Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Do you live to work or work to live? We live in a world in which people typically err on one of two extremes when it comes to the elusive work-life balance.

Some live to work

It’s not uncommon for people—whether they wear a white collar, a blue collar, no collar, or even in a pastor’s collar—to work 60, 70, or 80 hours a week. When I was in college, I worked as a courier at a law firm. Several partners and associates had couches, blankets, pillows, and spare suits in their offices because they regularly spent the night. Last week, I spoke to a medical student who easily clocks 70 hours each week and rarely gets to see her husband and child. Some are required to spend many hours at work. For the majority, obsessive work—and the success, status, wealth, and accolades it brings—is a choice.

Some work to live

We tend to think that this is the holier of the two extremes. However, sometimes it is simply an excuse for laziness or the result of a time-consuming hobby or a commitment to maintain the façade of a life of wealth and leisure. I worked at a nonprofit organization in Indy several years ago. I was amazed by how anxiously my coworkers watched the clock each afternoon, waiting for happy hour to begin, and by how much they talked about the weekend they just completed or the weekend they were planning. They didn’t want to be there. And, their attitude was reflected in their work.

I’ve reflected upon this question a lot of times: Should I live to work or work to live? I have come to believe the answer is “Yes!” We live to work and we work to live.

Three essential truths apply.

God shaped us to work and create

God formed us in his own image and placed us within an intricate system that requires our care, cultivation, and stewardship. He also placed us in a lush paradise full of inspiration and with plenty of space in which to dream, create, build, and express ourselves. God’s creation mandate charges us with the responsibility to rule over the earth as his representatives, to fill the earth, to subdue it by bringing it into order, and to make it a place in which humanity can flourish. It is a good, right, and holy thing to give oneself to honest work that provides for people, creates excellent products, and contributes to the common good. We are being faithful to God when we work well.

God shaped us to require rest

God established a rhythm for life when, after creating the heavens and the earth, he rested on the seventh day and made it holy. Did God rest because he was exhausted? Absolutely not! He possesses immeasurable, inexhaustible strength. The Creator did not require rest. But, because he knew that his creation and the creatures therein would require regular relaxation, reflection, and recreation, he set aside one day a week and commanded those who worship him to honor it. We are human beings, not machines. And, as such, we require a regular routine to remember that we depend upon God, to enjoy time with the people he has put in our lives, to enjoy the world he created for us, to re-calibrate our hearts and souls, and to worship him.

We must resist making work or leisure an idol

Our sinful bent toward idolatry—giving the honor, praise, and priority to anything that is not God—is really at the heart of this whole issue. Work is a false god. Free time is a lousy lord. Neither deserves to reside on the throne of our hearts. That place is reserved for God alone. If we’re serving either the god of work or the lord of leisure, we’ll never experience the peace, purpose, and wholeness we can only find in Christ.

So, as a stranger and alien, how do you spend your work time and free time? When you’re at work, work with all your heart as if you’re serving the Lord and not just your boss or your board (see Colossians 3:23-24). When you have free time, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, be thankful, reflect on God’s great love, and do it all in the name of Jesus (see Colossians 3:12-17).

Christian friends, we live to work. We also work to live. And we do it all to the glory of God.

[This post originally appeared on the PCC staff blog.]

How To Be a History Maker

I want to be a history maker. I remember the first time I saw my favorite Christian band, Delirious, in concert. In that dark, crowded, suspiciously musty concert venue, I remember shouting the words of one of my favorite songs:

I’m gonna be a history maker in this land
I’m gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again

Delirious, History Maker

In 1999, I was a 21-year old Bible college senior ready to change the world. Those heady words swirled inside of me and took residence in my heart. I had ambitious plans. I would land an internship, join a church staff, ascend through the hierarchy, and accept the call to lead. I’d be a fearless, compassionate, and creative leader. Over time, I’d expand my influence by coaching and supporting other aspiring leaders. After a full ministry career, I’d run into God’s arms and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I wanted to be a history maker!

Can you relate?

No matter what calling God gave you—vocational ministry, the armed forces, education, raising children, banking, farming, retail, tech, or politics—you likely pursued it out of a deep passion and an overwhelming desire to make a difference in the world. You wanted to help, to earn responsibility, and to expand influence. You wanted to change the world.

Do you still want to be a history maker? I know I still do. There are at least four disciplines that history-making demands of us:

Become good at the little things

I discovered quickly that if I wanted to change the world, I’d have to focus on the present. Every career is made up of 1,000 un-glamorous tasks that simply must be done. I learned that if I wanted to have a chance to teach on a big stage, I’d have to get really good at planning lessons for my small group. If I wanted to help an organization increase efficiencies, I’d have to learn how to file accurate expense reports on time. If I wanted to get permission to make changes, I’d have to learn how to persuade decision makers. I had remember that this is the path to greater responsibility and impact in the Kingdom: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 25:21″ display=”Matthew 25:21″]).

Faithfully executing the details gives you the experience and credibility you need to assume greater responsibility. There are no shortcuts to success. The discipline developed in getting good at the little things positions you as a person who can be entrusted with bigger things.

Sharpen your Spirit-given strengths

I had a clear picture of what I was going to accomplish but I didn’t know my own strengths and weaknesses. As I embarked upon on my plans, I experienced great friction in some areas and great traction in others. I spent a lot of time trying to become good at things that simply weren’t aligned with my gifts. I soon realized that I could either invest hours trying to bolster up weaknesses with very little return on investment or that I could lean into my strengths with huge results. Along the way, I learned that God had given me gifts of leadership, administration, and teaching. I took time to better understand my own temperament. And, wise counselors gave me permission to focus on my strengths, gifts, and calling. This made all the difference.

