The Lagos Worker and the Gospel

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In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

  • As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.
  • As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.
  • As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

 

What’s your Calling?

For the past several years, the theme of Calling has been very dear to me. I have increasingly come to see that it is a crucial truth for escaping the humdrum of modern life. As such, I am always on the lookout for books which help to clarify what it’s all about and provide much-needed guidance to all who are seeking to uncover the mystery. And, lately, I read Os Guinness’s masterpiece on the subject. It is at once thorough and lively, learned and interesting, with a continual focus on the Saviour who obediently surrendered to his Father’s call. His book is a delight to read and a feast to relish. I can do little more than offer his points on calling which he carefully develops throughout the book and hope they stimulate you to get the book for yourself and devour its nutrients.


  • Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.
  • When something more than human seeking is needed if seeking is to be satisfied, then calling means that seekers themselves are sought.
  • The notion of calling, or vocation, is vital to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis for individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.
  • Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.the call
  • God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.
  • A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.
  • God’s calling is the key to igniting a passion for the deepest growth and highest heroism in life.
  • The notion of calling is vital to the modern search for a basis for moral responsibility and to an understanding of ethics itself.
  • The call of Jesus is personal but not purely individual; Jesus summons his followers not only to an individual calling but also to a corporate calling.
  • Calling reminds Christians ceaselessly that, far from having arrived, a Christian is someone who in this life is always on the road as “a follower of Christ” and a follower of “the Way”.
  • The reverse side of calling is the temptation of conceit.
  • The truth of calling touches closely on the link between giftedness and desire and the almost inescapable temptation of envy.
  • Calling, which played a key role in the rise of modern capitalism, is one of the few truths capable of guiding and restraining it now.
  • Calling is the best antidote to the deadly sin of sloth.
  • Calling directly counters the great modern pressure towards secularization because the call of Jesus includes a summons to the exercise of the spiritual disciplines and the experience of supernatural realities.
  • Calling directly counters the great modern pressure toward privatization because of its insistence that Jesus Christ is Lord of every sphere of life.

Living Words – Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881)

Thomas_Carlyle_by_Sir_John_Everett_Millais_1st_Bt‘Give us, O give us the man who sings at his work! Be his occupation what it may, he is equal to any of those who follow the same pursuit in silent sullenness. He will do more in the same time—he will do it better—he will persevere longer. One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst he matches to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, altogether past calculation its powers of endurance. Efforts, to be permanently useful, must be uniformly joyous—a spirit all sunshine—graceful from very gladness—beautiful because bright.’

Your Work matters

Here is a short poem I shared with colleagues at work to help us remember that all the little and routine tasks we carry out are quite significant. Nothing is insignificant. God is pleased with every work well done. Therefore, we should give it our best.

It’s another day.

You call the client,

You ensure he’s OK.

You confirm her prescription,

You notify Chronic Care.

You receive the forms,

You submit to CIM.

Evening comes, the day is gone.

Another day, the same routine.

 

Where does it all lead?

Meaningless routine?

 

From above the answer comes:

No, no, Your work matters!

 

When you serve, when you care.

When you help, when you check.

You live for something greater than you;

You add to the world,

You build the nation.

 

Through the effort, your company grows;

Through your task, the goal is won.

Further still –

Through your work, your God is served;

For to Him all work is done.

And every work truly done is a pleasant sacrifice.

What sort of offering do you then present?

Beyond Premium Health, beyond CS*,

Your work matters, for it matters to God.

*‘CS’ refers to the Client Service unit of the company

How Faith impacts Work

Does one’s Christian belief have any impact on one’s work? Tim Keller discusses this at a recent Faith at Work conference. You can find the video here. Below are the five ways he kellersuggests:

  • Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work can destroy you.
  • It gives you a sense of the dignity of all work, even menial  labour, without which work could bore you.
  • It gives you a moral compass, without which work could corrupt you.
  • It gives you a world and life view that shapes the character of your work without which work could master and use you.
  • Faith gives us hope in the midst of the inadequacies of our society.

Providence and our Work

The works of God are broadly divided into 2 categories: Creation and Providence. The second category refers to how God preserves, directs, and governs all he has created. And the Scriptures clearly testify to this important truth – Ps. 103:19, Eph. 1:11, Job 37: 5,10, Matt.6:26, Acts 17: 26, Phil. 4:19, Ps. 75: 6,7.

