How does my Christian faith intersect with my day-to-day work, the list of things that I have to do, and the people that I engage with on a daily basis? Ideally there should be no distinction between the two: faith in Christ’s work of salvation and God’s work of redemption on the one hand, and living and working in the world on the other should not be incompatible. After salvation, one of the key ideas of the Christian faith is that God is interested in how we spend our time (and by implication our lives), and He wants us to make the most of our time and talents in doing the right things.
So I ask myself, “what does God think about productivity?” If I want to get as much as possible done for His glory and for furthering his kingdom, what does productivity mean within that worldview and mindset? Now there’s no chapter and verse that says you should write down all of your next actions, keep a clear head, maintain a calendar or any of the other tricks that we’ve been learning, but there are definitely bigger picture concepts that help us frame productivity and effectiveness from God’s perspective. Here’s the ones that are top-of-mind for me:
- God Wants to Be Involved in our Day-to-Day Lives
- God Expects Us to Deliver a Good Return for Our Effort
- God Wants Us to Give Back a Portion of Our Increase
- Sometimes It’s Not Our Job
- Having 10x the Insight and Wisdom
- Do High Quality Work
- God Isn’t Going to Prosper Sin
(It’s a long post, hence the split)
God Wants to Be Involved in our Day-to-Day Lives
I love Psalm 90, commonly called the prayer of Moses. In verse 17, we get a glimpse of one of the cries that Moses uttered to God … “establish the work of my hands“. I often think about that in relation to me the information worker. Perhaps this is how it could be prayed within my situation:
Lord, please accept the work that I do today, and establish it. Take the typing, the writing, the mindmapping, the thinking that is expressed through my hands, and establish it. Make it firm. Make it solid. Make it something that brings benefit to others. Turn it into something that brings glory and honor to you.
We all want our work to matter, to mean something, to make a positive contribution. Moses gives us an insight into the fact that God can help, although that’s not the right way of expressing that thought (because it puts us at the center). The better way would be to say that God is sovereign over the fact of our work mattering, and Moses is praying that he would be caught up in God’s sovereign and great work (thereby ensuring that God remains at the center).
God Expects Us to Deliver a Good Return for Our Effort
The story of the master (manager) going away (leaving the office) and giving out talents (resources) to his servants (employees) in Matthew 25 shows that God expects us to deliver a good return for our efforts, based on the talents and resources that we’ve been given. Since God owns it all, we’re just stewards of all we’ve been given, rather than owners thereof. The first and second servants took the talents they’d been given, put them to work, and doubled the amount they had to give back when the master returned. Both were commended by the master for their diligent work, and were invited to join him in further work (given promotions). The third hid his talent in the ground, and merely gave back what was entrusted when the master returned. He was condemned as a lazy good-for-nothing, and was cast away from further work with the master (fired).
So net-net: work with what you’ve been given, aiming to “double” it, or whatever that means in your work and life context.
God Wants Us to Give Back a Portion of Our Increase
The idea of tithing in Malachi 3 is that we take the overall increase (salary, wages, asset appreciation on resale, etc.) and give one tenth of it to God. Now he doesn’t need it … the Psalms says that he “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” … so tithing is really for our benefit. It is a weekly reminder that everything we have belongs to God, and that we’re merely stewards thereof. Knowing that helps us prioritize where we spend our time and money, because we’re ultimately accountable to Him for what we’ve done.
So net-net: whenever you see growth and increase in the physical or financial assets under your care, give a tenth of that back to God. It will be a constant reminder that it all belongs to God anyway, and that one day we’ll have to give an account of how we’ve used what we’ve been entrusted with. If you belong to a Christian church, pay it there.
Sometimes It’s Not Our Job
King David was hugely successful on the battlefield and brought peace to Jerusalem. He then becomes keenly aware that God doesn’t have a temple (only a tent) in which to dwell on earth, and decides that he’ll build one (2 Samuel 7:1-2). But God plainly told him “no” … it was David’s role in life to be a military man and he was to leave the building of the temple to Solomon, his son and the next king (2 Samuel 7:4-17). David listened, obeyed and got many of the needed resources lined up, and then Solomon built it (and its splendour surpassed anything else built at that time, and perhaps even to this day).
In our “act-now-in-the-nanosecond” culture, perhaps we need to take a bit longer to listen to what God says about our programmes, projects and next actions. Are we on the right track? Are we even in the right field? Are we doing things that God has prepared for someone else to do? Once again it comes back to the central idea that God is interested in our day-to-day lives, wants to direct us, and wants us to be keenly aware of His interest and direction so that we seek Him.
This reminds me of Psalm 37:4 … “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” There is a subtlely in here that I need to constantly remember … the giving isn’t necessarily the giving of everything that we think we want (as though God were some divine Santa Claus or sugar daddy) but rather that as we become more and more delighted in God and in living His ways, that He will put into our hearts the things that He wants us to do. In other words, He will put into our hearts the things that we should desire.
Having 10x the Insight and Wisdom
Daniel and three of his friends were members of the royal family and nobility in Jerusalem when an invading kind conquered the city and carried them off (Daniel 1). That invading king–Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon–then had them put through three years of training for preparation for service in his royal court (v17 says that God “gave knowledge and understanding” to the four). Examination time at the end was an interview with the king himself (v18-19), and listen to the conclusion that happened:
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 (Daniel 1:20)
Did you hear that? Not “they got 100% and the others got 90%”. No, these guys were TEN TIMES BETTER! That blows my mind … I don’t know if I can even imagine what that would look like in my line of work. Regardless of my lack of visualization ability in this instance, the conclusion I draw is that God wants us to raise our sights beyond the mere percentage points of difference in order to be poignantly aware that His wisdom makes a huge difference. Like Daniel and his friends so appropriately show later in the book of Daniel, getting that wisdom wasn’t for their own glory and splendor, but rather that its demonstration gave an opportunity to bring praise, glory and honor to God, the one who gave it.
Do High Quality Work
God is less interested in the specific content and substance of our work than in the character and motivations we demonstrate as we do our work. Consider this:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians 3:22-25)
If you’re a slave (and we think it’s tough merely having a difficult boss!), do your work with all your heart as though you were serving God. If you’re free (self-employed, perhaps), do your work with all your heart as though you were serving God. That is, regardless of your station in life do your work with all your heart as though you were serving God. Context doesn’t matter; character, work quality and motivation is everything.
God Isn’t Going to Prosper Sin
It’s not politically or culturally correct anymore to draw hard lines between “right” and “wrong” … it’s all situational and “whatever feels good for the individual”. God doesn’t see it that way, eg, Galatians 5:19-21. He’s not going to bless, to prosper, to increase our effectiveness or productivity if we engage in sin and wrongdoing. If you are involved in things that you shouldn’t be, and your conscience is attuned to His correction, then like David after his adultery with Bathsheba, you need to cry out to God for forgiveness, for a clean heart and for a renewed start on the right path.
This topic could easily consume multiple years at seminary toward an advanced degree, so what I’ve written above isn’t the final word, isn’t exhaustive, and could easily be teased out and examined in much more depth. But it’s a start, and I think it is sufficient for setting the context. I’m going to keep using my calendar, doing a weekly review, having nothing on my mind and recording next actions by the context in which I’ll do them. But more importantly, much more importantly in fact, I want to be more aware in the moment-by-moment working, deciding and interacting that I’m merely a steward of what God has given. I pray that He would lead and direct me in His paths, show me the right things to work on, give me outstanding wisdom and understanding so that I can help others and bring glory to Him, and that the quality of my work would show that I’d done it for Him.
What about you?