For those in the Orange County area next week, I’ll be speaking at Sovereign Grace Church on gospel-centered productivity on Thursday night, June 7. I’ll be giving two messages:
- Why We Need to Think Theologically About the Practical for the Sake of Love
- Overcoming the Greatest Challenges Christians Face in the Marketplace
Patrick Lencioni makes the case very well in his article, The Enemy of Creativity and Innovation. Here’s a great part:
I’ve become convinced that the only way to be really creative and innovative in life is to be joyfully inefficient….
Efficiency requires that we subdue our passion and allow it to be constrained by principles of logic and convention. Innovation and creativity require us to toss aside logic and convention, even without the near-term promise of a payoff. Embracing both at the same time seems to me to be a recipe for stress, dissonance and mediocrity, and yet, that is exactly what so many organizations—or better yet—leaders, do.
They exhort their employees to utilize their resources wisely and to avoid waste and redundancy, which makes perfect sense. They also exhort them to be ever-vigilant about finding new and better products or processes, which also makes sense. And yet, combining these two perfectly sensible exhortations makes no sense at all, and only encourages rational, responsible people to find a middle ground, something that is decidedly neither efficient nor innovative.
This is why I don’t talk about efficiency a ton. It matters and has its place. But my goal is effectiveness, and often times the greatest path to effectiveness is quite inefficient.
More on this in my book.
I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty. It’s a waste and it’s a tragedy. Peter Drucker:
“Professional” management today sees itself often in the role of a judge who says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to ideas as they come up…A top management that believes its job is to sit in judgment will inevitably veto the new idea. It is always “impractical.”
So, in what areas of life are we to manifest the fruit of the Spirit? Just at church?
We are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in all areas of life.
We so easily miss that. It’s easy to think of the fruit of the Spirit and other Christian virtues as applying to some abstract realm, rather than being the character qualities we are to manifest every day, in all areas of life — which includes our work.
The fruit of the Spirit, in fact, have a massive application in our daily work, if you think about it.
For example, the first fruit of the Spirit is “love.” How does this apply at work? It means that our aim in all that we do should be the good of others. It means we should put others before ourselves — not just in some abstract realm of life, but in the concrete situations of our everyday life, which includes our work.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “peace.” This means that the notion of “stress free productivity” is actually, in some sense, biblical. Christians are not to be frazzled, crazy people tossed to and fro by the urgencies of the day. We are to have a peace and equanimity of mind in how we go about our work. A productivity system helps with this, but it isn’t the ultimate source of our peace — our peace ultimate comes through faith, not our ability to organize ourselves.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “kindness.” To be kind means to be proactive in doing good. This means that in our work, we shouldn’t simply do the minimum required of us, but should seek to go beyond and be excellent. We should not cut corners, but always be on the lookout to make things better for others — the customers we ultimately serve as well as our colleagues, managers, and direct reports. This is another way of saying that we should work with a spirit of generosity. A Christian does not simply do the minimum; he seeks to do the kind of work that goes the extra mile in improving people’s lives and making their lives better. A Christian is not just generous in what he does with his money, the fruit of his work; he is generous in how he goes about the work itself.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “faithfulness.” This means Christians should be dependable and reliable and stand by their word. This is what we typically think of when we think of a Christian doctrine of work, and it is indeed right here in the fruit of the Spirit. Part of faithfulness also means not playing games with people, not spinning things, and not being a political trickster to advance yourself by stepping on others.
God’s call to work is not simply a call for us to work, but for us to work in a certain way — diligently, thoughtfully, generously, and for the good of others.
And, this also helps us see why our work matters. For when we are doing our work, we aren’t just doing work. We are engaging in an opportunity to display the fruit of the Spirit and manifest the character of God all day long, right here in the concrete realities of everyday life.
There are three problems with seeing Christianity primarily in terms of following rules.
First, this notion is just wrong.
Second, it obscures the fact that the solution to our problem is not following rules, but forgiveness.
Third, it gives the impression, as William Wilberforce said, that Christianity is “a system of prohibitions rather than privileges and hopes.” A focus on rules overpowers the emphatic New Testament ethos of joy, making the Christian faith wear “a forbidding and bloomy air and not one of peace and hope and joy.”
This is a great statement from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 86: Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation [lifestyle] others may be gained to Christ.
Note a few things.
First, good works are a means by which we imitate, and thus glorify, Christ. We have been renewed “after his own image,” and doing good works reflects his image, and thus glorifies him. Christ was mighty in word and deed (Luke 24:19), and thus it is essential that we reflect Christ in our actions as well as our words.
Second, note that we are to testify to the greatness of Christ “by the whole of our conduct.” You don’t just testify to the greatness of Christ in words, as critical as that is. You must also testify to his greatness in all of your conduct. You not only may, you must!
Third, our good works are a form of worship. We do them in gratitude to God and out of love for him, and offer them to him in our doing of them. That’s what worship is. And God wants to be worshipped in the whole of our lives (Romans 12:1-2), not just our words. This makes our good works — that is, all the things we do in faith, even tying our shoes — intrinsically meaningful.
Fourth, one result of living wise lives filled with good works is that others will be won to Christ. Good works are not valuable simply as a means to bringing others to faith; they are valuable in themselves (see above points). But they do also have the effect of supporting our testimony to the gospel, and others will come to faith as a result (that’s the meaning of the very odd and hard to understand passage in Ephesians 5:7-14).
So, once again, we see that the Reformed tradition was holistic. The dichotomy between doing good/living wise lives and preaching the gospel does not exist in the theology of the Reformation. The ministry of the word goes to the root, but testifying to the greatness and love of God in our deeds is equally essential.
A few thoughts:
1. Avoid working in your weaknesses if at all possible.
2. If you can’t, then seek to become competent in your areas of weakness. You won’t become extraordinary in areas of weakness, but competence is sufficient.
3. Continue to spend the most time sharpening and harnessing your strengths. This is where your contribution will shine. As long as you are competent in your weaknesses, they won’t detract and your strengths will stand out and make an extraordinary contribution.
An example (a slightly risky one since I’m not huge into basketball, but you will get the point): Let’s say you are a basketball player and you are great at making baskets but pretty bad at getting rebounds. You need to become solid at getting rebounds when they come your way, so you don’t do harm. But your focus should be on putting yourself in a position to take shots, not get rebounds, if that’s where you make an incredible contribution.
And here’s an example of avoiding your weaknesses altogether: if you are a great quarterback, it doesn’t matter if you are terrible at defense. Don’t play defense. This is so obvious as to be completely undisputed.
Why, then, do we feel like there is some sort of virtue in focusing on our weaknesses in our work?
Seek to contribute where you can make the greatest contribution.
A good observation by Tim Keller in his book Ministries of Mercy:
We have done a good job of teaching that every believer is a minister and to be a witness. But we haven’t done a good job of teaching that every Christian is to be engaged in mercy ministries. We have almost completely ceded this work to secular agencies and authorities.