16 Feb #108 – Work Within Life
ESSENCE: Once we understand that God’s design is “work AS life” (work as a way to be more fully human and not something to be balanced against life), we need to understand how to balance “work WITHIN life”. We believe Biblical priorities are pretty clear–faith, family and work, in that order. Unfortunately, business as usual and our culture exert tremendous pressure to disorder those priorities, incessantly pushing work higher up at the expense of faith and family. Keeping First Things First is a central theme of Integriosity®, and it requires understanding the various ways our priorities can get disordered as well as strategies for keeping them in alignment with Biblical priorities. While most of our posts have been about “leading faithfully”, leaders are also workers. If leaders elevate work above faith or family, they are likely to demand the same of those they lead. For faithful leaders to “lead faithfully”, they must set an example by “living faithfully”, which requires “working faithfully”.
In our last post (#107-Work As Life), we dug into the WHY of work and emphasized that neither “work to live” (work as a necessity and burden to be escaped through “work-life balance” and retirement) nor “live to work” (work as an identity and idol) is God’s design. We were designed to “live more fully through work”, understanding that our work is a way we live out Imago Dei and the Creation Mandate, and pursue the great commandment to love God and love others and our ultimate purpose of glorifying God. It was about understanding the importance of work to our humanity and in God’s design of our world and His Kingdom.
We call this post “Work WIHIN Life”, looking at how work was meant to fit in as part of our life and the problems that can arise when people’s life priorities become disordered by work creeping higher than it was meant to reside. Perhaps this post was subconsciously inspired by Valentine’s Day, because the most common victim of that disordered priority is family–the worker’s spouse and children.
We spent 26 posts (#039-#064) talking about the importance of keeping first things first in faithfully “doing right” through business a better way. As important as it is for leaders to prioritize Righteousness, Kingdom, Love and Humility (the first things we examined in those 26 posts) in leading a business, it is important for a person of Biblical faith to prioritize their life in accordance with Biblical priorities.
As we have boldly asserted in several posts (most recently in post #107-Work As Life), “work-life balance” is a deception contrary to God’s design because it makes us see work as an obstacle to life. In God’s design, work is an essential part of life to be balanced with other aspects of our life such as faith, family and fitness. Because we live in a fallen world, balancing “life” can become difficult. We believe the Bible gives us a priority structure to help us see what is important and to get a sense of the relative priorities of the aspects of our life. We believe that work comes in at #4 in that priority structure: God, Spouse, Children, Work. We are not alone in prioritizing faith and family ahead of work.
Bandwidth.com is a telecommunications provider that went public in 2017. It was co-founded by David Morken and Henry Kaestner. Kaestner has been very open about the role that his and Morken’s faith played in how they led Bandwidth. In fact, he made available online the notes from a talk he has given numerous times called “The Business Lessons that God has taught us at Bandwidth.com”. In it, Kaestner explains the following about the Bandwidth values and culture (emphasis added):
David and I wanted to see the same core values drive the company that drove our
life. For us that means that we focus on Faith, Family, Work, and Fitness…in that
order. We believe that if we balance all 4 of them well and in that order that we’ll be
A similar prioritization of work is described by John Beckett in his book Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul. Beckett writes:
Our priorities should be ordered like this: First, our relationship with God; then commitment to family; and only then commitment to our work and vocations.
When we hear these priorities, we just know they seem right. In Mark 12:30-31, it is clear that loving God comes first and then loving others. Ephesians 5 raises love for a spouse to a special level, and Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 address the special attention needed in raising children. But just because something “seems right” doesn’t mean it is easy.
When Priorities Become Disordered
As “right” as the God/Family/Work ordering seems, it is easy for our priorities to get disordered. Work can most commonly move up from its rank behind God and family in one of four ways (there are undoubtedly more, but hopefully this is a good start):
Work As Idol and Identity. We have discussed this in several posts, such as post #20 (Work As Usual–An Idol and Identity), #068 (The WHO of Leaders), #087 (Commitment To a WHO Identity) and most recently #107 (Work As Life). Work as an idol and identity is a product of both American culture as well as a business as usual culture. American culture, in particular, glorifies our work as our primary identity.
