Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Work (Page 1 of 2)

Glory in the Ordinary

They’re calling it one of the biggest Olympic snubs of all time.

An enormously popular athlete. Record-setter. Superb skills. Has altered the game forever. Draws huge crowds. Gazillion dollar endorsements. What’s not to like?

Wait a minute! You thought I was talking about WNBA superstar Caitlin Clark! No! I’m talking about ME!

I got skills. I got game. I gotta get me some Olympic bling!

You’re right. I’m delusional. But please, read on.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the Olympics. But watching these elite athletes in action always brings me back to reality. I’m once again reminded how ordinary I am. I’ll never be known for my athletic prowess, my competitive spirit, or for overcoming huge odds to beat an archrival. I’m plain old me.

The Olympics remind us that humans are capable of some amazing feats. They’re full of compelling stories. But they’re not representative of how most of us live out our day-to-day existence. Most of us are rather dull, unathletic, and uninspiring.

But that’s OK. What matters for us is that every day we dedicate ourselves to something worthwhile. For Christians, dedication to Christ is a sufficiently Olympian task. To follow the one who was first to finish the race (Hebrews 12.1-3) is challenge enough. What’s more, the crown for which you and I compete is far greater than all the medals, endorsements, and fame that our earthly Olympics could offer: “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9.25b).

What’s left for us, then, is to do our work and do it well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3.23-24). 

You don’t have to be the CEO to be successful in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Hollywood couple to have a great marriage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find joy in sports. You don’t need a show on Food Network to enjoy cooking and eating. You don’ t need to be a millionaire to be financially secure. You don’t have to join a monastery to be faithful to Christ.

There is glory in the ordinary.

Integrity & Consistency

There’s an old story about a farmer selling a horse. The horse was stubborn and lazy and rarely helpful when work needed to be done. A potential buyer asked, “Is he a good workhorse?” The farmer replied, “It’d do your heart good to see that horse work!”

The buyer purchased the horse and within a few weeks realized it was stubborn and lazy and useless when work needed to be done. He went back to the farmer and demanded a refund. “You said it was a good workhorse!” The farmer replied, “No, I said it’d do your heart good to see it work.” 

Nobody likes to be cheated by unscrupulous vendors. Proverbs 20.10 says, Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.”

The proverb is set in the ancient marketplace where simple mechanical devices were used for measuring. It would have been relatively easy for a vendor to use a measuring stick or a weight or a bowl that looked normal but was just a bit off, and always to his advantage. In our modern era of full disclosure, de facto standards, government standards, industry standards, and bar codes and scanners, it’s easy to forget that cheaters still look for ways to get ahead, even at the store. This proverb condemns the practice, both then and now.

Two things are noteworthy. One is the strength of the condemnation. This kind of dishonesty is not only foolishness, not only wickedness, it’s an abomination to the Lord. This is a reminder that of all the virtues we humans should possess, honesty and integrity are at the very top. To be less than honest is to fail in the most fundamental of human ways. 

Second, it applies not only to the marketplace, but also to the workplace. Honesty on the job has plenty of applications. Do we say one thing to the boss and another to our coworkers? Do we fudge on our expense accounts? Do we make allowances for the workers we like, but not for the ones we dislike? Do we sponge ideas off others but take credit for them ourselves? 

The proverb covers a lot of territory, in the marketplace, the workplace, the home, and other areas of life as well.

The wise worker practices meticulous integrity in the workplace. The wise person practices meticulous integrity in all his or her relationships. Anything less is dishonest and ultimately incurs God’s wrath.


“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

Unfortunately for modern Americans, speed seems to be the measure of all things. This is nowhere more evident than in our addiction to electronics.

In 1979 I took a freshman computer programming class which allowed access to the University’s mainframe computer. It was one of the fastest mainframes available at the time. My professor often joked about how computers taught us to be impatient. We’d write our programs, key them in at the terminal, and wait for the computer to execute them. We usually had to wait several minutes for the outcome. Minutes. Many, many, many seconds. Dr. Mink couldn’t have known how prescient he was.

In today’s world, we’re impatient after a few seconds’ delay, even a fraction of a second. If an app doesn’t launch instantly on our phone, it’s time to upgrade. If it takes more than a few seconds for a movie to begin streaming, our Wi-Fi is too slow. In parts of Texas, the speed limit on some Interstate highways is 85 mph. Sammy Hagar’s old tune, “I Can’t Drive 55”, is quaint by comparison. You just can’t slow down those Texans!

