Blog - Grasping Vocation
Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 14Friday, June 25, 2010
BUT SCRIPTURE MAKES IT CLEAR: WITNESSING—A SERIOUS (BUT NOT THE SOLE) PURPOSE
For a toddler, Kai had a way of capturing hearts. We had known his family well before he was born. One Sunday, as my wife worked in the church nursery, she couldn't help noticing again his gentle, kind spirit. “Kai,” she said, “I love you!” Instantly his body recoiled and his mild expression turned stern: “I love my Mom!” The two-year-old believed he had to limit his love to just one object. Kai could not have defined “reductionism.” But he was fully able to practice it—to trim the many-sided reality of love down to a single simplicity.
Reductionism squeezes “secular” work into just one or two values: if you must choose to work in the world, at least you can witness and make enough money to give. As I've said in earlier blogs, a normal job has many other values. But God does send us into the work world to testify and to earn. We'll focus on witnessing now and on wages next week.
The same Jesus who calls his followers salt, light, and seed told his first disciples, “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). So “witness” forms part of your identity as a believer. Although the word traces to “martyr,” its main meaning is “one who testifies.” As a witness, you are to tell people what you know of Jesus from personal experience with him.
In the work world, I've seen the witnessing role taken in two extreme and opposite directions. I call the first extreme “whiteout.” In a whiteout, snow and ice glare sunlight in all directions. Too much light all at once wipes out vision. In the workplace, guilt-driven evangelism can produce a kind of spiritual whiteout. If I've been conditioned to think God's only reason for placing me in my job is speaking the gospel to unbelievers, I may, in my zeal, actually blind them like deer in the headlights. A news report told of a Christian pilot flying for American Airlines who came on the intercom and asked all Christians to raise their hands. He then urged all the passengers to discuss matters of faith. His captive audience, of course, objected, and the airline fired him.
The opposite extreme is “blackout.” Here, the believer never says a word about his or her relationship with Christ within the work environment. Many factors can explain blackout—fear of rejection, loss of friendships, uncertainty about what to say, and so on. Peter counsels believers, “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” And in the very next verse he adds, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:14, 15). Opportunities to tell of your experience with Jesus will come in the workplace, so you need to be prepared to speak when the moment is right. But always do it, Peter cautions, “with gentleness and respect.” We are not Jesus-hawkers or gospel pitchmen.
Somewhere between whiteout and blackout lies biblical balance. Each week, I meet with a small group of men in one of their homes. The group has come together through the on-job witness of a man who delivers mail for the U.S. Postal Service. He has developed relationships with those he serves on his route. He makes it a point to stay in touch. He knows what their children are doing, when someone gets diagnosed with cancer, or when a spouse leaves or dies. He cares. And when God opens the opportunity, he shares. With words—words about how God delivered him from an empty life that had brought him to the point of despair. Over the years, several have turned from their former ways of life to follow Christ. My friend knows that one of God's reasons for sending him into the work world is to witness.
What examples of “whiteout” in the workplace might you have seen? Of “blackout”? Of biblical balance?