The Apostle Paul teaches that each of us who are in Christ have been given the powerful presence of the Spirit to accomplish the common good ([biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 12:7″ display=”1 Corinthians 12:7″]) and he reminded his protege Timothy to fan his gifts into flame ([biblegateway passage=”2 Timothy 1:6″ display=”2 Timothy 1:6″]). If you want to be a history maker, spend your time sharpening your Spirit-given strengths.

Invest in people

You can be charismatic and gifted, in possession of all the right resources, and you can be a wizard at strategy and structure. If you don’t invest in people, though, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Or, at the very least, you’re diminishing your potential. No matter where you work, what you do, or how talented you are, you won’t succeed if you’re not great at investing in people.

As Christians, what’s our overarching calling and purpose? It is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:37″ display=”Matthew 22:37″] and [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:39″ display=”39″]). That’s it. Whether it’s our coworkers, our constituents, our clients, our communities, or our customers, our first priority must be to love people well.

If we become history makers it will be because we invested in people and we loved them well (ultimately by bringing them to Jesus).

Keep showing up

Finally, there’s no substitute for simply showing up every day. For most of us, God willing, it will be a long race. It’s easy to become discouraged when we forget that history making takes years of sustained, persistent effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week or month and underestimate what we can do in a year or two. People who make a difference in the world have learned how to push through the pain of slow progress and how to keep showing up and doing the work to which God has called them.

What about you?

Are you young and ambitious, hoping for history-making results on a shorter-than-realistic time frame? Are you trying to remain passionate in spite of slow progress or under-realized visions and dreams? Have your world-changing dreams begun to fade?

Hang in there. Keep working on mastering the little things. Continue sharpening your Spirit-given gifts. Don’t quit investing in people. And, by all means, keep showing up. God is in the business of making history and he wants to use you and me. (If you need a little extra inspiration, try this!)

The Church and the World

the-church-and-the-world

The relationship between the church and the world can be complex, especially for the church.

I’ve always thought and taught that there are essentially three postures that the church—which is to say, both congregations and individuals—can take toward the world around them.

They can insulate. Churches or individual believers who insulate themselves see all of the problems going on “out there” and retreat into their holy huddle. They cloister themselves, privatize their faith, and build high walls to keep the world from invading.

They can integrate. Those who choose to integrate buy into the contemporary cultural ethos hook, line, and sinker. They sell their biblical birthright for a proverbial pot of stew.

Or, they can incarnate. Churches or believers who choose the model of the Messiah, incarnational ministry, partner with the Spirit to transform the world around them.

This little alliterative outline has helped me in my personal attempt to live for Christ in the world. And it has been a real help in encouraging believers as they live out the same mission.

Thanks to an article I read this morning, I have a new outline to use.

The church _____ the world

The preposition you use to fill in the blank—in, against, of, or for—makes all the difference. 

I love the simplicity. Of course, this originated with Tim Keller. There’s a reason that thousands of people will pay to read what people like him write. There are four postures that the church can take toward the world.

The church in the world, like the insulated church I’ve always taught about, is present there but has little or no effect upon it.

The church against the world is like the church in the world in that they’ve grown inward. However, they’ve taken it a step further by fostering and fomenting an adversarial relationship toward the world.

The church of the world is the church that has integrated into the world. They have diluted or discarded the truth of the Bible in effort to appeal to the masses.

The church for the world is making God’s word and ministry incarnate. They want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So they take action, compelled by a deep conviction of the truth of God’s word, the prompting of the spirit, and a deep love and concern for their neighbors.

The view that you, as an individual, and your church, as an organization, take toward the world reveals itself in a thousand ways: how you talk, what you think, your stance toward sin, the activities with which you busy yourself, the prayers you pray, and the company you keep, just to name a few.

When it comes to our view of the church and the world, let’s make sure we choose the correct preposition.

Let’s talk about it

What about your church? Is your church in, against, of, or for the world?

What about you? Are you in, against, of, or for? The preposition you and I choose makes all the difference.

Why Your Church’s Mission Matters

why-your-churchs-mission-matters

I’ve always appreciated a well-written mission statement.

Recently, as I was sitting in the whirlpool at the YMCA loosening up after a swim, I glanced up at the prominently posted rules of conduct and noticed the Y’s mission statement:

“The mission of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”

I’m glad the Y is committed to that mission. It’s a good one. But, as I sat there and thought more about it I realized that the mission could just as easily be adopted by any number of well-meaning congregations.

Think about it:

Programs.

Christian principles.

Healthy spirit, mind, and body.

Now, I have to clarify, there isn’t any church I know that has adopted mission statement like this and actually put it in print. But, in practice; well, that’s a different story.

Think about your church.

Lots of activities: camps, classes, small groups, fitness classes, golf outings, retreats, committees, and seminars. At each of these programs, Christian principles are taught: be honest, be a good parent, read your Bible, pray regularly, attend faithfully, help others, and grow spiritually. And, the result of all this activity and advice? Do the right thing. Be moral. Grow at a steady pace. And, make sure you stay on track.

I realize this is somewhat of a caricature. But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that a lot of the frenetic activity that happens at church is really centered around making sure a bunch of people are relatively happy, relatively well-adjusted, and relatively knowledgeable, and that they keep attending on a fairly regular basis.

This is why your church’s mission matters:

Your church will be no different from the YMCA unless the transforming, saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to your mission.

The Gospel is the difference. But, it cannot just receive lip service. It must be the catalyst for each ministry the church undertakes. It must be the central element upon which all activity and teaching is focused. And it must be the end toward which everything points.

The Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the only thing that makes the church any different from the YMCA. Let’s keep it at the heart of all that we do and all that we are.

What about you?

Is your own mission focused upon proclaiming and living out the Gospel? What about your church? How are you contributing toward that end?