Blog - Mirroring God

Your Work: Engaged? Not Engaged? Disengaged?

Friday, June 28, 2013

According to the State of the American Workplace: 2010—2012 based on Gallup surveys, 70 percent of U.S. workers are either "not engaged” or "actively disengaged” in their work. That leaves less than one-third who are "engaged.”

Engaged employees "work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company.” The non-engaged are for the most part "checked out.” They’re "sleepwalking through their workday, putting time—but not energy or passion—into their work.” The actively disengaged are "busy acting out their unhappiness.” Daily, they "undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.” This latter group, Gallup estimates, is costing the nation $450 to $500 billion a year in lost productivity.

Do the percentages differ among those who identify themselves as Christian believers? I hope so. But I fear that the widespread ignorance of a biblical theology of work may contribute to many joining the ranks of the "not engaged” or "actively disengaged.” For example, the sacred-secular myth still pushes many into thinking their everyday work doesn’t really matter that much to God. If true, why engage?

After finishing a theology-of-work class, an accountant reported how the truth about the sacred-secular divide would transform his behavior: "One of the obvious areas in which I will change is the number of days that I stay away from work, especially sick days.” Apparently, this believer had been among the not-engaged.

On the other hand, too many "engaged” believers have turned their work into an idol. This, too, is part of the fallout from the famine of God’s words on work. If we look to our work as our basic source of satisfaction, significance, and supply, it can easily become a God-substitute—even if we continue to gather faithfully with other believers on the weekends.

We don’t normally connect Jeremiah 2:13 with today’s work world. But it speaks powerfully to all three groups—the engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Few Americans these days have ever tasted water from a cistern. One of my earliest memories involves the cistern on our small farm in the Yakima Valley—basically a hole perhaps eight feet deep by four feet wide. Rain gutters edging the house roof channeled water into this concrete-lined hole in the ground. A hand pump inside our back porch brought water up from the cistern for washing clothes and for bathing. It had to be chlorinated before we drank it.

The problem? The cistern often ran dry, leaving our household waterless. So when I was about eight years old, Dad dug a well. That well, which reached far deeper than the cistern, tapped into an underground stream that never failed so long as we lived there. Through a pipe, that well even supplied water for the house on the farm next door.

Our work, like a cistern, cannot provide a consistent supply of all we need. If we see our work as a worthless cistern, we may become non-engaged or actively disengaged. If we overvalue our work "cistern,” we may try desperately to pump from it what it can never deliver.

A well is better, but God is even more than that. As the prophet reminds us, he is "the spring of living water.” And Jesus said that out of those who trust in him, will flow "streams of living water” (Jn. 7:38). Bonnie Wurzbacher, now a Senior Advisor to World Vision, formerly a Senior Vice President for Coca-Cola, has said that a pastor once told her: "We don’t get meaning from our work, we bring meaning to our work.”

As we draw from Jesus as our endless stream of living water (our satisfaction, significance, and supply), we won’t have to seek those from our work or from our coworkers. Instead, we ourselves—our thirst quenched by the Spirit of Christ within us—will bring that living water both to our work and to those we work with. We can then become rightly engaged with our work. Or as Paul put it to first-century workers: "work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23).

Comments (4)

David Rupert (7/1/2013 11:28:29 AM)
a great look at the balance we must draw. How quickly engagement can turn into idolatry! I never realized the connection. Thanks for this!
Lori Beth Merrill (7/8/2013 8:43:17 PM)
I am trying to bring living water to my work and those I work with. It is difficult when they feel defeated and disappointed because they thought the work should provide the meaning instead of the other way around.
Larry Peabody (7/9/2013 3:46:21 PM)
Lori Beth, a tree by streams of living water (Ps. 1:3), draws the water up from the source, and then presents it to others in the form of fruit. I think best way to offer the living water to those defeated and discouraged coworkers is through the fruit of the Spirit borne in season right there on the job.
Nita Kotiuga (8/12/2013 6:07:31 AM)
Work as an idol: There is a fine but clear line between work becoming an idol and highly valuing work. It becomes an idol when it is the reason we get up in the morning and eagerly go to work. When we get up in the morning to love and serve God, and one of the means by which we do this is work we become engaged workers who love God.

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