Our self-worth and value is wrapped-up in whatever we see as our primary identity. There are numerous problems that can flow from work being our primary identity and source of worth and value. Most importantly, a person can only have one primary identity, and they will sacrifice their secondary identities to ensure success in their primary identity. With work as identity and idol, identities grounded in things like faith, family and fitness will be compromised or even sacrificed to ensure success at work. That is disorder.
Work in Pursuit of Idols: For some, work is not an idol and identity but it becomes the means to acquire idols and identities. The American culture of achievement and the American marketing message of “more and bigger” can put tremendous pressure on people to work longer and harder to “fit in”, “get ahead” or “keep up with the Jones’s”. Social media amplifies the need to “keep up” by expanding our universe of “Jones’s” from our literal neighbors to everyone we ever knew from high school, college and beyond and by forcing us to “keep up” with their filtered and curated social media personas.
Whether it is the new car, the boat, the bigger house, the vacation house, the private schools, the country club, the season tickets, the dream vacations or the programs, camps and coaches for our children, the idols and identities frequently come at the expense of faith and family–more demanding jobs, overtime, multiple jobs, moving for jobs. Ironically, the family being hurt may itself be adding to the pressure to earn enough to acquire the idols and identities. Even more tragically, the worker can rationalize it all as being a good provider “for their family”. That is disorder.
Work As Oppressive Burden. In addition to being “necessary” for us to be fully human as creations in the image of a productive and creative God, work is necessary to care for ourselves and our family. It is a vehicle through which God fulfills His promise to provide for our needs. In fact, 1 Timothy 5:8 goes so far as to warn against failing to work and provide for our family. Prioritizing our family may require working to access God’s provision for our family.
The priorities are a balancing act. There will be times when fulfilling a work commitment burdens our family. Fulfilling our work commitments is “faithful” because God calls us to honor our commitments (recall the story of the Gibeonite deception in Joshua 9 when Joshua honored an oath even though it was procured through deception). Our priorities become disordered, however, when work’s demands and the burden they impose on our family is not for a season but become the “norm” at the sustained emotional and relational expense of our spouse and children. That is work as oppressive burden–it is disorder.
We do not believe it is “faithful” for a person to declare that they are not going to live up to the expectations of a job because of their faith–that lacks integrity. We also do not think it is “faithful” when a person rationalizes continuing a job that is destroying their family–that lacks trust in God’s ability to provide through work (perhaps a different job) and at a level (perhaps a different lifestyle) that is consistent with a healthy family. That is disorder.
Confusing Work for God. The third category of disorder can be the most insidious because it is uniquely the failing of the most “faithful”. Whereas work becoming an idol and identity, work in pursuit of idols, and work becoming an overbearing burden can happen to people regardless of their faith or vocation, work moving up the priority ranking because it is being confused for God is a problem uniquely experienced by those in faith-based non-profit work and those who have crossed the Sacred/Secular Gap to understand the sacred nature of their for-profit work. The very people trying to be the most “faithful” can end up with the most damaging disordered priorities.
This disorder occurs because the worker confuses “God’s work” with God, catapulting their work to the top of the priority structure ahead of family. This can happen with the pastor, missionary or non-profit ministry employee whose spouse and children suffer as a result of their “calling” if the person rationalizes the suffering as just part of putting God or “God’s work” first in their life. It can also happen when the faith-driven leader puts the success of their faith-driven business ahead of family because they are stewarding “God’s business”.
We believe a business or a vocation or a job or a calling are each “work” in life’s priority structure no matter how “holy” or sacred the title or the calling or how important the mission or ministry. The Bible tells us that ALL work is “God’s work”, and putting work ahead of family is a disordered priority, whether or not it is understood or labeled as “God’s work”.
The Bible also tells us that all work should glorify God and that all the commandments can be summed up in loving God and loving others. God is not glorified and the Great Commandment to love God and love others is not fulfilled by work that leads spouses to feel unloved or disrespected (Ephesians 5), children to become “discouraged” (Colossians 3:21), family relationships to become estranged or families to break up.
This disordered priority of work can be even more damaging when the person who is seen as doing “God’s work” (or their faith community) shames the family into believing that they must cheerfully accept the disordered priorities in order to be faithful themselves because “God” comes ahead of family.
