What will help both students and teachers, workers and bosses, retirees, volunteers and leaders to “work as unto the Lord,” is to have a Kingdom mindset about work.
There are at least four ways to view your time at work, and this goes for the students at school, as well as for the retired persons for your involvement in volunteering, etc. I am thankful for author David Miller’s book Faith at Work for these four ways to have a Kingdom mindset about work: Ethics, Expression, Experience, Enrichment. You can learn more here. Let me summarize each of them.
Ethics is doing the right thing. Not cheating, not lying, not stealing, etc. Carrying yourself with integrity. When the boss asks you to lie to a client, you do not lie to a client. Expression is how you share your faith. We could use another “E” word, evangelism, for this. Seeking to faithfully share the good news of Jesus in your context. Experience involves questions of vocation, calling, meaning, and purpose. Its two sub-orientations are Outcome (work as means, purpose/meaning) and Process/Activity (work as end, calling). Finally enrichment focuses on practices such as healing, prayer, whether individually or as a group, such as having a Bible study with your co-workers.
It seems to me that Paul is primarily thinking of Ethics when he says “work as unto the Lord.” As we saw in the previous post, don’t just work hard when the boss is watching. Work hard all the time, because God is always watching. And when we say, “God is watching,” Paul is not trying to say that God has his microscope on you watching your every move, ready to dock you if you screw up. He’s watching us because he loves us. He gave us gifts, talents, breath for a new day and he loves to watch us use those gifts. It brings him joy to see us use the things he’s given us. It is a joy for my wife, Michelle, and I to see our kids taking different gifts and abilities that they’ve been given and using them. As a side note, kids, this is for you too, very similarly to what Paul wrote last week, “Children obey your parents,” so that when you do your chores, your work at home, you are doing it joyfully unto the Lord, without complaining, without argument. Consider the joy that this gives God. Kids, look at God as your parent who loves you and whom you want to worship as you work on chores and on school work.
So if parents love watching their kids, how much more does God love watching those he created and adores work as unto the Lord? Paul’s motivation here is much more positive, work heartily unto the Lord. You get to work those 40-50 hours/week because that is 40-50 hours serving the Lord, no matter what the actual job/task is that you are doing. How is your heart posture as you do that work/task? Think about as 40-50 hours/week of worship, of ministry.
Another angle to this is an approach called Business as Mission, where a person or an entire business is missional. This would be in the Experience category of the four Es. This is what my wife, Michelle, and her business partner envisioned for their company Imagine Goods. A for-profit company that empowered workers through employment. The company has since closed down after an amazing 12 year run. But the business itself was missional. What about you and your work, whether that is school work or your place of employment? Is there a Kingdom mission even if yours is a for-profit business? Is there a Kingdom mission in how you are choosing to spend volunteer time? Is there a Kingdom mission in the way you interact in sports, for those of you who are students, or hobbies?
Working as unto the Lord is seeing yourself as a mission worker and thinking theologically about your work. To do this, to work unto the Lord as Paul suggests, we must avoid compartmentalized thinking. Compartmentalized thinking is when we say that our work life is totally distinct from our home life which is totally distinct from our spiritual lives, and so on. What Paul is saying here in Colossians 3:22-4:1 is that, for the Christians, every part of our lives is integrated under the banner of the Kingdom. Your time at school is Kingdom activity. Your time at work is Kingdom activity. Your retirement and volunteering is Kingdom activity. Work and school and serving organizations are not items that we check off the list, just to get them done. We are not to be people who are working for the weekend or for vacation. We are God’s Kingdom people everywhere we go, no matter what we do, and we seek, maybe using the 4 Es as our guide to live out our faith at all times. Where is your heart? Focused on living as unto the Lord?
You might think, “But how? My work is mind-numbing. I am not doing what I want to do with my life.” Or you might think, “Really? This applies even to school in math class, which I hate? I’m forced to take these classes that are teaching me stuff I will never use. It is a waste of my time!”
I am currently working (slowly…) on getting my doctorate. You know what someone told me about my dissertation? Just crank it out. Get it done. Probably 5 people will ever read it. You just need to gut it out and get the degree. There is truth to that statement, because that is the reality for many students. But it is also frustrating to think about. I just paid the tuition and dedicated three years of my life, stressed myself out basically the whole time…just to get it done?
Of course, it is true that I learned a lot along the way, and the degree is like a key that will unlock doors of opportunity that I did not have before. That’s no small thing. But there is also a way to look at being a worker, an employee, a volunteer from God’s perspective. Every class I took while studying for my degree, every book I read, every paper I wrote, including the dissertation, should be seen as an act of worship. “Work as unto the Lord.”
I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to do the biblical study and theological thinking necessary to see your work, your academic career, your volunteering from God’s eyes. That includes the work you do right now that you can’t stand, or the school work that seems pointless. What will it look like to do that work as unto the Lord? How can my work be done in a way that brings joy our God’s heart as He sees me engage with it?
I would recommend that you read Amy Sherman’s book Kingdom Calling as a next step for how to view your work, your studies and your retirement as Kingdom work.