A certain amount of speed is unavoidable. Where both parents work, when all the kids go to school, when the whole family attends church weekly, and when you have sports and after-school jobs, life resembles an Olympic 100-meter dash. 

But there are options. First, look for those daily opportunities to slow the pace and catch your breath. May you got to work a few minutes early. Maybe you finished a project sooner than expected. Maybe the kids don’t have homework tonight. Whatever the reason, enjoy the break. There’s no rule that says you must fill it with activity. 

Second, practice slowing down. Allow extra time with errands and chores. Put fewer items on your “to-do” list. Let someone go ahead of you in the checkout line. Choose a slower, more scenic route. Chew your food slowing and enjoy its texture and taste. Change your own motor oil. Make slowing down a normal thing. 

Psalm 46.10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Be still. Be quiet. Listen. Breathe. Relax. Calm down. Slow down. And listen.

May God help us take our foot off the accelerator. 

About a Minute

A famous guest at a banquet was asked at the last moment to give an impromptu speech for the occasion. As he rose to speak, he asked how much time he had. Someone from the audience yelled “About a minute!”

The speaker asked, “Only a minute?”

He then said, “We normally think of a minute as a short amount of time. Not as short as a second, but still short. In fact, most of us rarely think about what we can do in one minute’s time. In reality, you can do a lot more than you think. It only takes a minute…

  • “To offer a prayer of thanks to God.
  • “To offer a prayer of intercession for someone who’s hurting or struggling.
  • “To send a text message to someone you missed seeing at church.
  • “To email someone you’ve been thinking about.
  • “To write a card to someone who’s sick or grieving.
  • “To say ‘Thank You’ to someone who blessed you in an unexpected way.
  • “To say ‘Well Done’ to an employee or student or child.
  • “To say ‘I appreciate your work’ to a boss or teacher or pastor or minister.
  • “To pick up and put up something that’s been laying there for a week.
  • “To wipe a spot in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • “To read a short passage of Scripture and give yourself a boost.
  • “To call a friend or church member you haven’t seen in a while.
  • “To make a ‘To Do’ list for tomorrow.
  • “To hug someone who needs a hug.”

And you thought a minute wasn’t much time! 

As the apostle Paul said, “Make the most of your time” (Ephesians 5.16). May God help make the most of our minutes!

Elimination or Adaptation?

Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.

Lou Holtz

That’s one possible solution. The coach may bench an unmotivated player or cut him from the team. The boss in the workplace may be able to fire an unproductive worker. 

But not always.

There are three reasons for this. First, you can’t always get rid of problematic people. The lazy athlete may be more popular than the coach. The athlete may be protected by a stubborn administrator or irate parents or an ironclad contract. Or maybe nobody better is available.

Second, there may be better ways of motivating others: Being patient with them; showing them a better way; offering further training or opportunities; making the workplace more internally competitive. All these tactics might be better motivators than the threat of punishment.

Third, this approach overlooks the fact that success sometimes emerges from situations we can’t change. We may not be able to control our coworkers’ attitudes, but we can change ours. We may not be able to change the work others do, but we can improve ours. And, when all else fails, we could learn to be content with the situation. Yikes!

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, he was in jail at the time. Some of his fellow preachers took advantage of his imprisonment. They thought that since he was in jail, they could gain a competitive advantage over Paul. With him out of the way, they could advance their own ministries.

Paul’s response? “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1.15-18).

Paul couldn’t control his circumstances or theirs. He couldn’t change their motives or actions. So, he found the good in what they did, even if their motives were corrupt.

For us, maybe we can’t change someone else’s motivation, but we can change our own. Maybe we can’t change our circumstances, but we can certainly change our attitudes. Maybe we can’t get rid of our problems, but we can choose to thrive and grow anyway. 

It’s about doing whatever we can do, regardless of what others may or may not do. 

Motivation & Honesty

As a preacher, I frequently deal in the currency of motivation. Part of what I do is attempt to keep fellow Christians and church members motivated to do the work of the kingdom.

