This TBT excerpt is adapted from Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway, 2011). TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation to introduce you to thoughtful literature and to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.
Every day when you arrive at your workplace, an attitude arrives with you. Our attitudes are like the perfume or cologne we are wearing; we smell the fragrance when we first put it on, but others smell it throughout the day. The fragrance you’re wearing at work, others are picking up.
So what are those around you smelling? The apostle Paul reminds us that as apprentices of Jesus, we have the fragrance of Jesus. The attitudes we wear to our workplaces should remind others of him. The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—should make up a great deal of our attitudinal fragrance.
Working for an Audience of One
Paul’s inspired words to the followers of Jesus at Thessalonica are also helpful in cultivating a new attitude about my work and my workplace. After urging the Thessalonian believers to seek the common good of all, he lays out three attitudinal adjustments that powerfully transform the workplaces we’ve been called to inhabit:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16–18)
In these power-packed verses Paul encourages us to cultivate attitudes of joy, of prayer, and of gratitude. Though our work and workplaces can be deeply frustrating at times and we often deal with deeply difficult and demanding people, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to positively influence a workplace culture that promotes human flourishing, synergistic teamwork, and the common good.
It’s also helpful for me to regularly remember who my ultimate audience is at work. Living and working before an Audience of One is amazingly transforming in both the good times and the bad. In my own workplace, I am particularly encouraged by the truths of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” When we live before an Audience of One, we have nothing to fear, nothing to hide, and nothing to prove. We can devote our complete energy to doing good work. We can practice the presence of God as we work and enjoy an ongoing conversation with him. As an overflow of our walk with Christ, we have the wonderful opportunity to bring a positive, joyful outlook to our daily work. Our attitudes can be the sweet aroma of Christ to those around us.
Excellence in Our Work
As I’ve interacted with business leaders over the years, I’ve heard negative words about the shabbiness and shadiness of Christians in the workplace more times than I can count. Whether the stories are exaggerated for effect I don’t know, but I do believe the reputation of Christians and their work is a sobering indictment on our inadequate understanding—as well as our day-to-day application—of the transforming truths of vocation. Sadly, a great deal of the shabbiness and shadiness of many Christians’ work is directly related to an inadequate and often distorted theology of vocation.
I fear many of us who call ourselves Christians do not live up to that name in our work. Perhaps we need a fresh reminder that those who call themselves Christians are to behave differently. Paul makes an important connection between the name of Jesus and our day-to-day behavior. Writing to followers of Jesus at Colossae, he says:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him. (Col. 3:17)
When we embrace Jesus as our Lord and Savior, by his grace we work and behave differently in the workplace. Like our Master who modeled excellent carpentry work, in his grace we, too, labor with diligence and strive for excellence in whatever work God has called us to.
Witness of Our Work
Though we are called to profess our faith to others, to give a spoken account for the hope within us, we are also called to practice our faith before others. Yes, we witness by our words, but we also witness by our work. The excellence of our work often gives us the credibility to speak of the excellence of our Lord Jesus and to share the good news with our coworkers. When you stop to think about it, the sheer amount of time you work each week means you witness much more by your work than you do by your words. God designed it that way.
Steve Sample has been described as the greatest university president of his generation. For 19 years he led the University of Southern California to new heights of growth and to a worldwide educational influence never imagined. At his last commencement address, he spoke to 40,000 members and friends of the Trojan family who’d gathered to celebrate the academic achievements of some of America’s most gifted leaders of tomorrow.
Looking out over the crowd, Sample urged the graduates to think about life’s biggest issues and not just their future careers. His address raised three questions that would in large measure set the trajectory of the graduates’ lives. First, how did they feel about money? Second, how did they feel about children? Third, how did they feel about God? As Sample raised his third question, there was pin-drop silence. Respectfully but courageously, USC’s outstanding president challenged all who had gathered to carefully consider spiritual reality and the profound implications for their lives and our world.
As I listened to Sample’s courageous words, I was struck that the integrity of his life and the excellence of his work for 19 years had given him a credible platform and the gravitas to speak boldly of the God he loved and served. His life and work made his courageous words persuasive and compelling. Our God-honoring work is often one of the greatest apologetics for our God-focused words.