March 12, 2014| 0

How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Songs in a Foreign Land? (Psalm 137:4)

Business is tough. Competitors chip away at our territory. Customers demand more. Employees need more. Investors want more. And the business manager is always caught in the middle. Tough business comes as no surprise, however, once we have heard God’s word to Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” [Genesis 3:17b-19]

In spite of the curse which makes it hard, work also carries a powerful blessing. By God’s grace we are capable of feeding ourselves and the entire world by the sweat of our brows. Business is the privileged path of harnessing human capital and the gifts of the earth for the sake of the common good. But it’s not always easy to bring a joyful response to the tough challenges.

Furthermore, we know as a practical matter that our belief in God and our trust in a higher purpose for business do not necessarily result in bigger profits and greater market share. Sometimes it’s just plain difficult to live out our faith amid the pressures of doing business in a highly competitive world in which others do not always play by the same rules. I admire Dennis Bakke, former CEO of AES (a Fortune 200 global power company), who exhorts those of us caught in the middle of tough business: “I want to encourage you to take your biblical values into business because they are right, not because they work, and to let the economic consequences fall where they might.”[1]

The faithful response is the joyful response—joyful because God is good, all the time. Even in a "foreign land," God is good. Even in tough business and hard work, God is good. Our response is therefore joyful, and we are committed to living out the truth of our faith in him.

This is why exile is a recurring theme in Judeo-Christian faith. We are always caught in a foreign land, whether it be Babylon, or the global marketplace where faith does not always rule the day’s trading.

We cry out with the psalmist, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” But where else are we going to sing it? This is where we live! Our job is not to complain about how tough it is, but to sing in a foreign land. We do that by bringing our joy to work with us, and then our business will be done in a way that sings his praises, come what may.


[1] Bakke, D. “Values Don’t Work in Business,” in On Moral Business: Classical Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life, ed. Max Stackhouse, et. al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 717.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

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