We are Here for You…
Babylon was about as godless as it can get. I doubt that anything in history ancient or modern compares. Its infamy is well known and well documented. And yet! God’s people were despatched there by the hand of God – against their will – and with apparently no escape.
Not exactly how you see your Christian Workplace Group in your secular organisation, no doubt. But many of us know from experience what it is to feel isolated in a working environment which understands little of our faith and pays scant regard to our life styles; where Christianity is disparaged; and colleagues find you frankly embarrassing because of your beliefs.
This much then we share at least in part with the exiles in Babylon - except of course you may have the option to leave where they didn’t. But should you leave? Is it possible that God has such a high view of you that He has placed you there strategically for His purposes? Perhaps He loves the folks in your employment world so much that He sent His special sons and daughters – you – so that…well, you know the rest.
Let’s suppose for a moment that you are where you are by God’s hand. How should you view the secular environment in which you earn a living? Plan to escape, perhaps, Colditz style? One organisation I worked for had a self-styled ‘escape committee.’ They talked of nothing else! Or maybe you should stay stoically underground, French-resistance-like? Gibbons wrote that early Christians never sought to undermine the empire, nor did they discreetly remove themselves into some remote corner of the globe. Good spot. There is a better way.
Jeremiah wrote at length to the exiles with clear instructions about how they should view Babylon – shocking instructions I suspect to the ears of the enslaved, reluctant newcomers in the city. Let’s see what he said – I hope you don’t find it too disturbing. Jeremiah 29, then.
Settle down! Get promotion if you can! Enjoy! (v 5-6): I doubt it was easy for the exiles and it surely won’t be easy for you. The world can be nasty. But Christian Workplace Groups (CWGs) in challenging workplace situations often find that God has gone ahead and provided unexpected champions and opportunities. Don’t constantly scheme to leave unless God directs. It may take years to achieve the change God desires in your organisation. Don’t be put off by setbacks but learn from them and get ready for the breakthrough. You may have to compromise in personal ways: Daniel had his name changed to Belshazzar – prince of darkness! But he submitted to the change because it was touching him, not God’s reputation. Flex when needed!
Seek the peace and prosperity of the organisation (v 7) For in its peace, you will have peace. Your employing organisation is not then to be seen as an enemy. We are ‘salt’ in the workplace, but we don’t seek to overthrow or control, or to act as judge or police. Our groups are there for the good of the organisation, for the peace and prosperity of its reputation, its management, and staff. Our motto could almost be: we are here for you! The endeavours and activities of our CWGs can and almost always should have an outward-looking aspect. They exist for the benefit of the organisation rather than say, pressing for rights and privileges. Imagine for a moment a Director of HR who deals in a daily diet of staff pressures, complaints and injustices. Then a Christian group leader visits and declares: we love this organisation, we want to do everything we can to benefit the organisation and the staff, and we are praying for you personally. The impact on the individual and on the organisation is powerful as many of us know! Few employers wish you to be one person at home and entirely otherwise at work.
Don’t be deceived by prophets with dire warnings (v8): If you receive messages that the workplaces of this nation are predominantly against Christianity, even if they are prophecies or dreams, don’t believe it. Of course there are exceptions. But the reality is that employers are often more appreciative of their Christian employees than we think. Every employer cherishes Christian virtues – integrity, industry, charity. CWGs are increasingly recognised by their employers as staff groups and positive partners. For as Gibbons said: the cause of virtue received very feeble support from the influence of pagan superstition!
Recognise that God has brilliant plans for you (and your CWG or professional group) (v11): it’s easy to read this verse as though God is bringing us out by an act of deliverance into some easier place, more like home! Yes, that would come for those in Babylon (after 70 years) and it could come for you at some point. But reading the verse in context, it can read differently: God’s plans begin here and now. Big plans. Plans for significant levels of blessing. But your peace and prosperity is in believing, praying and working for the peace and prosperity of the place in which you find yourself. It’s unlikely you are there by chance. CWGs are surely bound to be outward-oriented, with consistent focus on others. In working together in CWGs we release powerful spiritual dynamics – agreement, unity, prayer and service – and hardly any institution can resist these spiritual dynamics indefinitely and remain unaffected. Never talk down your employer. Start an in-house revolution by articulating: I love this place.
One of the things I love is that belonging to a Christian Workplace Group empowers the weakest Christian believer and the most hard pressed. I often felt that many of the non-believers where I worked were more able, more articulate, more together and altogether more impressive than I could ever hope to be. But that’s not it. Jesus said that when you have love for one another, everyone will know who you belong to. And what’s more, when two or three agree on anything, He promises to do it.
OK, then. Let’s agree for your Babylon.
(The analysis of Jeremiah 29 in this article was based on a talk by Peter Read, Vice Principal of Regents Theological College on 4th October 2015: “Your front line: the workplace”, and is used with his agreement. The full original talk can be found at: www.wearelifehouse.org/watch-listen).