Our priorities should be ordered like this: First, our relationship with God; then commitment to family; and only then commitment to our work and vocations. (John Beckett)
Keeping First Things First
As noted above, we do not mean to suggest that balancing Biblical priorities for “work WITHIN life” is easy. We live in a fallen world in which most people work in an environment of business as usual. We live in a fallen world in which marketing is designed to persuade us, and social media acts to convince us, we need and deserve more material things, which can produce pressure to work harder and longer to provide more and better. Again, the very family that suffers from work’s priority becoming disordered may unwittingly be an additional source of pressure to work at the expense of family!
A purely linear or hierarchical approach misses the reality of our world and the complexity of God’s commands. Commitments made to an employer should be honored, which means faith can’t be used as an excuse to do less than what was committed. The Bible calls us to work with excellence as though working for God, which means that doing a shoddy job in order to get home earlier is not a “faithful” option. Commitments to a family are covenantal and must be honored. How can the demands of business as usual and the fallen nature of our world be reconciled with priorities of God and family?
We believe it requires a combination of prayer, conversation and fellowship, mixed with integrity, trust and humility. \
Prayer: Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit. We believe God wants us to succeed at faith, family and work. God wants to help us find a third-way through seeming dilemmas. The same Holy Spirit that shows us God/Family/Work is the goal also wants to guide us to honor those priorities.
Conversation: Be open with family members about the demands of work and with work about the priority of family. Talk with family about the cost of “more and bigger” to faith and family. Try to find the third-way through apparent dilemmas together with God’s guidance.
Fellowship: Remain in close fellowship with a few trusted friends who understand Biblical priorities, understand your work demands, and have a window into your faith and family life. Ask them to tell you if the burden of work has ceased being seasonal and become normal. Ask them to tell you if they see your work hurting your relationships with God and your family. Ask them to pray for you to balance “faithfully” and find the third-way through apparent dilemmas.
Integrity: Recognize your covenant and commitment to family and work and do not use God or family as excuses for dishonoring either of them.
Trust: Trust God’s promise of provision. Be willing to leave a job that is incompatible with the boundaries of your faith, your relationship with God or with loving and caring for your family, believing that God will honor that choice through another avenue. It is about doing the right thing, regardless of the personal cost, because we can trust God to be who He says He is as our provider. Righteousness is a “first thing”–lean on God’s promises in Matthew 6:33 and Proverbs 21:21.
Humility: Be honest about whether work has been disordered above family or faith because you are building your kingdom, or because you have been captured by the cultural message for “more” that requires you to become a slave to work, or because you want to be recognized or be important or have influence or power, or because you are being affirmed for worldly accomplishments/awards/titles and it feels good, or because you are trying so hard to appear “Godly” that you have rationalized your work as God. Humility is a “first thing”–lean on God’s promise in Proverbs 22:4.
While most of our posts have been about “leading faithfully”, leaders are also workers. If leaders elevate work above faith or family, they are likely to demand the same of those they lead. The danger of disordered life priorities is even greater for business owners and leaders because their positions more naturally lend themselves to becoming idols and identities and the “Jones’s” in their lives can get even more difficult to chase. For faithful leaders to “lead faithfully”, they must set an example by “living faithfully”, which requires “working faithfully” with Biblical priorities of God, family and work–in that order.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): This seems like an appropriate time to revisit something I shared back in post #039. I fell victim to all of these disordered work scenarios.
I learned the importance of Keeping First Things First and the consequences of disordered priorities in 2003 when my marriage had been in a slow death-spiral and was disintegrating (God miraculously restored our relationship in November 2004, but that is a much longer story that you can read about in the book Miracles by Eric Metaxas. For those interested, here is a link to a PDF of the chapter called “God and Marriage”.). If you had asked me in 2003 about my priorities in life, I would have told you:
–Work (because I grew up believing that if you were a good provider, then you were, by definition a good husband and father).
–Children (wouldn’t my wife want this to be next?)
–Spouse (if anything was left)
–God (in theory, at least, but it was certainly somewhere down on the list).
What I learned (the hard way) was that my priorities were literally upside-down. They needed to be:
–God (He wants me to excel in the other areas)
–Spouse (healthier together, we are better for our children)
I am not saying how well I have been doing it (and I certainly haven’t been nailing it), but at least I know the goal and am trying to stay on the path–with prayer, conversation and fellowship that was completely absent in 2003.
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