Faith and Work: The Sunday-Monday Connection
1 Corinthians 12
Rev. David J. Clark
Today we continue our series on composing a faith featuring the music of Fred Pratt Green. He is someone who was actually alive in this century. Just think, someone you could have sat next to on a flight at some point in your life.
He was a Methodist preacher who wrote hundreds of hymns over the years. One of his main subject areas is reflected in the hymn we just sang, Rejoice in God’s Saints. His theme was the intersection of faith and daily life. The hymn expresses gratitude for all forms of service people give to God. Some immerse themselves in great causes, others withdraw to pray, but all believers have a role to play. This is a theme he gets from many places in the scriptures, such as our passage from 1 Corinthians. Many of Green’s hymns point to the majesty of God but then bring it down to the so-what level. So what are we supposed to do? How does this apply to our lives?
I should say something about the hymn that might throw you, and that’s the word “saint.” Rev. Green goes back to the biblical understanding of the word where all the followers of Jesus were called saints, people empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, that makes you a saint. Introduce yourself as a saint. It doesn’t imply perfection, or super-serious-Christian. It’s just who you are. You have a purpose, great potential. You hold meaning. The point isn’t just to get through life, keeping your head down. But to make the world a better place. Jesus said you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. No matter how imperfect you are, the mistakes you’ve made, you still have opportunities every day to serve and make a difference.
Rejoice in God’s Saints reminds us that faith matters for all aspects of our lives. We are good at compartmentalizing our lives treating faith as just one more thing amongst. Your family. Your friends. Your recreational activities. Your work. Tending to our faith can become like the spinning plates in the old vaudeville acts. If you see the faith plate getting out of control, losing steam, you might not even get to it. Let it crash, one less thing. Phew. A relief?
But faith can be more like the power strip that you plug everything else into—a supercharger for the rest of your life. It can help you stay centered, focused on what is really important. It helps you clarify your values, the things you live by and this helps you in the other areas. The more you integrate your faith into all aspects of your life, the closer to God you will feel and the more your spirit will grow and you can enjoy the fruits of the spiritual life.
One of the areas of disconnect is work. How many of you would say that there is a Sunday–Monday gap? Your faith life has nothing at all to do with your work life?
You might be thinking, “I can’t bring my faith into my work life. It wouldn’t be appropriate; I’d get fired and deservedly so.” But I’m not talking about talking about your faith at work–especially the kind of pushy stuff where you tell someone else what they ought to believe. I’m not talking about talking, but about how faith forms the person you are that goes to work.
Sometimes it is about seeing a bigger picture. My doctoral work actually involved a project where we helped people name ways faith can help give them a bigger perspective about how they can help make the world a better place. They started with the belief that faith and work are totally separate but learned to have a sense of vocation—a way of being of service to making the world better.
There was Jim, a divorce attorney who at the beginning of our conversations couldn’t see any connection between work and faith. Over time he came to see that his ministry was helping his clients keep focused on what is best for the children in really antagonistic situations were perspective gets lost to trying to get back at or hurt the other person.
There was Clay, a used car salesman who owned his own little dealership. He discovered a way of living out his faith by focusing on lower end used vehicles and making sure lower income people could have reliable transportation, and payment plans that made sense.
It got thinking if a used car salesman and lawyer could do it, anybody could.
There was Denise, who was having a hard time figuring out her connection. At work she was called the Princess of Death. She was a compliance exec. for a major insurance company and when something rose to her level, others had already done the homework and she’d have to go and fire people who skirted the rules–especially those involving fraud. She came to see that our system relies on rules and we need enforcers. But the way she approached people didn’t have to be cruel or insensitive. It would be way better to have her in that position than some sadistic creep who enjoyed making people suffer for their misdeeds.
Mary Jo was a manager at a factory hog farm operation. Mary Jo said this was a job of last resort. Most can’t hack it. It’s a job where sometimes people are getting a second chance. Like the prodigal son who had to sleep with the pigs. She said someone gave her a second chance once and she’d made mistakes but could show something better.
There was Randy who travelled with a minor league team around the country. He said a lot of guys were justifying a lot of cheating and other bad stuff with an attitude of “everyone does it.” His faithful act was to show by his example that wasn’t true. Just being an example for younger people to follow sometimes is a way of applying your faith.
As I’ve talked with folks one of the areas they connect Sunday to Monday is the way faith informs the way they interact with coworkers and clients. We just did a whole series on keeping integrity in the midst of conflict. Taking the high road. Listening. Learning how to respond to someone going through a hard time. How faith doesn’t give license for someone to run all over you. To remember that you count and not to let people get away with disrespecting you and don’t absorb it and think it is true.
Work builds character. There is much about this in the Bible. Brother Lawrence was a monk who hated his job in the kitchen. He wanted to do something meaningful. But there he was day after day, peeling potatoes. He came to think of his work as a form of prayer. God was in the kitchen. What he was doing was helping others. Eventually his work became a more holy way of connecting to the divine than his evening prayers. Sometimes if you look to see the end beneficiary, our work itself can be a way of connecting to God.