Some Christians are highly motivated and rarely need help from me. Others are motivated only to the extent that there’s something in it for them, some tangible reward, usually in the form of trumpet-blowing. Some seem to struggle with motivation at the most basic level. They seem unable or unwilling to do the most basic forms of service. I may push, pull, beg, pressure, and howl, but nothing happens.

Regarding motivation, Oswald Chambers once wrote, “Our Lord never pleaded, He never cajoled, He never entrapped; He simply spoke the sternest words mortal ears ever listened to, and then left it alone.”

Chambers’ comments raise an interesting question: How motivated am I to do what’s right? What really moves me to serve Jesus? Do I really care? I should be careful how I answer. Because, if I must constantly be goaded, pressed, embarrassed, pushed, or shoved before I’m willing to act, it would seem that doing right isn’t my highest priority.

Too many Christians fall into this category. We say we’re followers of Jesus, but we seem awfully casual about the whole thing. We say we want to do right, that we want to serve, but we act only when we’re pushed to the limit.

This may provide some insight into Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8.4-8). In the parable, a farmer sows seed on different kinds of soil and, consequently, gets different yields from each soil. Some of the soil is packed down and won’t grow anything. Some of it is shallow, with a layer of rock underneath. Some of it full of thorns. Some of it is good, clean soil. 

When Jesus explained the parable, he said that “the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8.15). The honest heart is the one who takes the Word of God and simply obeys it. There’s no resistance, no argument, and no excuse.

In other words, honesty is the linchpin of the machinery of spiritual motivation. A dishonest person will never have sufficient motivation to act upon the commands of God. 

If you’re struggling with your motivation to serve God, the first thing to look at is your heart. Are you motivated for the right reasons? Bottom line: Are you honest?

Time & Attention

“Everything that wants your attention doesn’t deserve your time.”

Shavoris Brown

The beginning of the day, the week, the month, or the year seems ripe with opportunities. We manage to convince ourselves that all is possible, and there’s plenty of time to do it all. 

Then reality hits: unplanned interruptions, unwanted calls, unexpected sickness, unwelcome salespersons, unrealistic expectations, unforeseeable delays. You know what I’m talking about.

When these time wreckers intrude on our well-planned schedules, what do we do? We hit the pause button and ask ourselves, “What’s the most important thing I need to do right now?” Our ability to be productive depends upon our ability to determine what’s most important and to pursue that above all else. It’s a matter of eliminating the unnecessary and concentrating on the essential. To extend the opening quotation, some matters are not only unworthy of our time, they’re also unworthy of our attention.

The same mentality applies to spiritual life. Spiritual life can become cluttered and clotted with unnecessary, attention-grabbing distractions. Not a day passes that I don’t get some kind of invitation to attend a religious or church event. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an offer to buy another religious book. Hardly a day passes by that I don’t get asked to participate in another conference, another online study, another elders’ meeting, another mentoring session, or another church social. After a while, my head wants to explode. 

But the biblical solution is simple. Determine what’s most important and forget the rest. While the Bible isn’t a time management manual, it does speak to the issue of our priorities. Consider:

  • Psalm 39.4: “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am.”
  • Psalm 90.12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
  • Ephesians 5.15-16: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
  • James 4.14, 15, 17: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’… Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
  • Matthew 6.33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

For today and every day, determine what deserves you attention and your time, then pursue it with all you’ve got.

Rusty Rails

“It is better to wear out than to rust out.”

Richard Cumberland. English philosopher, Bishop of Petersborough

I grew up near a railroad track and witnessed the truth of this quotation firsthand. When I was a child, trains ran along these tracks daily. Consequently, the rails were shiny on top and looked like polished steel. Through the years, however, the trains were rerouted and that stretch of track was no longer used. Over time the rails turned dull and then rusty. 

Many things in this world deteriorate faster through neglect than overuse like empty houses, barns, and abandoned cars. The same principle applies to less tangible things like marriages, mental abilities, health, spirituality, church life. Letting these things sit idly, without ever exercising or using them, is a sure path to rust and degradation.

The classic biblical illustration is the sluggard’s vineyard described in Proverbs 24.30-34. The writer says, 

I passed by the field of the sluggard
And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense,
And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles;
Its surface was covered with nettles,
And its stone wall was broken down.
When I saw, I reflected upon it;
I looked, and received instruction.
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest,”
Then your poverty will come as a robber
And your want like an armed man.

