What the Whole World Wants (Even More Than Food, Shelter, Safety and Peace)

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Every now and then, God drops a genius in your lap and you end up working together. Missy Wallace is one of those people in my life. Missy is the Executive Director of the newly-formed Nashville Institute for Faith and Work. Recently, she gave a speech entitled, “Does My Work Matter?” which I thought was so compelling that I would share the text of that speech with you here. Friends, meet the incomparable Missy Wallace…

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It was exactly 20 years ago this month that I disembarked an airplane in Singapore, a city-country I had to look up on the World Map when I learned my firm was transferring me there to help build out the South East Asia practice.  I had no idea the wild wild west that I was entering…

…that after a long day at work on my project in Bangkok, often my teammates would meet for spirits at brothels.

…that I would be flown on a four-seat private plane to work in a REBAR plant on a jungle island off off Malyasia where I was accepted by my team only after I proved I could eat shrimp as spicy as they could, or that my suave and sophisticated boss would overtly proposition me at the closing party at the end of an 18-month project.

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Though in many of these adventures I was in over my head, my work was intellectually stimulating and my time there was exhilarating.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat, but I wish I could do it with a different filter on my work.  I longed for more.  I assumed it was because I worked for a firm focused on profits by helping others extract more profits. So I got a job in a non profit…and spent a decade there still longing for more.  And I became a parent three times – what harder work is that?  An no matter how I tried to be perfect at all of it – running the numbers and running the carpools, I still longed for more and wondered, is this all?  I had the wrong filter.  Though I was a Christian, I did not understand that my work mattered to God.

Recently Gallup released the results of its first ever world poll where they polled hundreds of thousand of people and what they found astonished even them. “What the whole world wants is a good job”, more than food, shelter, safety, or peace – a good job.  What even is a good job? Is it a means to an end?  Some sense of purpose?  Does it mean food, security? Is it an identity?

Yet a recent Gallup workforce engagement study states that close to 87 percent of workers are “disengaged to downright miserable” in their jobs.

What is going on? Dorothy Sayers may have been right when she said, “the Church has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends.”

I’ve had the good jobs – both at home and in professional settings – and admittedly, I was in the 13% that always has been engaged at work, but I still longed for more.  It took some significant heart change through a long ordeal in our family for me to figure out that my orientation to work was not connected to my faith. And now I want to help everyone understand that all good work matters is a way to worship God..

Four Things I Have Learned About Work…

First, we are created to work.

The Bible opens with God working. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He created.  And he creates over and over – bringing order to chaos and calling it good.  God created us and called us good and we were in HIS image and he told us to work as part of the creation mandate.  Have you defined yourself as a creator in your work? Homebuilders, Ad executives, entrepreneurs, musicians, landscapers, cooks, parents, non profit gala organizers – you along with many others are creators.

And Jesus worked more in carpentry than in ministry. Many of his parables were set in the work environment. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus came to restore the world…And we are called to work like Jesus.  Have you ever defined yourself as one who restores?  Doctors, contractors, educators, lawyers, judges, hospital executives – you along with many others, restore.

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Second, work is a false idol factory. Work is broken because humans are messy and broken and we seek to get our affirmation from the world, not God. Did you read the August article in the about Amazon as a workplace? It portrayed Amazon as a pretty tough place to work . One former employee stated, “I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from.” I can pick from a list of my idols…I seek words of accomplishment at the job and home – I long to believe I am doing a good job. In the corporate setting, I worked myself almost ill in Singapore.  And how in the world do we try to figure out we are doing a good job in parenting?  Through their report cards?  Whether they make varsity?  Whether they are nice to their friends? Whether they try alcohol? Just last week, after I threw away my daughter’s English homework at the car wash…before she turned it in…and when I drove the soccer carpool to the wrong field twice…and drove to the game with the uniform precariously hanging out of the car window so that it would dry in time…I felt like a failure for sure.  And she confirmed it – “Mom,I am so sick of you being a flake – I cannot parent myself.”  And to be honest, I was more worried about what the other moms thought than the girls being late to practice.  What do you seek?  Words of affirmation, a title, money, success, a better education for your kids. What is it that can make you feel too good about your self or too bad? Work is a FALSE IDOL FACTORY.

Third, work is a platform where we can love our neighbor. We are in our work about 40% of our waking hours.  Do we love well from work. Don’t you think it is a time to love Nashville – the new IT city whose homeless population is growing 5 times faster than its overall population and who has ¼ children that are hungry??

Work is a platform to love in the nitty gritty and the big.  The cubicle mate near you who is dealing with a drug addict son, the families our real estate firm are pushing out of their neighborhoods, the client who used our data to get better pricing from the competitor, the guy who cannot afford legal services, the janitor who cleans your office…and the people we will never even encounter in our jobs because they don’t have the dignity of work for one reason or another.

Fourth, our work matters into eternity. When you look at your work – even on your best days, does you sometimes wonder, is this all there is?  Those who profess a faith in Christ believe that God is coming back and will wipe away every tear and pain…and thanks to NT Wright and Tim Keller, I finally understand he is coming to rule on THIS earth – creation started in a garden and will end in a city – the entities we create, the places we redeem – they really do matter.

It Takes A Heart Change…and What If…?

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So,  if that is what I learned, how did my perspective actually change?  It took heart change, not just intellectual change and it took Christ.  God pulled me through a hard time with a child who was diagnosed as terminal but survived and is now thriving after five long years of treatment. When I dug out, I was in a much different place with my faith.  I began to see my false Gods everywhere, everyday – at work, rest and leisure – the seeking of the world’s approval over God’s. And the more I paid attention, the more thankful I became for the saving grace of Christ – heart change.  If we can take that into our work, we will transform hearts, our communities and our world.

So, What if every time we gentrified a new neighborhood, we took care of the families pushed out?  What if groups of executives agreed to pursue marketing of consumer products and services without exploiting sexuality? What if every mom whose child was bullied had coffee with the perpetrators mom? What if every company in Nashville agreed to take on one young man coming out of prison to train, nurture, and employ. It is messy for sure. But we need to try, because in the words of theologian Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

And, finally, this…

“But the Gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure. It also frees us from a condescending attitude toward less sophisticated labor and from envy over more exalted work. All work now becomes a way to love the God who saved us freely; and by extension, a way to love our neighbor.”

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