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When Work Crushes Us

My favNewChurch-Podcast-Art2orite chapter in the entire Bible is Colossians chapter three. If you add the first six verses of chapter four I would be willing to say it contains pretty much everything we need to know to understand how to follow Jesus. It’s like the liquid diet meal replacement of Bible passages. If there was any section of scripture that I would recommend memorizing just in case you were stranded on a deserted island this would be the one.

It answers the big questions of “So now that I’m a Christian, now what am I supposed to do?” Isn’t that what we all want to know? What does God want from us? How are we supposed to live our lives?

Listen to how the chapter starts again:

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

Perspective. We have been given a new life. Born again. Adopted children of God the Father who created the universe and is making all things new. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ who sits at God’s right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth. What are you worried about again? What’s that heavy burden you are carrying around with you? Do you remember who your new Father is? Do you remember who your new brother is? Let the things of this world grow dim in the glow of His marvelous light.

For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

This is trippy stuff but what does it mean? This world is dead to you. The cares of this life were buried in your baptism, died with Christ, and when He came out of the grave He gave us a new life—our real life which is mysteriously hidden in God.

Perspective. When the cares of life fill our days with worry and we are worn down, tired and filled with concern about everything that surrounds us. How is there going to be enough money? Is my job secure? Are my kids gonna be alright? Will they do well in school? Will they find a good husband or wife? Will they survive being teenage drivers with cell phones? Everything is hard; my marriage is hard, my friendships are hard, work is hard, the house is a mess, I’m a mess… Stop. Listen to these words:

Your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Christ is our new life. “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” Gal. 2:20. He also lives in us by the Holy Spirit. “To live is Christ” Phil. 1:21. We believe Jesus will return someday and when He does we will appear with him in glory. At the second coming of Christ there will be a general meeting of all the saints; and those whose life is now hid with Christ shall then appear with Christ in that glorious new state, John 17:24. We will be made whole and be together with Jesus forever. Our futures look good. Here’s the point: Shouldn’t we remember who we are and keep focused on where we are going? Otherwise we’re like kids in the backseat of a car complaining about how bored we are while our parents are driving us to Disneyworld to have the time of our life. This isn’t supposed to be the funnest part of the trip. This isn’t supposed to be the most exciting point of the journey. We have a hope that goes far beyond any of the worries and concerns of our present situation. Perspective.

Batman_'66_-_Adam_West_as_BatmanWhat did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe you still haven’t figured that out. Maybe things haven’t exactly turned out like you hoped when you were a kid. When I was little I wanted to be Batman. I have report cards from the first, second and third grades that have the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and my answer all three years was “Batman.” You know what? I’m really glad I didn’t grow up to be Batman. I would be a terrible Batman. I don’t have enough money to afford the gadgets, I would look terrible in the Batsuit, and I don’t want to shave my beard. I’m afraid of heights and I don’t really want homicidal maniacs trying to kill me and everyone I love. Sometimes it’s a really good thing when life doesn’t turn out the way we wanted.

LarryNormanWhen I became a God fearing teenager I wanted to be Larry Norman. He was a Christian Rock singer/songwriter with long blonde hair who wore black leather and wrote clever songs about Jesus. I grew my hair out, dyed it blonde and bought a fake leather jacket. I started writing terrible songs and talking about Jesus. Eventually I figured out that I didn’t want to actually be Larry Norman, I just wanted to write and perform my own music that might challenge people to think about God. I also wanted to be a pastor and a writer. I spent years straddling the fence between those pursuits until finally—okay, I’m still straddling the fence between those pursuits.

What did you want your life’s work to be? Someone said if everyone grew up to be what they wanted to be when they were a child then the world would be overrun with policemen, firemen, and animal doctors. There might be a few cowboys or football players mixed in with the princesses but we would be hard pressed to find an accountant or plumber when we needed one.

We are talking about work. We all have work to do. Sometimes it’s fun and fulfilling to get stuff done, to put in a hardScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 2.37.29 PM day’s work and get paid for it. It can be very satisfying. Some of us have worked hard to get the education and opportunities we have, we have impressive sounding titles and we feel good about what we do, we’re proud of our work.

But some of us, not so much. We cringe when we meet someone and they ask the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” Maybe we feel like we should have done more with our life, or have gotten a raw deal. Maybe we’re just not where we want to be yet. Life happened and we didn’t finish that degree, things got tight and we were laid off from the job we loved, maybe we took our position for granted and messed up a good situation—now we find ourselves twisting in the breeze because of our own stupidity.

Whether we love our job or hate our job there is one thing that is in common no matter what our work is. Work is hard.

We were made to work, designed that way from the beginning. When God first made man He put him in a garden and gave him a job. It was good. It wasn’t until after the fall that work became the life draining suckage that it is today. In Genesis chapter three God looks at the newly fallen man and explains his new job assignment. His new annual goals:

By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground

In other words, If you want to eat you’re gonna have to work, the work will be hard and then you will die. Any questions? Things haven’t changed, we’re not gonna get around this even if we are following Jesus, saying our prayers, reading our Bibles and going to church like good little Christians. We still have to work if we want to eat and work is going to be hard.

The good news is God can redeem our work. If we give our work to Him, offering it to Him as part of our worship, then it will not destroy us. Here’s what I mean: if we see our job as a way to glorify ourselves (by an impressive title, a big paycheck), or as something we begrudgingly endure, doing the least we possibly can to collect a check—then work will be a source of poison and torture in our life.

We were made to work but we were not made to be consumed by our work. That’s where we get it wrong. Jump to the end of Colossians chapter 3, verses 22-25:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do.

