Can’t Wait to get to Work

Second in the Series “God and the Workplace”
Delivered May 2, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: How is your work life? Whether you are working at home, studying, looking for work, employed for a wage, what’s your motivation right now in doing it? Is it anxiety, anxiety about money? Is it anxiety that you are not getting ahead and you want to? Or is your motivation the joy you have in using your gifts and that you want to serve God wholeheartedly in doing it? The motivations are vastly different. And your motivation will make a world of difference in your life.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 6:25-33
and Ephesians 6:5-9

Well a few years ago a friend of mine went to a hospice. Her sister was in the hospice and she would visit the hospice regularly. The food there was really good and so after going there a number of times and sharing in the food, she decided that she was going to thank the cooks there and when they talked to the cooks the cook replied this way, “Well I love my job. I get so much pleasure from cooking something that will help the day be a little better for these folks.” And the cook went on to say, “Just this morning when I got here I sat in my car for a moment and I said, Lord help other people find as much joy in their jobs as I do in mine.” Is that your experience in your job? Do you get that kind of satisfaction out of what you do? Now I am not just talking about paid jobs. I am also talking about those of you who are doing the hard work of looking for a job right now or those of you who are studying or those of you who are called to be in the home right now perhaps to raise children. Whatever it is you are called to do right now, is it giving you that kind of satisfaction? Because according to our culture and its values, that cook should not be happy doing what she is doing. She shouldn’t be. That’s not what we value as a culture.

A number of years ago the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Russ Stevenson, he got a questionnaire from Fortune Magazine. Russ was intrigued by the gift that they would give you if you filled out the questionnaire and so he decided to do it. And one of the questions on the questionnaire was- what motivates you to work? If you were to choose jobs, which incentives would spur your decision most? If you were to choose jobs, which incentives would spur your decision most? Think about that for yourself. What things would motivate you most to choose a job? What Russ found out as he looked at the questionnaire is that he looked at the whole list you see because it was a questionnaire it gave you choices. It was multiple choice. When he looked at the list he couldn’t find anything on the list that motivated him. Here were the choices: salary, location, stock participation, responsibility and benefits. With the exception of location all of them have to do with money or power. Would that list that I just read out be enough for you? Is that what motivates you in your calling right now? And if not, what are the other important things? Something was motivating that cook that wasn’t on the Fortune magazine list. She had a job that was nearly invisible, had no enormous responsibilities and she made close to minimum wage. Why was she happy? Here is a person that was motivated, satisfied and thankful and were just, you know, by our societies framework and viewpoint, that shouldn’t happen.

I am going to read you a passage now from Matthew and it’s a passage in chapter 6 of Matthew where Jesus talks about our motivation. So let’s go to that. Chapter 6 of Matthew, verse 25.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food , and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ” And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying,’ What shall we eat?’ or ‘ What shall we drink?’, ‘What shall we wear’? For the pagan’s run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (And I want to read one more verse) Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let’s pray. Lord we pray that you will help us hear whatever we need to hear, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In this passage Jesus talks about motivation. In these few verses the word worry comes up six times and He is talking about work. He is talking about our livelihood and what Jesus is saying here is that most people work because they are afraid. Worry or anxiety is one of the main things that are driving people to work. What am I going to wear? Are we going to have enough food or will I have enough money to buy the right kinds of food? Am I going to have enough money to send my kid to college or maybe it’s more accurate to say, am I going to have enough money to send my kid to the right kind of college? We worry about our health as we get older. We worry about our retirement. There are all kinds of worries that come crashing in on us and they are all real concerns. But Jesus says that at least for his people being driven by these worries should not be our way of life. It’s not how we are intended to live.

People are driven by all kinds of anxieties. One of the big ones is anxiety about money. Money is one of the key symbols of status and accomplishment in our culture. If you make good money your are successful. If you don’t make good money you’re probably are not successful. Now you can be a workaholic, you can be an alcoholic, you can abuse drugs, you can be cold towards your children and your children not want to speak to you, you can have marriage after marriage none of which can last more than three or four years, you can abuse your employees, but if you make money its easy for our culture to say you are successful. Whenever there is a competition in our life between what we are gifted for, what we enjoy, what’s purposeful and all and then making more money far to often when we have these choices we choose making more money. It’s a big lie. And when our kids start thinking about their futures and their jobs and they are kind of trying to figure what fits for them. Far too often as parents we are pushing them hard to say, “Well, you know you can’t make any money doing that.” It’s easy in our environment to always say that if its something else and money, money trumps. It’s the ace of spades of life. And that’s the big lie. Anxiety about money.

