December 8, 2010| 0

Pushing: God, Work and the Pursuit of Excellence (Part II)

Let’s look at why I believe that both pushing or fighting to get ahead and striving or pushing in pursuit of excellence may not be wholly accurate depictions of Kingdom values. First, the resource pie is not fixed in its size, shape or allocation. We serve a God of abundance, a God of loaves and fishes, a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Although we are called to be wise stewards of the talents and resources given to us, there is nothing in scripture that suggests that we need to fret about whether we are working hard enough. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about their material needs. In a famous passage he reminds them to seek first the Kingdom of God rather than pursuing their material security. “The pagan world runs after such things . . .” (Luke 12:30, NIV), but the believer is to trust to God for his or her provision. Faithfulness is the key to the believer’s material security, not harder work. If we authentically follow our call, the resources we need will follow. Second, excellence means something different to God than it does to us. Growth programs, new initiatives and innovation may be fine. But they may also get in the way of our faithfulness. Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all he had and follow Christ (Mark 10:21). Other Jesus-followers have left lucrative or successful careers to live in the desert, serve the poor or do other unglamorous or seemingly irrelevant work. The world may not have understood, but they knew that the call of Christ was requiring something different of them. And although I firmly believe there are those who are called to serve God within higher-profile careers such as business, law or politics too, I would humbly suggest that a Christian will be called upon to express excellence within these fields in a radical, even counter-cultural way. In the teaching of Christ, traditional measures of success are almost always derided as not of the Kingdom (cf. I Samuel 16:7, Luke 12:20). We cannot earn our salvation, nor can we measure our success by worldly standards. Finally, I believe God wants us to be people of wholeness. Many workaholics I know argue that “they have no choice.”  If they don’t work so hard, their competitors will put them out of a job. Ignoring God’s promises of provision for the moment, there is still a question of what such behaviors and attitudes do to the individual. The admonition of Christ is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Matthew 22:27, NIV) Can such a command be fulfilled when the heart is weary with conflicts and the soul with striving? Can we be whole when the mind is burdened with the troubles of the workplace and the strength worn down by too many late nights burning the midnight oil? I don’t think so. The Sabbath principles God gave to the Hebrew people were meant to correct such an imbalance. We need work and we also need rest. People who have been working too much, too long or with too much stress will be less capable and productive than those who are rested and renewed by time away from work. There is a law of diminishing returns that even non-Christians acknowledge. Ultimately, I would ask us to reconsider whether pushing the boundaries of our limitations should be a chronic part of our lives and work. To set such an expectation may be an act of disobedience against God’s Sabbath principles, a sign of distrust in his provision and may even keep us from the vocational expression of counter-cultural Kingdom principles. Mark Oppenlander is married to Beth, who is a 2003 MBA from SPU's School of Business and Economics. Mark is the Director for the Center for Applied Learning at Seattle Pacific University.

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