Flourishing in the workplace
No matter where you look, doom, gloom and despondency surround us. And yet in the midst of a global economic slowdown where the threat of redundancy casts an ever-growing long shadow, the Bible tells us to ‘look up’ and to be cheerful. Not only that, it promises that those that love God will flourish irrespective of what is happening around them.
So what does the Bible mean by ‘flourishing’ and how do you shrug off the despair that surrounds so many people? This practical, article aims to answer these questions and will equip you to thrive no matter where you work.
(All Bible verses are from The Message translation)
Throughout history in good times and in bad, God has consistently blessed his children. Everything God does towards us is to bless, prosper and make us rich:
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Ephesians 1:3 – 6
Christians are the most blessed people on earth. Our God prospers and honours those who honour him.
The lives of God-loyal people flourish.
Proverbs 15:6 (The Message)
Flourish means to thrive, grow, increase, prosper, to do well. So how does this translate into today's workplace experience - are God's promises just as valid or has He withdrawn them? Or maybe He didn't quite mean what we read?
For most people, their financial and social wealth will come from the workplace. It's where we spend most of our adult life (64%) and from it the quality of life we enjoy. But so often work is seen as a necessary evil, something to be got out of. If that's how we see it then we’ve totally missed the point and we'll miss out on the blessings that God has in store for us.
As I look back through my career I see the hand of God in guiding me, blessing me and helping me to achieve things that I thought were not possible. And it was because His blessing was upon me - not because I deserved it but because He is a God who loves to bless.
I'm saddened when I meet Christians who hate their jobs. Of course there are times when I faced people and situations I didn't care for - but it was in those times where I saw God at work. I’ve been threatened with demotion because my boss didn’t like me, but God brought me through them all and into a better place than I had before.
Now you may be thinking "it's alright for him - he doesn't know my situation - the difficulties my profession faces, the people I have to work with". In answer to this I want to take a look at what the Bible says about work and the importance of our attitude towards it.
God’s view of work
To begin with, God is a God of work. Work is part of Gods DNA – just look at creation. God’s plan for us is to work – to go into the world and subdue it, to be fruitful. It's through a job well done where we gain satisfaction. What did God say after each day of creation? He saw that it was good. Is that how we look back on our workday? It is God’s intention that every Christian should thrive, grow, increase, prosper, and do well at work.
Keys to Prospering at Work
The Bible has many examples of how God wants us to be at work - Joseph and Daniel being two of them. Both were put into work environments that initially they would not have chosen. Both found themselves in a foreign land, were unjustly treated, falsely accused, we're plotted against. At one stage both thought they had lost everything - their livelihood, future prospects and yet they both achieved fame, respect and wealth.
God was able to turn around each of their circumstances and bless them - but only because of the following right attitude they had to the work they were given.
1. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE PLACED.
Ask anyone about themselves and they will usually respond with their job title. However, we can't impress God with either a job title or how much we make. If we judge success at work in terms of position or earnings then we will never be satisfied.
As Christians, our workplace is our mission field - it's the place where God has appointed us to be His ambassadors, the place where God has said He would never leave or forsake us. You may say that you only put books back on a shelf, that you are just a cleaner – or that you’ve been repeatedly overlooked for promotion and ignored. But this isn’t how God sees you.
“But I hate my job” you may say. Why? Is it beneath you? You are not an employee but a prince, a valued servant under the protection of Almighty God. He has a plan for you and He will bring you out of it when your work is done and when you are ready.
There is much said about pressure and stress in the workplace. Pressure is generally something that other people place on you - but stress is how you respond internally. Stress is a spiritual attack - to avoid it you must constantly see yourself with God’s eyes as to who you really are.
2. WORK HARD WITHOUT COMPLAINT
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord.
The Hebrew for word for work and worship is the same. Avodah. When we work we worship God. The more we put in, the more we’ll get out of it.
Today’s bonus culture implies that organisation’s only get performance if staff are incentivised. However, a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that not only is this untrue, but it can actually have a bad effect on performance.
Both Joseph and Daniel were the best they could be, irrespective of how they were rewarded. Joseph in his early work life wasn’t even paid - but each saw their service as being towards God and it was God that honoured them.