Here’s another anxiety. People are driven by their anxiety about power. Power can be considered prestige. It might be fame. It might be just the raw power to get people to do what you want, but if you really take power that seriously and are driven by grabbing it and holding it, then that means that your whole life has to be spent kind of looking over your shoulder to make sure that nobody is about to pass. We are on the ladder of success and other people are trying to pull our legs out from underneath us. But the truth is, somebody is always getting ahead. We go to the gym figuring, you know, if I am going to work hard and all, I’ve got to be healthy, so you work out. You get the blood pumping. You build up a little bit of muscle mass you know and try to get your brain cells working. All the time that you are in there in the gym, somebody else is in the office making deals. They are contacting people. They are networking. They are making things happen. So we get back to our desk and we are in a flurry of activity and we are starting to make things happen. Sure enough they are back at the gym and they are eating the right stuff and they are healthier than us and they are making progress and they are going to outlive us. They are always feeling like somebody is getting ahead.

In 1969, I forget which university it was at, one student went running through the library screaming “Stop, stop you are all getting ahead of me”. Students in medical school tear the pages out of the periodicals so the other students can’t get the material. It’s a major problem. Somebody is always getting ahead. And if this is what our life is built on then we are going to be like the CEO that had this recurring dream. He was constantly having this dream that he was in a marathon. And everybody in the marathon was somebody he recognized from his office and they are running and they are running in his dream and as he dreamt this dream over and over he started to realize that nobody knew where the finish line was. They are just running the race. When is enough enough? When is enough power enough power? When is enough money enough money?

To be honest, the only honest answer that anyone of us have to that question if we live in this view of life, the only answer to the question when is enough enough is, when I have a little bit more than I have now. And that’s a never-ending treadmill. So Jesus stands against this kind of rat race lifestyle. In verse 25 of this passage he tell us, “Do not worry about your life, what you eat or drink; or about your body, and what you wear.” And then in verse 32 “the pagans worry about those things and your God, your Father knows that you need them.” He stands against that kind of lifestyle and He holds up another lifestyle that’s totally different against it and He says instead of that, turn away from that and make God first in your life. God has revealed enough about what He is doing in the world that He says; take your place in that big plan. His kingdom, His rule, and pursue the kind of life that pleases God and then all the other things, needful things are going to be added to your life as well, as you keep those primary things in focus.

Now when you think about life like that, its sounds naive, it’s sounds childish. Oh yeah, we do this and life is going to work out. But tell me, aren’t we sort of naive to be buying into the rat race picture when we know it doesn’t work? There are all kinds of people who have made it to the top of the heap and we know from history, we know from the news, we know from our own friends and we know from our own lives that it doesn’t work. Who is really the naive one? Why do we buy it? Seek his kingdom and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well. Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. We talked about that last week. I hope that settled, okay? You are never going to hear a sermon that backs up on that one and says okay everybody just go outside and beg on the corner. That is not the way it works. But what it does mean is that we have new motivations for entering into our work and into our calling and these new motivations are vital and it leads to a new quality of life. So what are some of the motivations that Jesus talks about?

One of them that we see in the New Testament is providing for ourselves and our families. That’s one of the new motivations. It comes up in 2nd Thessalonians 3:12 and it comes up in 1st Timothy 5:8. Whether we are working in the home or we are working in the marketplace, it’s a good motivation to say I am going to work to provide for myself and my family. It’s part of how God created us to be. Society recognizes that as being valuable. It makes us feel good when we live that way and God is honored and pleased. It’s a no lose situation. We are created to be like that. When we work hard and provide for ourselves and our families, it’s a good thing and every culture, healthy culture across history has celebrated that view of work.

