I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.

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3 thoughts on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

  1. Your perspective on “calling” is very good and refreshing to read! I can really relate to this as well. For too many years, I equated “calling” with “career” as measured by “annual salary.” As you’ve said, this leads to a lot of frustration! Your definition of “calling” as a “call to a life of excellence” is great and reminds me of a great book titled “My Utmost for His Highest.” Thanks!

    Like

  2. “Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well.”

    I’m guilty of focusing on making that living and getting the job done as opposed to doing the job with excellence. I think that serving God through loving people (particularly co-workers and clients) is something that I’ve particulary let go at work. I don’t take the time to build these relationships because I’m busy focused on just getting the work done.

    Challenging stuff… Awesome illustration!

    Like

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