TGC’s new “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question about how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
I am a typical achiever/perfectionist personality, so I struggle with idols of control and pride based on my performance. My job is sales-based, so there’s a direct connection between my results and my success at the company. I know we’re commanded to work heartily unto the Lord. Yet I struggle to balance pursuing my sales goals through the talents and skills God has given me with trusting that he’s actually the one making me fruitful in my labor. I guess what I’m asking is, how do I practically surrender my performance-based work to the Lord without becoming either prideful on the one hand or lazy on the other?
Thank you for such a thoughtful question. As you articulated, your temperament as an achiever is both a great gift to those around you, leading to diligent, productive work that serves the needs of others, and also a great challenge, since it often corresponds to certain idols of the heart. The fact that you’re aware of the idols of control and pride is itself a marker that God’s Spirit is at work within you, even as you experience ongoing struggles.
There are several practices that might help you surrender your work to the Lord. I use the word “practice,” since idols of control and pride are practiced, usually subconsciously, over hundreds of situations across numerous decades. Your idols have logged thousands of hours in your heart. So the way back will also be through practice-based training. You need to develop a set of simple practices that drive the truths of the gospel and God’s Word down into your heart.
For instance, you might use the daily commute—on the way to work and returning home—to practice trust and surrender. “God, I struggle with pride and control in my work. You know it full well. I surrender it to you and ask for grace to trust in the results you provide.” You might start every meeting with a potential client with a short internal prayer, like Nehemiah must have prayed before King Artaxerxes: “Lord, give me help and favor with this client. I trust you.” You also should practice celebration in every sale, both to thank the Lord for his provision and to remind yourself where the ability to produce wealth ultimately comes from (Deut. 8:18).
We also need exemplars to follow. So much of our behavior is influenced by what we love and long for, and so much of what we long for is shaped by the example of others. Paul says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” Is there another Christian you admire in sales? How does he or she handle success and failure? How do they refuse both selfish pride on the one hand and laziness on the other? Seek them out, and explore the beauty of a life surrendered to Christ.
Your idols have logged thousands of hours in your heart. So the way back will also be through practice-based training.
Finally, we must remember the gospel of God’s grace, which can diffuse the most persistent idols of the heart. In Christ you are loved, not because of your performance, but in spite of it. If you experience success beyond your wildest dreams, remember that your only true standing with God is because of his unmerited grace. And if the worst should happen, and you utterly fail at the office, God’s grace will sustain you there as well.
Practice, imitation, and grace. There is much more that could be said. But chew on these things, and see how the Lord might lead you to surrender your work to him.
You can read previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.