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The Bible's Unconventional Ideas About Work

3 principles to revolutionize your career


Over decades in the corporate world Ive seen countless business and leadership tre
nds come and go, some good and some bad. It seems like there is always an exciti
ng new book or theory that promises to revolutionize the marketplace. Yet some o
f the most revolutionary and impactful business principles Ive learned are rooted
in a much more timeless source.
In the broader discussion of what it means to be a Christian at work, church lea
ders tend to focus mainly on how our work folds into Gods plan, leading to an emph
asis on things like seeking Gods calling, behaving morally, and marketplace evange
lism. None of that is wrong; those are all good things to think about. I do wond
er though, whether focusing on how our jobs can advance Gods plan leads us to over
look the practical and meaningful ways that our faith can impact our work.
The Bible offers countless principles that inform our understanding of and appro
ach toward work. These are a few of my favorites.
1. Work for a Larger Purpose
Culturally, work is one of the defining characteristics of our lives. Its one of t
he first things you learn about anyone you meet. What do you do? we ask, but we real
ly mean, Who are you?
In a competitive marketplace, the value of the work you do may be judged by the
profit it generates or the public acclaim it draws. Our societys obsession with su
ccess?and with appearing successful?incentivizes self-promotion and self-protect
ion.
The Bible turns all of this on its head. In the biblical view, work is significa
nt and how you do it matters (Colossians 3:17), but the important question is wh
y work matters. Were directed to seek Gods kingdom before all else (Matthew 6:33), a
nd to do all things for Gods glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Wherever God has directed your efforts, think of your work as a supernatural act
of obedience. When you view work in light of eternity, it frees you to approach
your job with radical grace and humility. You can do even the most menial or te
dious task with joy because it honors God. You can tout the triumphs of those ar
ound you because their successes are never a threat to you. You can go all out,
take risks, acknowledge mistakes with grace, and move on unburdened. Realizing t
hat work is not the point doesnt diminish the work, it just removes the fears and
constraints that hold us back there.
2. Dont Look Back
The corporate world takes a fatalistic view of mistakes. Just ask Warren Buffet,
who famously noted that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes
to ruin it. I think Carly Fiorina would agree. The former presidential candidates bu
siness record came under intense scrutiny during her run for the White House. Cr
itics focused primarily on her rocky tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and brande
d her a failure, dismissing her entire corporate career as a loss.

I havent studied Fiorinas business record, yet it seems that whatever mistakes she m
ade at the top canceled out the many things she must have done right in her rise
to become one of the few women CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.
The business world hates failure, but the Bible says there is strength to be fou
nd in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Further, Isaiah 43:18?19 (NIV) plainly dire
cts us not to dwell on past mistakes: Forget the former things: do not dwell on th
e past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Note that this passage makes two points about looking backward: First, looking b
ack distracts you from the work God is doing now. Second, its a waste of time beca
use you dont see things properly when looking back. What you see as wasteland is b
eing transforming into oasis.
If you struggle with perfectionism, as I do, you know how hard it can be to let
mistakes go. I titled a chapter of my book No Ones Perfect as much to as a reminder t
myself as to readers. Most recently I have struggled mightily to refuse the lab
el of failure for every setback experienced through my daughter Annies devastating il
ness?and there have been many. I keep fighting to put the past behind me and loo
k ahead.
I like to think of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:22?33. Theres Peter in a b
oat with wind and waves crashing, and he sees Jesus doing something amazing. Pet
er wants to try too, so with Jesus assent, Peter climbs out of the boat. At first
things go well, but then he stumbles and starts to sink.
At this point Peter has two choices: dive back toward the boat or look forward t
o the God of the universe. Peter cries out to God for help and finds Jesus hand st
retched toward him. When I start to feel like Im sinking in the storm, I strain fo
rward because Ive realized?mostly the hard way?that moving forward is the only rea
l option.

3. Play Big
The Bible is full of examples of people who stepped out beyond their comfort zon
e. They show us that faith in a big God frees you to take big chances. One woman
who laid it all on the line was Rahab. We know from Sunday school that Rahab the
prostitute sheltered Israelite spies in Jericho and, as a result, was spared when
her city was destroyed.
It might seem that a prostitute didnt have much to loose by taking a gamble on a f
oreign God. But Working Women of the Bible author Susan Dimickele provides a ful
ler picture of Rahabs life. She was a businesswoman known to the king, an innkeepe
r, a property owner, and the caretaker and apparent decision maker for her famil
y. Rahab risked everything she knew and everyone she loved when she sheltered Is
raels spies. As DiMickele points out, Rahab took that bold action without any assu
rances from Israel. It was only after she sent the kings guards away that she even
asked her uninvited guests for consideration.
Rahab played big because she had a sense that Israels God was bigger. Her risk pai
d off in ways she couldnt have imagined. After the fall of Jericho, Rahab started
fresh among the Israelites. Eventually, she married and had children, and the Bi
ble counts King David and Jesus among her descendants. Rahab had a simple faith
in a big God, and that led her to take transformative risk.
Many women I know are relatively cautious by nature, and thats okay. Cautious deci
sion makers can help a team because they tend to gather lots of information and
think carefully about risks and benefits. Caution itself isnt bad. But like most a
ttributes, caution can go too far. Ive mentored people who cant make big decisions b
ecause theyre too afraid of getting it wrong. Theyre so risk averse that they wont ma
e changes, even when something is going wrong. In their minds, its better to stick
with the known quantity?the bad job, the poorly performing product line, the ab
usive relationship?than face the unknown.
My own play-big moment isnt quite as dramatic as Rahabs, but it nevertheless transfo
rmed my life. When God introduced me to the idea of starting a nonprofit, it see
med preposterous. Many worthy charities already existed, and many new ones fail.
What did I have to bring to the table? And how exactly do you even start a nonp
rofit? There was just so much I didnt know.

I felt small in this arena, but over months of prayer and investigation I couldnt
shake the idea that God had called me to make this big play. God, I prayed, I dont
stand this, but I trust in you. If this is the right thing, bring me the people
to help me make it happen. And he did. A mentor here, a lawyer there, a writer, a
graphic designer, an administrative genius, and countless others whose help and
encouragement have been critical as 4word has grown far beyond what I ever hoped
or imagined.
God has not only enabled the organization to touch others, he has also used the
very process of its development to bolster me with conviction of his goodness an
d provision through dark times. Years ago when he laid the seeds of 4word on my
heart, God knew exactly how much I would need that encouragement today. God know
s exactly what you need too. Is he pushing you toward a big play?
You already take your faith to work with you every day, why not think more about
the ways you can put it to work? Dive into Scripture and consider how these pri
nciples, and many others, can shape your career as you follow Gods calling in your
life.
God isnt waiting until you have more resources or a husband or a job so he can use
you. He can use you now. It may not be the dream you had in mind; it may be Gods
own plan for you, far different than your expectations or dreams. So stop asking
when you are going to get your gifts or talents or calling. Stop waiting for ci
rcumstances to be just perfect. Instead, like Moses, see whats already in your han
d.