I was pressured by my superiors to take certain actions that, while perfectly legal, weren’t particularly ethical according to my personal ethics. The challenge is to be true to our own standards, to do what we believe is right no matter what the result.

The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight. Proverbs 11:1, NIV