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Your (Lack of) Work Matters to God

by Chuck Helmer on December 1, 2012 in Articles

The stress level in the office intensified. The secretive meetings within the conference room next to my desk aroused suspicion. One coworker and then another slid in and out of that room. The girl to my left whispered, “What’s happening?” I didn’t know for certain, but I would soon find out. My boss spoke softly over my shoulder, “Can you come into the large conference room?”

I walked to the glass-enclosed area and sat in one of the red chairs encircling the table. Soon a coworker joined me. The two principals of our firm and a manager sat directly across from us. With clueless determination my coworker asked, “What’s going on?”

The principal responded, “I guess you can tell it’s a little slow around here.” We nodded. And my employer informed us of the deeper issue. The company, which took out loans to pay our salaries, could no longer afford to compensate us. Our jobs were gone.

The events of that day transpired nine years ago. The memory of them still haunts me. The sobs of my coworker resembled a bleating lamb as she cried out, “What am I supposed to do now?” She and her husband just bought their first home. She wept without restraint, and I sat next to her shell-shocked. My indignation prevented me from saying anything or comforting her.

As soon as the meeting started, it had ended. I thanked my employers and headed back to my desk. Locating a banker box, I methodically evaluated the worth of each belonging on my desk as I emptied its contents. Packing my possessions humbled me. Carrying them from the office onto the commuter train leaving Chicago left me demoralized. I searched for an inconspicuous seat on the second level and swiftly sat the box next to me, hoping to avoid stares from rush-hour commuters. On the hour train ride home I struggled to collect my thoughts. 

I reflected on my performance review a month earlier when I expressed concern saying, “I feel like I am about to be shown the door.” My managers glanced at one another as though someone had leaked privileged information. I should have picked up on it then, but their reassurance washed away any distrust.

Did I say something? Did I do something? Could I have done something differently? I replayed scenarios in my head time and time again. The unemployed often blame themselves. Occasionally the responsibility rests with the employee. Most of the time it does not. 

Losing my job created a host of difficulties. Like my coworker, my family had recently bought our first home. We had a one-year-old. And we had also made a financial commitment to assist with our church’s building program. How would we provide for all of this?

God never promised that life would lack struggles, but He has a plan despite our pain.

Job loss also brought a surplus of firsts. For the first time in my life I visited an unemployment office. The benefits could not cover all of our expenses, so my wife took on the role of breadwinner and the words of 1Timothy 5:8 rebuked me. I also found myself with a lot of time—so much that I would take my son for a spin in our car to get out of the house. He and I often listened to sermons. A few of his first words came from the address given for Insight for Living. He would repeat, “Post Office Box two six nine thousand Plano, Texas 7-5-0-2-6.”

Dr. Charles Swindoll taught a series on Job that I found beneficial. I recall the response of our small group to my unemployment modeling that of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. I spent a lot of time reading the Bible to discern what God intended to teach me through the experience.

During my time of reflection I decided to enroll in seminary. I researched the educational background of various pastors and in my research, I discovered one commonality in the pastors I enjoyed hearing. They all attended the same school. So I applied to DTS and received an acceptance letter.

To cover the tuition expenses for this new venture, I needed employment. I responded to an ad in the church midweek bulletin for a nightshift position as a technician, a fancy name for a janitor. I told my wife, “If I can handle the dirtiest job in the ministry, I can handle anything.” A slight overstatement—but my enthusiasm truly overflowed like King David in a linen ephod. The work yielded more than a paycheck. It provided me with an opportunity for God to change my theology of work.

When I started the job, I received a list of values the church created for the staff to model. I struggled with one in particular: Excellence. I thought to myself, “Surely they don’t mean this. This is perfectionism.” It referenced Colossians 3:22–24. A specific portion of the passage intrigued me. It related to the attitude with which one approaches a task saying, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”

I have always viewed myself as a hard worker. Although I had read the passage before, I never considered work as something that would allow me to find pleasure in God. I had to try it.

When I approached work each night, I attempted to do it all for God rather than for my employer. If I cleaned a toilet, I scrubbed it until it sparkled. If I emptied a garbage can, I changed it in record time. I found new joy in my work and recovered the motivation that I had lost. In the process I discovered a new way to worship God.

In overcoming unemployment I identified how God had wired me, but I also recognized He might call someone to serve in an uncommon place. Listening to His prompting regardless of the field or location brought trust that He had a purpose in directing us. One verse in particular helped me recognize this: Ephesians 2:10. The Message translation phrases it: “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

Once I understood what God had called me to pursue, I did it with all my heart, not to make others happy, but for His enjoyment. And He provided a return on our investment far greater than I originally imagined. 

After working the night shift for four years, I am in Dallas finishing up the degree I began from Chicago. I still experience struggles, and a few of my coworkers have even condemned my new approach to work. Despite their insolence I continue to approach work as worship. Eric Liddell once said, “I believe he made me for a purpose.” I have found a purpose, and when I work I feel His pleasure.

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Five Resources to Help Fill the Unemployment Void

The five resources listed below proved useful in helping me fill the void of unemployment and allowed me to use my time effectively.

Like many others I consider the bestselling book What Color Is Your Parachute? 2011: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Nelson Bolles to be the Job-Seeker’s Bible. It is the par excellence resource for any new job seeker.

In Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger, the author walks the reader through questions which help him or her to identify one’s own personality type and the jobs that provide the best fit.

As mentioned , I benefited from Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance, by Dr. Charles Swindoll. Pastor Swindoll’s study guided me through the fog of confusion, anger, blame, and that gnawing silence felt in the midst of suffering. His twenty-two messages reminded me that God is in control despite suffering.

Descending into Greatness, by Bill Hybels, helped too. At a time when I started a job most people would view as insignificant, Hybels’s book helped me to understand what it means to pursue greatness and to discover how putting God’s priorities first brings true satisfaction.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, by Os Guinness, is also good. The Call will challenge anyone seeking the path of least resistance. Guinness’s book helps readers understand the concept of calling and challenges them to reflect on their ultimate purpose in this life. 

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