Another motivation for work is serving and helping others. In Mark 10, verse 43 Jesus talks about the fact that He’s a servant and we as his followers are called to be a servant people, not to be served. And so whether it’s serving the people we work with or whether it is that our whole job and our whole industry or whatever it is, serves society well. It’s okay to get satisfaction out of that. That’s deeply gratifying and that’s a good thing. That’s part of what should be motivating us to work, that we see its serves people well. And again, God has made us that way as his people. It’s meant to be a part of our joy and satisfaction and that’s what the cook had nailed down. She was satisfied and excited because she knew that she was serving some people well. It didn’t have to be a lot of people and it didn’t even have to be people who lived long enough to appreciate it a whole lot, but she knew she was serving well.

Another motivation is earning enough to give away. This comes up in Ephesians 4, verse 28. Giving to something in the world that is significant gives us joy. Again because we are created in the image of God, it feels good to give and the way it works is the more we give, the better it feels. And so people who have got this habit of giving to God and giving to things that are important and uplifting just enjoy doing it. Just last week I was talking to a friend and this friend has stumbled upon a way of making money with his hobby. And so he is making all kinds of money and so last week as we are talking he said, “John, I know I don’t go to your church and I live in another state, but I’ve got this extra money and I am looking for churches to give it to and yours is one of the ones that I want to give some money to.” And he is just so happy about this whole idea. Man, I’ve got some money and I am giving it. We are made that way and when we get rid of the worry enough to let that loosen our lives, our lives qualitatively change and God can touch places he has never touched before. And so giving is a good motivation to work.

But none of these are perhaps the most important. The most important one comes in Ephesians 6 and I would like to read a few verses from there. Ephesians 6, verses 5 to 9. Paul is talking to slaves here.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

Paul is talking to slaves. These are people who haven’t chosen their jobs. These are people who have no possibility of advancement. And all they get for their work is a place to live and food to eat. They are living in a strange place, sold or captured. Not any of this was their choosing. And yet when Paul speaks to them he speaks to their hearts. He doesn’t condone slavery at all, but he speaks to the hearts of these slaves who have become Christians and through them he speaks to us all, whether we like our jobs or whether we don’t, whether they are big high profile things or not, he says for us to serve wholeheartedly as if we were serving the Lord. Serve wholeheartedly. So that means that we have to have a desire for excellence in all that we do, even if what we happen to be doing right now doesn’t thrill us. We are to have a desire for excellence.

So the auto mechanic needs to work on the cars as if Jesus is the one who drives it. The one who is building houses builds a house as if Jesus is the one who is going to live in it. The nurse serves as if it is Jesus himself that they are caring for. If we are going to play music, then play it as if Jesus is the audience, and when we work with our coworkers we are supposed to treat them as if we were team members with Jesus. This is the sort of attitude that Paul is saying is supposed to be carried into our work because God loves the world around us. God loves the people around us and so when we enter with this sort of attitude of working wholeheartedly as if we are serving God, what we are doing is we are honoring God and we are honoring the creation around us. We are honoring the people around us because God loves those people and one of the vital things that we can do as Christians is to serve them well in what we do. We serve wholeheartedly because God loves it and we serve wholeheartedly because God rewards it. Verse 8 says this, “Serve wholeheartedly because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether slave or free.” It doesn’t matter whoever else sees what we do. God sees it and he will reward it. It doesn’t matter whether we like the job or not, in the long run hopefully God will let us get out of that, but at the moment, in the situation, whether you like the job or not, God sees it, God will remember it and God promises to reward it.

That cook wasn’t making a whole lot of money, but she had a lot going for her and her life. She was thankful and she was motivated. She was satisfied. She was using her gifts to serve other people wholeheartedly and was serving the Lord by doing it. She had something there that changes the way you live. So we’ve got to ask the question, how is your work life? How is your work life? Whether you are working at home, studying, looking for work, employed for a wage, what’s your motivation right now in doing it? Is it anxiety, anxiety about money? Is it anxiety that you are not getting ahead and you want to? Or is your motivation the joy you have in using your gifts and that you want to serve God wholeheartedly in doing it? The motivations are vastly different. And your motivation will make a world of difference in your life.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we believe, we believe you when you say that we should not be worrying about certain things in our lives and that if we make our commitment to you, that you will honor that commitment by giving us all the necessary things in life as well. Lord, we have jobs of every sort, some that are more powerful than others, more visible than others, higher incomes than others and none of that is bad, we just pray that in it as we make choices and decisions, that we will be guided by your kingdom, by your righteousness, by a desire to use our gifts to wholeheartedly serve as if we are serving you in all that we do. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.