Through neglect this vineyard is overgrown, its walls are crumbling, and there’s little hope of restoration. The sluggard’s epitaph? “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” (v 33). His mantra becomes his demise.

Especially in your spiritual life and in your relationships, if things aren’t going well, the most obvious question is, “Am I neglecting some aspect of this?” In your spiritual life, are you praying as you should? Are you worshipping? Are you studying your Bible? Are you cultivating fellowship and service with others? In your relationships, are you communicating? Are you spending time together? Are you helping and encouraging one another? 

Better to be weary from work than to be numbed by neglect.

For today and every day, get busy and polish those rails!

Pyramids & Success

One of my favorite motivational posters shows a picture of the Egyptian pyramids. The title of the poster is “Motivation”. The caption reads, “You can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labor.” 

The poster is published Despair, Inc., a company that parodies the motivational products you seen at mall kiosks, in offices, and on websites. Their motto is, “Welcome to the cure for hope.” 

This poster makes a worthwhile point. Egypt was among the most powerful ancient empires. They had a stable culture, a strong military, along with resources and vision. Like most ancient empires, they also had abundant slave labor. No wonder they could build pyramids.

Pyramids are still being built in the same way. How often do you see ads by a well-known celebrity for fitness, nutrition, or beauty products ? Morning talk shows routinely feature celebrities who lost 50 pounds and tell us that if we’ll do what they did, we’ll get the same results. 

What they don’t tell us is that their contracts have incentives for losing weight and keeping in shape. They have personal trainers, dieticians, and chefs. They don’t tell us that companies approach them and offer them money to test their products. They don’t tell us about the nanny who watches their kids while they’re sweating in their Olympic-caliber home gym. They don’t tell us that they only work 4 hours a day. 

When I hear celebrities talking about their health and beauty success, I see pyramids. I suspect that their success is less a personal achievement than a corporate endorsement, built upon the backs of others. That approach isn’t helpful to any of us.

I’d rather build small mounds of dirt with my own hands than pyramids on the backs of others. I’d rather know that I did what I could with what I had, even if the results are meager. I don’t say this as an affirmation of stubborn pride. I have no desire to crash and burn while singing, “Let the record show I took the blows and did it my way!”

For Christians, there’s nothing more fundamental than a personal commitment to Jesus of Nazareth. Each of us will be judged by what we did, rather than what we did through corporate sponsors. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that EACH ONE may be recompensed for HIS DEEDS in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5.10). 

To be sure, along the way, the Lord gives strength and guidance. I’m not in this alone. But I’m responsible for my own life, and I can’t take credit for what isn’t mine.

For today, take what you have, do what you can do, and trust the Lord for the rest. It is enough.

Overworked, Underpaid & Underappreciated

Do you ever feel overworked and underappreciated? Had you registered that complaint with Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, I doubt you would’ve gotten much sympathy. More likely, he would have said, “That’s life. Life’s hard. Move on.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that life here at ground level isn’t pretty or fair and is anything but predictable. It’s a blunt force trauma perspective on life. 

For example, in Ecclesiastes 9, Solomon describes several inequitable situations that characterize human life. In the final verses of the chapter, he emphasizes both the value of wisdom and its limitations. He says…

There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom, yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Ecclesiastes 9.14-18)

Every day we see situations like this. We see business leaders, politicians, and public figures who are loud, foolish, and inept. Frequently, it’s the quiet voices of their humble helpers who cover for them and save the day. The helpers get no credit and they’re soon ignored and forgotten. What’s worse, as Solomon observes, the good work these people do is often undone by a single act of folly.

So, what if you’re in one of those dead-end jobs? What if your boss doesn’t realize what a tremendous asset you are? What if you don’t get the recognition you deserve? What if nobody listens to you? What if you don’t get the raises and promotions you deserve? What if your best efforts are treated like yesterday’s emails? What if you’re overworked and underappreciated?

Solomon also provides an answer for this. He says take heart. Earlier in the chapter, he makes two other observations that, I think, balance the negativity in the rest of the chapter. In verse one he says, “For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God.” Then, he says in verse seven, “God has already approved your works.” 

Work life can be frustrating. You might well be ignored, marginalized, or forgotten. But there’s hope, because God sees what we do and blesses us when we work not for human approval, but for his glory.

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