When I was 15 years old, I worked at a little sandwich shop called Roly Poly’s, located on the northeast side of Atlanta. I figured I would earn some cash and enjoy the fringe benefit of food and soda. I didn’t expect the lessons I learned in my hours spent serving sandwiches to stick more than twenty years later.
I worked with one woman I particularly enjoyed: a single mother in her late twenties named Zuri. Zuri worked hard, worked honestly, and did everything to the best of her ability—even the least glamorous tasks that most anyone would complain about and avoid. I was so drawn to her. I wanted to emulate her. I took everything that she said very seriously. I enjoyed conversations with her, asked questions, and hoped that she liked me too.
Or maybe she did but cared enough about me to tell me some very tough truth.
One day Zuri and I were talking, and while I don’t remember everything that led to this moment, I’ll never forget that she looked at me and, without the slightest bit of anger, frustration, or malice, said, “You have poor work ethic.” She gently but clearly told me that I didn’t apply myself and didn’t do things well or fully because I chose not to, not because I couldn’t.
I tried to console myself by clamoring for any positive attributes that might make up for a major character flaw. But I couldn’t avoid the truth: Zuri was right. I was capable of doing mundane tasks better. I lazily hoped to earn money by doing things halfway. But even as a 15-year-old, I knew that when I was on the receiving end, I expected top-notch service and quality (don’t we all?).
Zuri changed my life that day. She gave me tough truths that changed my perspective about the importance of my attitude toward the quality of my work.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Genuine love speaks the truth, even if the truth is corrective. Zuri may not have liked me. She may not have enjoyed working with a 15-year-old slacker. But she chose to actively love me; she chose not to be silent in regard to something that ultimately affected my future.
I imagine we can all share stories of situations in which we could clearly see apathetic work, laziness in others, or “service” that was greatly lacking. I cannot count the times that I have asked a cashier in a store how they are doing, and he or she replies, “I’ll be better in half an hour when I get to leave.” Yikes–not even an attempt to force a smile to a customer or coworker! We so easily begrudge our jobs.
Work, however, is not a consequence of the Fall. God created work for our purposeful enjoyment. We were made to work. We were made to produce, create, grow, and enjoy the rewards. But sin brought death and consequence to every area of life, including the good gift of work. As a result, our pride can insist that we should reap the benefits of labor without expending any energy to sow. We desire the outcomes without the cost of the investment.
In his book Success is Not An Accident, Tommy Newberry says, “Many Americans have been misled into believing they will not be held accountable for their choices and that they will miraculously harvest something other than what they planted.” Many of us, at some point, have hoped to reap what we have not sown. We want the benefits of work without actually performing the job well or at all. Paul writes in the book of Galatians that we should “not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).
Where you are today is where you begin. What tasks are in front of you? What opportunities to encourage and serve people do you have? Do it well. Your work will not be wasted. We are called to live and work with excellence in whatever today’s assignment may be—even, and especially if we don’t particularly like it!
Working with excellence is one of the primary ways that Christians can live in the world, but not as part of the world. People notice excellence and attitude, and the way we approach our work can become a platform for professing the love of Christ. Would you take the guy that shows up late every day, has a bad attitude, and does sloppy work seriously when he told you about his love for God? That love may very well be genuine and authentic, but if you were not already a believer, it would be very difficult to see something different about him based on the way he lives.
Here are 5 tips to help you reclaim Kingdom purpose in your work life today:
1. Determine the priorities in your life according to God’s word.
We cannot do everything. We must say “no” to less important things in order to do the most important things with excellence.
2. Stop complaining.
I’ll often tell close friends, “Don’t let yourself hear yourself say that.” Our words create environments. Our words set the tone like a thermostat sets the temperature. Are you lifting people up with the words you say about your job, even if it isn’t an easy or “fun” place to be? A positive attitude shines a light very differently than the majority of attitudes shown in the typical workplace.
3. Do tasks to the best of your ability.
We know when we are intentionally cutting corners, being lazy, apathetic, and just wanting the rewards without the work. Whether you are making a bed, doing the dishes, writing a blog, bagging groceries, giving a presentation, studying for school, leading a team, analyzing spreadsheets, or whatever else under the sun you do on a day-to-day basis, do it to the best of your ability.
4. Show up on time. Stay for your whole shift.
And if you can’t, communicate with your manager and do your best to find your own replacement. Additionally, be available to sub in for others when they need help.
5. Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Work for your clients, family, customers, and peers with the same positivity, the same empathy, and the same quality that you would hope to receive if it were you.
The way we work in this world allows us to be beacons of hope that point to a God that gave us everything in Christ. Let us run the race before us well. Run hard. Love strong. Serve and work with love, with excellence, and always pointing to the redeeming hope that is found in Christ alone.