If you are creative–that spot, the zone, when it is clicking. See yourself as participating in something holy. The first thing you learn about God is God is a creator and we are made in his image. When we create anything, whether it is in the arts, or a plan, or a schedule. And you get in that space where it comes together. That zone. You see it as a holy thing. A way of how your spirit connects with God. It’s not about drawing something religious. Like Susie says, coloring can be prayer. No, just your regular work, but while you are doing it you can sense that your spirit, your mind moves into this thing that connects us to God.
I remember talking with a teacher who was having trouble remembering it’s about the kids. There were all of the administrative rules, and procedures that got in the way of teaching, subversive parents and schedules. She said that too many teachers get discouraged and lose their spark for the kids and just ride it out until retirement. Your faith can remind you–whatever field you are in–not to lose that spark. You are the light of the world. Think of end benefactor of your chain, who delights, whose life is helped?
Faith helps with ethics. When you have to make ethics decisions–how you sort that out? Do you have an ethical philosophy? Greatest good for greatest number of people, but if it hurts a few people a lot is it worth it? Are there absolute rules? Is there ever a time in your work where you feel you have to lie? Do you just go along and make each decision on a case-by-case basis? Is there consistency? Ethics–sometimes in a corporation’s pursuit of profits you may be pressured to do things that go against your moral compass. Faith can help you sort out your priorities, define the limits of what you will and will not do. If it feels slimy but isn’t technically illegal, what do you do?
Faith teaches us how to lead–great examples. It shows how to expect grumbling and mumbling and resistance to change. Poor Moses, the freed slaves complained at every turn. Joshua had problems because everyone was afraid of the obstacles ahead, how hard their task might be. Yet, time after time there are stories of what it takes to lead, to be guided by a vision and what to expect. It shows us that a good leader, like Jesus who washed his disciple’s feet is someone not afraid to get his hands dirty and do what he can to train others and help them succeed. How to behave once get elevated into a leadership position.
Faith teaches us how to follow, to get along with others. To respect boundaries. To work together as a team for something larger. To give others credit. You remember that you don’t have to be in charge of everything and respect the contributions of others. Have compassion on them because they may not like their job.
Faith often helps people prosper and succeed. People of faith often excel because faith helps shape them into honest people, sincere, hard-working. They aren’t going to be driven by gossip, or backstabbing. They will prove themselves trustworthy–people who can be given more responsibility, promotion, people their employers or clients can depend on. Faith teaches us to live modestly and within our means and when we do that we feel more in balance.
Interruptions are occasions for service in beautiful ways. Faith teaches us that sometimes the most important things in our lives come to us as interruptions–things that feel like distractions. Someone’s need, someone’s crisis that comes at an inconvenient time. Jesus was always interrupted. People pressing on him. But he cared for others. They were God moments.
Faith can help us keep proper perspective that makes us better at work. When you know who you are and what you are. When you don’t have to prove your ultimate worth as a human being, by how high you climb on the ladder of success and when you don’t have to wrap your entire identity around your job description and you realize you are more than that. You already have God’s favor. God’s approval. No matter what you do for a living, there is more to you than that. Something that is loved and accepted by your creator. The pressure is off. So many people fail all the time, and carry around so much undo pressure because they need that job to give them their ultimate meaning. But if you can let that go you can be better at your job.
I know a guy who was all wrapped up in the drive to succeed, the pressure to put everything into his identity. There was always this ache, this sense of dissatisfaction. He was miserable. And his job performance suffered because he put too much pressure on himself and he wasn’t at his best most positive, forward thinking, self. Once he put things into the right perspective, realizing that his job was only one part of his life, not his whole life, things began to click for him. No pressure cooker.
Faith helps you remember a work-life balance. That sometimes you need to step away, and rest and renew and come back to it. I think about putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You sit there for too long and you try to find that one piece and your efficiency drops off. Every piece is a struggle. Often if you walk away–refresh yourself, clear your head and come back to it those pieces just start snapping into place. You see it all afresh. Same pieces, but it feels easier. You are better at it. Faith reminds us of Sabbath, of taking that time out. Connecting, renewing our spirits so that when we go back to work we will be better at it.
In the same way, faith can help you see the relative importance of money. Not to get so caught up in making money for your family that you forget to be fully present to the family you have.
Faith helps give a perspective on life so that when other things come up in your life, those unpleasant, unexpected surprises, it doesn’t have to overwhelm you and you can focus better at work.
One of my deep passions is to help people make that Sunday-Monday connection. Because for all of our great programs as a congregation, the real impact in the world is how you go out and live it. You are making ethical decisions. Making the world run as well as it does. Giving encouragement and care for those around you. You are making an impact. I’m always curious about ways we can help you envision what you do as connecting to God, how we can equip you for what you are really facing. What resources you need. And how we can support you.
I believe the more conscious you are about the connection, the more you will find spiritual applications in what you are doing and it will superpower your spiritual growth and help you at what is important to do.