08 Jan The Center of Our Faith and Work Discussions
Throughout his physical time on this earth we often see Jesus engaging individuals with extreme grace and a focus on getting right to the heart of their personal brokenness. No where is this more evident than in the story of the rich young ruler recounted to us in Mark 10. Though many of us have read through this story dozens of times, it can be easy to miss the broader message that applies to the very heart of how we go about our work.
Mark tells us that after being approached by a man who asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus, with great love, tells the man to sell all he has and to give his money to the poor. The man sadly walks away from Jesus seemingly unable to take this step because of his great wealth. At this, Jesus tells His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples are amazed – in part because at that time in history, wealth and success were seen as signs of God’s favor.
In today’s culture, we may recognize the pitfalls of extreme wealth and greed and even agree with Jesus’ comments to the rich young ruler. But when we limit this story to only discussions about extreme wealth we miss it’s lessons for our every day.
What limited the rich young ruler’s pursuit of a full, eternal life wasn’t so much the wealth itself but that the wealth he pursued had become the ultimate love of his life. He was unable to put Jesus in front of his wealth when asked to do so and Jesus wisely raised this issue to him as the one barrier preventing him from obtaining what he had requested. The issue for the rich young ruler was an issue of idolatry – and this is so often our issue in our work as well.
In our discussions about faith and work, it can be easy to quickly move into dialogue about how our faith can enable us to be more influential leaders, more productive workers, or how it can help us make a bigger impact in our organization. But if we don’t first and continually deal with our issues of idolatry, our pursuit of stronger faith can end up being just one more means of serving things other than God that truly rule our hearts.
For some of us, this idolatry may revolve around power and we can turn our faith into a means to proudly show that we are more right than others with whom we work. Some of us may be drawn toward idols of accomplishment – attempting to find our identity in growing our list of achievements and accolades. Still others may find themselves worshiping the work itself with their minds consumed with being ever more productive and efficient. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some individuals may find themselves worshiping personal ease and comfort – moving them into a position where they stop seeing their daily work as a means to display Christ’s sacrificial and self-giving love to others.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong in having power, accomplishments, efficiency or some measure of comfort in our lives. But the problem becomes when these and other pursuits become our primary influences. As Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”
At Northeast Indiana Center for Faith and Work, we celebrate individuals finding purpose in their every day and achieving their personal and professional goals. But, more importantly than any of these we desire to see our very identities more strongly centered in Christ – the author and perfecter of our faith. It is as we root ourselves in His love and power that we gain clarity and direction on how He wants us to be His agents of redemption in our everyday work settings.
Of course, it is no small thing to break down our idols that so often manifest themselves in our work. But Jesus gives us hope even for this. After seeing his disciples’ astonishment at his words to the rich young ruler, Jesus turns to them and encouragingly proclaims, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Jeff Ostermann, President – Northeast Indiana Center for Faith and Work