A different sort of new year’s resolution
Top tips for being a Christian in your office
It’s that time of year again, when we start feeling guilty every time we look in the mirror, or at our Bible gathering dust on the shelf. “2018 will be different,” we assure ourselves. “This is the year I will: exercise more, lose weight, read the Bible every day, call my Mum more often, pay off my credit card, learn something new, work less and complete that writing project …”
So many of our resolutions fail. There are many reasons for this including setting unrealistic goals, ignoring who you really are and trying to make too many changes (for more on this: read this Psychology Today article).
A more biblical reason is that as Christians we will tend to make much more effort when we are doing something that is for God or for others, rather than focused on ourselves. So here is a challenging new year’s resolution for 2018 for you:
How can you transform your workplace to give people the fragrance of God’s kingdom?
As Christians, God has placed many of us in strategic positions in workplaces across industries, across the country, reaching millions of people. How can we make a difference for God in those places, and among those people, the majority of whom would never come through the doorway of a church?
Here are seven ideas:
1. Pray more. Pray for your workplace and pray for the people in your workplace. I worked with some doctors in Melbourne who started being much more intentional about praying for their work. They would pray on their way to work. They would get to work early and pray over all the rooms and wards where they would be working. They prayed during their work using certain triggers: alarms, breaks, a phone call … They noticed that the act of prayer not only led to answers to prayer but also made them much more aware of God while at work, and led to more God conversations.
I love this quote from Darren Lim: “The purpose of prayer is not to convince God to change your circumstances but to prepare you to be involved in God’s activity.” We notice that Nehemiah, in his ordinary work as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, prays intently before petitioning him about the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1).
2. Be hospitable. I heard recently of Wendy in Perth who practises the ministry of cake. Each month she prepares an amazing cake creation, and has a celebration for those on her team who have birthdays, and also for the achievements of her team. She even uses the actual ingredients and structure of the cake to affirm characteristics of individuals or team members. Her team know that she cares about them, and loves them through this ministry. Some have come along to Christian talks and courses as they respond to the attractiveness of Wendy’s character. Hospitality is mentioned by Paul, Peter, John and the writer of the Hebrews as an essential characteristic of God’s people.
3. Promote truth. This is a tougher thing to do but so important. In my book Workship, I tell the story of Stephan, who was able to cut out some illegal practices in a business he bought including cash instead of wages to employees and bribes to suppliers. Sometimes it can be smaller things: advocating for someone being treated unfairly, challenging the organisation if it over-promotes its benefits or undersells its issues, or not participating in unethical practices. The Gospel of John makes 23 references to truth. Jesus comes in grace and truth, and we are to live by the truth, “so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:21)
4. Make your workplace more beautiful. A wise mentor once told me that God changes us through two means: suffering and beauty. We may be familiar with the former but underestimate the power of the latter. Workplaces can often be plain and functional. By beautifying your desk, introducing some plants, adding some colour, you can make a tangible difference to the work environment. I have a friend who refuses to use the stained chipped mugs at work but has brought in a beautiful bone china tea set. She finds people love to share a pot of tea with her, and this often leads to deep conversations. In Genesis we notice that God in his work as creator did not just make a functional world but a beautiful place for us to enjoy: “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9)
5. Show compassion. At a recent Life@Work conference in Melbourne, Andrew Laird and Sam Chan both spoke of the importance of listening. We are so quick to speak, and put our ideas across, but in our workplace there are hurting, confused, frustrated, annoyed and sad people who need someone to hear, show understanding and reflect back what they are feeling. We undervalue the gift of listening, offered along with some simple words of encouragement, and genuine compassion and care. We know that this is the character of God, who is described manifold times as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)
6. Change the cultural atmosphere. While changing workplace culture is a difficult and long term task, we can influence the atmosphere of our workplace. I knew a receptionist who called herself the Director of First Impressions. She knew she was the most important person for conveying the values of the organisation because she was the first voice they heard and the first face they saw. She treated everyone with dignity and respect. She made staff welcome when they came to work, and wished them well as they left. She was quick with a caring word, and brightened the office with her smile and sense of fun.
Eugene Peterson captures this through his Message translation of Romans 12:2, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
7. Do excellent work. Most importantly, we must not neglect our work but we must do a good job. In fact, we should do a great job! Jesus tells us to let our light shine [through our good working] that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. (Matthew 5:16). Peter gives tips on living in a pagan society and tells us to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
Amy Sherman describes such transformational practices as gelato tasters, those little spoons we get given to see if we actually like the Belgian mud chocolate gelato! It is a foretaste of what God’s kingdom is like: a place of deep connection with God, where we are welcomed in, where there is deep truth and knowing. It is a place of beauty and compassion, where the driven and draining and disgusting elements of work culture are redeemed and where excellent work honours God. Be resolved to give your workplace a foretaste of that in 2018.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: how to use your work to worship God, Project Leader with Seed, and lecturer with Mary Andrews College.