They teach that God is in touch with every detail of our lives. His all-seeing eye and providential care extends to our day-to- day work. And He preserves, directs, and governs us through our various callings.  The Puritan pastor John Flavel (1627-1691) sheds more light on this.


flavel*An excellent performance of providence, respecting the good of both your bodies and souls, concerns that employment and calling it has ordered for you in this world. It has not only an eye upon your well-being in the world to come, but upon your well-being in this world also, and that very much depends upon the station and vocation to which it calls you.

Now the providence of God with respect to our civil callings may be displayed very takingly in the following particulars.

In directing you to a calling in your youth, and not permitting you to live an idle, useless and sinful life, as many do who are but burdens to the earth, the wens of the body politic, serving only to disfigure and drain it, to eat what others earn. Sin brought in sweat (Genesis 3:19), but now, not to sweat increases sin. He that lives idly cannot live honestly, as is plainly enough intimated (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12). But when God puts men into a lawful calling, in which the labour of their hands or heads is sufficient for them, it is a very valuable mercy; for in so doing they ‘eat their own bread’ (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Many a sad temptation is happily prevented and they are ordinarily funished by it for works of mercy to others, and surely ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

In ordering you to such callings and employments in the world as are not only lawful in themselves but most suitable to you. There are many persons employed in sinful trades and arts, merely to furnish other men’s lusts. They do not only sin in their employments, but their very employments are sinful. They trade for hell, and are factors for the devil. Demetrius and the craftsmen at Ephesus got their estates by making shrines for Diana (Acts 19:24, 25), i.e., little cases or boxes with folding leaves, within which the image of that idol sat enshrined. These were carried about by the people in procession in honour of their idol. And at this day, how many wicked arts and employments are there invented, and multitudes of persons maintained by them, merely to gratify the pride and wantonness of a debauched age!

Now to have an honest and lawful employment, in which you do not dishonour God in benefiting yourselves, is no small mercy. But if it is not only lawful in itself, but suited to your genius and strength, there is a double mercy in it. Some poor creatures are engaged in callings that eat up their time and strength, and make their lives very uncomfortable to them. They have not only consuming and wasting employments in the world, but such as allow them little or no time for their general calling, and yet all this does but keep them and theirs alive. Therefore, if God has fitted you with an honest employment in which you have less toil than others, and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of Providence for you.

In settling you in such an employment and calling in the world, as possibly neither yourselves nor parents could ever expect you should attain to. There are among us such persons as, on this account, are signally obliged to divine Providence. God has put them into such a way as neither they nor their parents ever planned. For look how the needle in the compass turns now this way, then that way, and never ceases moving till it settles to the north point; just so it is in our settlement in the world. A child is now designed for this, then for that, but at last settles in that way of employment to which Providence designed him. How strangely are things wheeled about by Providence! Not what we or our parents, but what God designed shall take place. Amos was very meanly employed at first, but God designed him for a more honourable and comfortable calling (Amos 7:14, 15). David followed the ewes, and probably never raised his thoughts to higher things in the days of his youth; but God made him the royal shepherd of a better flock (Psalm 78:70, 71). Peter and Andrew were employed as fishermen, but Christ calls them from that to a higher calling, to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:18, 19). Pareus, when he was fourteen years old, was by the instigation of his stepmother placed with an apothecary; but Providence so wrought that he was taken off from that and fitted for the ministry, in which he became a fruitful and eminent instrument to the Church. James Andreas was, by reason of his father’s inability to keep him at school, designed for a carpenter, but was afterwards, by the persuasion of friends and assistance of the church- flock, sent to Stuttgart, and thence to the University, and so attained to a very eminent station of service to the Church. A master builder Oecolampadius was by his father designed for a merchant; but his mother, by urgent entreaties, prevailed to keep him at school, and this man was a blessed instrument in the reformation of religion. I might easily cite multitudes of such, but a taste may suffice.

In securing your estates from ruin. ‘Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and all that he hath?’ (Job 1:10). This is the enclosure of Providence, which secures to us what by its favour we acquire in the way of honest industry.

In making your calling sufficient for you. It was the prayer of Moses for the tribe of Judah: ‘Let his hands be sufficient for him’ (Deuteronomy 33:7), and it is no small mercy if yours be so to you. Some there are that have work, but not strength to go through with it; others have strength, but no employment for it. Some have hands, and work for them; but it is not sufficient for them and theirs. If God bless your labours, so as to give you and yours necessary supports and comfort in the world by it, it is a choice providence, and with all thankfulness to be acknowledged.

