How does one climb the corporate ladder, all for the sake of the gospel? Today’s question comes from a podcast listener named Dan. “Pastor John, thank you for the podcast. I recently heard the episode on work and how we glorify God at our jobs. I want to glorify God in all things and my question is more detailed. I know that I can glorify God in my work. I also know that work is my mission field. My question is really how do I balance my earthly work with eternal work?
“How do I balance climbing the corporate ladder, and at the same time, pursuing relationships and caring for the lost? As a Christian, do I just say God will take care of me, and I don’t need to focus on climbing the ladder? Or as a Christian is it glorifying to God for me to be great at my job and get promoted? How do I also not forget about reaching out to others? How do I find balance at work?”
In one sense, it’s presumptuous of me to try to answer this question because I’ve never had a long-term, full-time job other than teaching and preaching. There were summers when I worked full time digging swimming pools, one summer bagging groceries, one summer working in the shipping department, one summer filling boxes, one summer working as a water-safety instructor at a camp, one summer being a pole holder at a surveying company.
But I never felt any sense of long-term calling at any of those, nor any hope of advancement. They just were filling in the time, putting money in the bank so I could get married someday and maybe get myself through school. None of those jobs lasted longer than several months. I’m just not experienced in Dan’s situation, but I assume he knows that. But he’s still asking me, asking the Bible guy, for counsel.
So, all right, let’s go for it. And you can decide whether what I’m saying is coming out of a spiritual ivory tower that has no use for the real world or whether it might be helpful.
An Integrated Life
It seems to me that the challenge Dan is facing (and that all of us face) is the challenge of how to live a fully integrated — and get the key word integrated — Christ-honoring life. Dan poses the question in terms of balance: balancing earthly work and eternal work; balancing efforts to become excellent in the vocational tasks — climbing the ladder — and excellent in loving people, evangelizing people, and caring about people.
“The real challenge for most is that the tasks we do at work don’t feel distinctly Christian.”
Really what he’s asking about — and I think we all want this — is a life that is so integrated, with Christ as the agent of the integration, that we don’t feel pulled in separate directions. We’re not standing between, saying, “I feel both,” but rather the whole thing feels cohesive; it feels whole; it feels like there is integrity to all the pieces of my life. That’s what we’re after.
Let me suggest that the real challenge for Dan and people in the work world is that what is required in their specific vocation are tasks that every unbeliever as well as believer has to do. The challenge, then, is that these tasks can feel not very distinctly Christian. Therefore, the tasks do not feel fully integrated into a coherent life.
They feel they live where tasks and relationships are just pulled apart from each other. That’s what we want to try to move beyond. The way I’ve tried to approach it is that there are questions to ask or reflections on our specific vocational tasks that might begin to transform those — what he calls “earthly work” — into something more coherent with the rest of our life.
I’m going to name about ten of these — just name them real quick. And maybe this will help Dan convert earthly work (so called) into the obedience of faith and an honor to Jesus. This way everything feels more coherent. Here we go.
Ponder the ultimate aim. I’m going to emphasize the key word aim. Ponder the ultimate aim of the tasks for the company, and the less-than-ultimate aims, and see if you can state those aims in terms of specifically Christian or Christ-exalting outcomes.
Ponder how the quality of your work relates to the nature of God and your calling as a Christian. Can you see the quality — the excellence — of your work not merely in a worldly way, but in a Christ-exalting way that is a testimony, not just a worldly way of advancement?
“Christians are fundamentally servants of others. We count others more significant than ourselves.”
Ponder your tasks as forms of service. Think them through in the category of how they serve other people, both in their outcomes and in the way you do them. Christians are fundamentally servants of others. We count others more significant than ourselves; that is, we count them worthy of our service.
Ponder your tasks in relationship to the value of honesty or integrity. How will absolute allegiance to the truth shape the way you do what you do? How is that rooted in allegiance to Jesus?
Ponder the relationship between the tasks you do and the spirit of thankfulness to God. Have a simple thankfulness that you can just do the tasks. Linger over this question long enough so that you can feel the specifics of how to be thankful for your thinking, your feeling, your skills, your hands, your eyes, your ears, the gift of this job, and a dozen other things. Let a spirit of thankfulness permeate everything about the tasks that you do.
Ponder how humility will mark the way you do your tasks. Think through what humility would look like in your particular role and in the tasks that you do.
Pray earnestly that the Lord will give you joy in your work. Not just alongside your work in other things you like to do, but in your work — in the very tasks, in the relationships involved in those tasks. Ask the Lord that your joy in him would thoroughly saturate all you do.
8. Not Murmuring
Ask the Lord to give you this — utter freedom from murmuring and complaining in your tasks. It is one of the hardest ones. In Philippians 2:14–15, Paul says that to be free from murmuring makes Christians shine like stars in the night sky of this world. It is so rare.
“How will absolute allegiance to the truth shape the way you do what you do?”
Ponder how manifestations of patience can permeate all that you do. In other words, let patience be woven through all your responses, the tasks you have to perform, and all the people that you’re involved with in those tasks.
Ponder how you can actually see the nature of God, the aspects of the glory of God, in the very kind of work that you are doing. God is the maker — the creator of molecules — of everything you handle. He’s the creator of math and grammar. He’s the creator of all human capacities.
Nothing that you deal with is foreign to God, but it speaks something of God. There’s a language out there to be read, and God is the meaning of the language. Develop the ability to read God in all your tasks.
Love God and People
And finally — I could call it number eleven, or I could say it’s the sum of all of them — ponder how everything you do is an expression of love: love to God, love to people.
Here they are: aim, quality, service, honesty, thankfulness, humility, joy, not murmuring, patience, seeing, love. My guess is that if you devote yourself to this kind of prayer and pondering, you will find that the earthly work — the tasks, the so-called “vocational, ordinary, secular tasks” — that you do are not as distinct as you think they are from the eternal work and all the relationships around you.