Jesus On The Job

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:11)

It becomes apparent that every one of God’s curses in the Bible sooner or later turns out to be a blessing. Every judgment has one eye on the present, which is usually grievous, and another eye on the future. Every discipline is a pruning to bring greater fruit. You just want to make sure you are one of the good figs, not a bad one. God’s justice is always visionary.


“There’s no such thing as a dead-end job. There are only dead-end people.”
—Zig Ziglar

Work seems like a curse, but even before the Fall there was work. After the Fall, work was a curse-cloud with a silver lining. Imagine a world where people didn’t have to work? Imagine what all those idle hands would get up to? There are places in the world where this is the case; depressed places where nothing ever changes, nothing improves; where people look at our western rat race with envy.

By faith, we understand that all employment is part of the glorification of the world.

Many Christians view work as something holding them back from ministry. This is not only incorrect, but a terribly gnostic way of viewing the world. Our work is actually not only central, but something extremely important to God. I read this old article I posted in Be Still years ago, adapted from a book by Dallas Willard. I have one of the best jobs in the world and I still grumble, so I really needed to hear this again. Here’s an excerpt:

Let us become as specific as possible. Consider just your job, the work you do to make a living. This is one of the clearest ways possible of focusing upon apprenticeship to Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus is, crucially, to be learning from Jesus how to do your job as Jesus himself would do it. New Testament language for this is to do it “in the name” of Jesus.

Once you stop to think about it, you can see that not to find your job to be a primary place of discipleship is to automatically exclude a major part, if not most, of your waking hours from life with him. It is to assume to run one of the largest areas of your interest and concern on your own or under the direction and instruction of people other than Jesus. Most professing Christians today are left with the prevailing view that discipleship is a special calling having to do chiefly with full-time religious activities.

But how, exactly, is one to make one’s job a primary place of apprenticeship to Jesus? Not, we quickly say, by becoming the Christian nag-in-residence, the rigorous upholder of all propriety, and the dead-eye critic of everyone else’s behaviour. This is abundantly clear from a study of Jesus and of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere.

A gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, nonofficious, nonintrusive, non-obsequious service to others, should be our usual overt manner. This should be combined with inward attitudes of constant prayer for whatever kind of activity our workplace requires and genuine love for everyone involved.

As circumstances call for them, special points in Jesus’ teachings and example, such as nonretaliation, refusal to press for financial advantage, consciousness of and appropriate assistance to those under special handicaps, and so on, would come into play. And we should be watchful and prepared to meet any obvious spiritual need or interest in understanding Jesus with words that are truly loving, thoughtful and helpful.

It is not true, I think, that we fulfill our obligations to those around us by only living the gospel. There are many ways of speaking inappropriately, of course—even harmfully—but it is always true that words fitly spoken are things of beauty and power that bring life and joy. And you cannot assume that people understand what is going on when you only live in their midst as Jesus’ man or woman. They may just regard you as one more version of human oddity.

I knew of a case in an academic setting where at noon one professor very visibly took his Bible and lunch and went to a nearby chapel to study, pray and be alone. Another professor would call his assistant into his office, where they would have sex. No one in that environment thought either activity to be anything worth inquiring about. After all, people do all sorts of things. We are used to that. In some situations it is only words that can help toward understanding.

One who does not know this way of ‘job discipleship’ by experience cannot begin to imagine what release and help and joy there is in it.

But, once again, the specific work to be done—whether it is making ax handles or tacos, selling automobiles or teaching kindergarten, engaging in investment banking or holding political office, evangelising or running a Christian education program, performing in the arts or teaching English as a second language—is of central interest to God. He wants it well done. It is work that should be done, and it should be done as Jesus himself would do it. Nothing can substitute for that. In my opinion, at least, as long as one is on the job, all peculiarly religious activities should take second place to doing ‘the job’ in sweat, intelligence and the power of God. That is our devotion to God. (I am assuming, of course, that the job is one that serves good human purposes.)

Our intention with our job should be the highest possible good in its every aspect, and we should pursue that with conscious expectation of a constant energising and direction from God. Although we must never allow our job to become our life, we should, within reasonable limits, routinely sacrifice our comfort and pleasure for the quality of our work, whether it be ax handles, tacos or the proficiency of a student we are teaching.

And yes, this results in great benefit for those who utilise our services. But our mind is not obsessed with them, and certainly not with having appreciation from them. We do the job well because that is what Jesus would like, and we admire and love him. It is what he would do. We “do our work with soul [ex psyche], to the Lord, not to men” (Col. 3:23). “It is the Lord Christ you serve” (v. 25). As his apprentices, we are personally interacting with him as we do our job, and he is with us, as he promised, to teach us how to do it best.

One who does not know this way of ‘job discipleship’ by experience cannot begin to imagine what release and help and joy there is in it. And to repeat the crucial point: if we restrict our discipleship to special religious times, the majority of our waking hours will be isolated from the manifest presence of the kingdom in our lives. Those waking hours will be times when we are on our own in our job. Our time at work—even religious work—will turn out to be a ‘holiday from God.’

On the other hand, if you dislike or even hate your job, a condition epidemic in our culture, the quickest way out of that job, or to joy in it, is to do as Jesus would. This is the very heart of discipleship, and we cannot effectively be an apprentice of Jesus without integrating our job into the kingdom among us.

Adapted from The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard. (Adaption PDF)

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