In Daniel 1 we read that “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”. This was the result of God’s strength and their hard work.
Joseph was put in charge of the jail even though a prisoner himself. Why? Would their promotions have happened if they had both, with some human justification, complained about their lot?
In our workplace we represent God. And if our colleagues know we are Christians they will judge God by the way we act. Would God steal things, time, fiddle expenses? It's all about attitude and if that attitude is wrong then how can God promote us?
By being faithful in a few things, will determine if we can be faithfully in greater things. Romans 12:1-2:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
We could add here that embracing the workplace where God has placed us is the best thing we can do for Him! The verse goes on to say:
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture [ a culture of complaint, mediocre performance] that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Joseph and Daniel proved themselves - and it didn't go unnoticed.
3. RESPECT YOUR BOSS
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ
Paul in writing to the Ephesians told them to respect those that have the rule over them. It applies equally well to us today and that includes your boss. And there is a good reason for this.
Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.
A recently published study showed that those who help others at work without being asked and because they wanted to, are 40% more likely to receive a promotion in the following year, have significantly higher job satisfaction, and feel 10 times more engaged with where they work.
God wants you to honour your boss, no matter what kind of tyrant they may be. Why? Because it is the mark of a faithful servant. Also no one is going to recommend promotion to anyone who disrespects them.
4. STAND FIRM IN YOUR FAITH
Don’t compromise your faith and service to God, even though it threatens your position. Joseph refused to sleep with Potipha’s wife. Daniel refused to pray in secret. In each case their Godly life style clashed with what was expected of them in the workplace. But each stayed true to God - but without being a pain.
This is where a life that has honoured your boss pays off. Character works itself out by who we are and what we do. Decisions at work should always be made from the perspective of a life lived for God.
5. SEEK TO IMPROVE YOURSELF
Many people at work try to do the absolute minimum - their contract and nothing more. And then wonder why they don’t get promotion. Promotion isn't a long service medal – it’s usually because you have better skills and experience that others don't have.
Invest in your own career – don’t leave it up to the company you work for or others. Your career is your responsibility. Asking God for guidance is not a cop out of taking responsibility. When going after a promotion or a new job ask yourself whether that position is attainable - do you have the right skills, the right experience, and in some cases the right contacts? If you don’t then you need to invest your time and resources to acquire them.
I’m convinced that God will bring you into situations and contact with people where you'll gain experience, develop skills and develop contacts.
Don't go it alone. Meet up with others who have done it before and ask them for an honest opinion about your suitability. But only do it with those who have that experience and have been successful. It’s like learning to fly a plane - go to another pilot who is a great pilot for advice, not a bad one or one who thinks they can fly.
6. JOIN UP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS
God doesn’t expect us to work alone – we are many members of one body. Transform Work UK believes that the workplace and the nation can be changed by Christians getting together to pray for their workplace – their colleagues, their managers. To help the organisation adopt good Christian principles – which are also good business practices.
Check out our Christian Workplace Group directory to see if there is a group in the organisation you work for. If not, then why not start one up? The booklet A Short Guide to Christian Groups in the Workplace is freely available from this web site that shows you how to do this. It’s amazing what two or three Christians can accomplish when they meet in His name.
To summarise, the experiences that Joseph and Daniel went through helped them to flourish and become prosperous in their workplace - even though they didn't realise it at the time.
Neither of them realised where they would end up - but it was the way they handled the tasks they were given, the way they treated their boss, how they lived out their faith in God, and their attitude to be the best, that made them the right people for the job they ended up with. And God can do exactly the same for us as well.
- Joseph’s experience in managing Potipha’s house and the jail, helped him later on to meet the right people and to manage the land of Egypt.
- Daniel’s training in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace gave him access and respect with the king at the right time.
Michael Coveney is a trustee of Transform Work UK and an effective communicator with more than 35 years of experience in helping organisations around the world, plan and manage corporate strategy. He is the author of a number of business books, a course developer/leader for the Antwerp Management School, and runs workshops on the subject of performance management for senior executives of major organisations.