Even though it says “slaves” we need to read it as “Employees/workers, obey your bosses/managers/teachers in everything you do.” All of us have someone who tells us what to do and when to do it.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.

Work like the boss is watching, that’s good advice. I told you, Colossians three is solid. It’s convicting though, isn’t it. Do you ever have an extra tab open in your browser so you can switch back to email or a spreadsheet instead of getting caught on Facebook or reading blogs? Of course not because we’ve read Colossians and we know better.

Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Here is the point: Our real boss is God and as Jesus followers we’re to do everything as worship to Him. Did you know that one of the most common words for followers of Jesus is “slave?” Doulos. We are to see ourselves as the slaves of Jesus. Even though we are to try and please our bosses, you know how it is, some people just can’t be pleased no matter what we do. The world is full of horrible bosses. If we understand that our true boss is the Lord, and we are really His slaves then it doesn’t matter what the earthly boss thinks of us. Our sense of who we are, and how we are doing no longer comes from the job, what it says on our business card or what the job pays us. Listen to this:

Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

Notice that it says we’ll get an inheritance as our reward, not a paycheck. A paycheck is something we earn. We put in the hours, finish the work, complete the project and collect our payment. That’s not ultimately how we are to look at why we do what we do. We are like the favorite slave who is treated like a son or daughter, then inherits the entire estate. This is the counter-cultural part of what I’m saying. It’s why I said we were made to work but not to be defined by our work. We have jobs to do but we are not to find our identity in our job titles. The reward we receive for doing our work as unto the Lord is because of who we are, not because of what we do.

At the Last Supper Jesus tied a towel around His waist like a servant and washed the disciples feet. Think about it, was He defined by what He was doing? It was a dirty job that no one wanted to do, it was humiliating, their feet smelled bad. This is a picture of how we are to go about our work.

Ask yourself this question when you are at work: How can I love people? Are there dirty dishes in the break room? What if you just quietly washed them? Did someone make the toilet dirty in the bathroom? What if you took some paper towels and cleaned it up so no one else had to see it? What if we weren’t always trying to squeeze the last dime out of every deal and showed some generosity now and then? What if we took a minute to listen to someone’s heart and gave them some encouragement? There are so many things we can do to worship God and love people through our work.

But there will be bad performance reviews, cruel supervisors, unfair teachers, impossible standards and bad things will happen. We will have days that drain us, maybe years. We will not always rise to the occasion and amaze our employers. Sometimes we will suck at our jobs.

This is a good time to remember that our life is hidden in Christ. We have been given a new life. Born again. Adopted children of God and our brother is the Lord of all Lords. This is great news because if we were to simply to be paid according to the purity of our work, I’m afraid we might not like the amount on our paycheck.

This next verse is a hard one:

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

This sentence kind of comes out of nowhere and different translations go to very different places with it’s meaning. I tried to figure out what it is actually saying by looking at the original Greek. A literal word for word translation would be: “For the one who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and will receive it without any respect for who they are.” Which didn’t really help.

It could still mean at least three different things. It could mean that we should take comfort knowing that God will pay back “the wrongdoer” (our mean bosses and teachers) for all the unjust things they have done to us. “Vengeance is mine thus saith the Lord.” This is true and It could mean that but I don’t think it fits the context of the rest of the chapter, so I don’t think that’s what it is actually saying here.

It could mean if we are sorry workers who half-ass our work then we will be held responsible, that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up sloppy work. But I don’t think that fits either. I don’t think the final point of this passage is that as harsh as our earthly bosses might be, God is an even more merciless judge, and since we are supposed to do our work for Him, if we don’t do a good job He will smash us—I don’t care who you are.” No, that doesn’t sound like good news.

I think it means this: We are all “wrongdoers” so we put our hope in the inheritance we have in Jesus rather than what we can earn with our works. In other words, if we were merely paid for the amount of work we accomplish, or paid according to the quality of the work we were able to do, if our ultimate hope was in our job performance alone, then we would be crushed by our work. The best we can do is not good enough. Our hope is not that we will be paid according to our works but that our reward is an inheritance. We will not receive the wage we have earned, but the glorious reward of a prince or a princess—and here’s the cool part—whether we are the C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company or a fruit stand vendor in a third world country. When we do our work as unto the Lord the pay is the same, and the pay is beyond our wildest dreams.

Work is always going to drain us. It is always going to tempt us to find our worth in it. It’s always going to be hard, that’s why it’s called “work.” Do you ever feel burnt out? Drained? Our work will always demand more from us, more than we have to give. It will always crush us. Some people say, “Do what you love then it will never seem like work.” That’s nonsense. I do what I love and I am my harshest critic. My songs are never good enough, my recordings are never perfect enough, my messages aren’t as good as other preachers, there is always more to do, I never get enough done—I’m like a hamster on a spinning wheel. “Do what you love and you will never stop working” is more like it. Work is going to be work and it’s going to be hard. It’s going to crush us if we try to make it our God. Work will not save us.

That’s why we need to see our self in Christ. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on the hope we have in Him. At the end of the work day we don’t put our hope in our paycheck or what we can accomplish. We put our hope in Jesus and then we will receive our inheritance.

Work has been cursed as part of the fall. The Christian life doesn’t give us an escape from sweating while we work but we don’t have to let our job define us. Not our successes, which will go to our head and destroy us, nor our failures which will go to our heart and leave us in despair.

May we work as unto the Lord, seeing our vocation as part of our worship. May we look for opportunities to love people through our work, serve people in our workplace, may we humbly submit to the authorities over us and treat the people we lead with kindness and compassion. May we find comfort in knowing we are slaves of a God who treats us as His own dearly loved children and will give us an inheritance worthy of a prince. AMEN