If any that fear God shall complain that, although they have a calling, yet it is a hard and laborious one, which takes up too much of their time which they would gladly employ in other and better work, I answer that it is likely that the wisdom of Providence foresaw this to be the most suitable and proper employment for you; and if you had more ease and rest, you might have more temptations than now you have. The strength and time which is now taken up in your daily labours, in which you serve God, might otherwise have been spent upon such lusts in which you might have served the devil.

Moreover, hereby it may be your health is the better preserved, and natural refreshments made the sweeter to you. ‘The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep’ (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

And as to the service of God, if your hearts are spiritual, you may enjoy much communion with God in your very employments, and you have some intervals and respites for that purpose. Have you not more spare hours than you employ to that end?

‘But all my labours will scarcely suffice to procure me and mine the necessaries of life. I am kept short and low to what others are, and this is a sad affliction.’

Though the wisdom of Providence has ordered you a lower and poorer condition than others, yet consider how many there are that are lower than you in the world. You have but little of the world, yet others have less. Read the description of those persons (Job 30:4, etc.). If God has given you but a small portion of the world, yet if you are godly He has promised never to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Providence has ordered that condition for you which is really best for your eternal good. If you had more of the world than you have, your heads and hearts might not be able to manage it to your advantage. A small boat must have but a narrow sail. You have not lacked hitherto the necessities of life, and are commanded ‘having food and raiment (though none of the finest) to be therewith content.’ ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked’ (Psalm 37:16): better in the acquisition, sweeter in the fruition, and more comfortable in the account.

Well then, if Providence has so disposed of you all, that you can eat your own bread, and so advantageously directed some of you to employments that afford, not only necessities for yourselves and families, but a surplus for works of mercy to others, and all this brought about for you in a way you did not plan; let God be owned and honoured in this providence. Will you not henceforth call Him: ‘My Father, the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)? Surely it was the Lord that guided you to settle as you did in those days of your youth; you reap at this day, and may to your last day, the fruits of those early providences in your youth.

Now see that you walk answerably to the obligations of Providence in this particular; and see to it in the fear of God that you do not abuse any of those things to His dishonour which He has wrought for your comfort. To prevent this, I will here drop a few needful cautions, and conclude this particular point.

  • Do not be slothful and idle in your vocations. It is said that Augustus built an Apragapolis, a city void of business; but I am sure God never erected any city, town or family to that end. The command to Adam (Genesis 3:19) no doubt reaches all his posterity, and Gospel-commands bind it upon Christians (Romans 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). If you are negligent, you cannot be innocent.
  • And yet do not be so intent upon your particular callings as to make them interfere with your general calling. Beware you do not lose your God in the crowd and hurry of earthly business. Mind that solemn warning: ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition’ (1 Timothy 6:9). The inhabitants of Oenoe, a dry island near Athens, bestowed much labour to draw in a river to water it and make it fruitful. But when the sluices were opened, the waters flowed so abundantly that it overflowed the island and drowned the inhabitants. The application is obvious. It was an excellent saying of Seneca: ‘I do not give, but lend myself to business.’
  • Remember always the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing, not human diligence alone. ‘But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:18). The devil himself was so far orthodox as to acknowledge it: ‘Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands’ (Job 1:10). Recommend therefore your affairs to God in prayer. ‘Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass’ (Psalm 37:4-5). And do not meddle with that which you cannot recommend to God in prayer for a blessing.
  • Be well satisfied in that station and employment in which Providence has placed you, and do not so much as wish yourself in another. ‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called’ (1 Corinthians 7:20). Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.

*This is an excerpted chapter from the book The Mystery of Providence. You can read the entire book here.

The Essence of Business

Below is a post I originally published on my sister blog over a year ago. It briefly describes what business is really all about.

I saw a man yesterday morning making concrete blocks. He was mixing sand, cement and water, and pouring the mixture into a mould. Then he would turn the mould upside down, lift it up, and out came the block. It would be left to dry out in the sun with all the others that were made that morning.

Houses in Nigeria are normally constructed with concrete blocks, and here is someone making them for us. His strength or skill supplies our need. I don’t know how to make blocks. Though it is obvious that you combine those three items, but in what proportion? Too little water would prevent the grains from sticking together and would result in a weak mass of concrete. Excess water does no good, too. It takes skill and knowledge to mix the materials in just the right proportion. What about removing the mould? Do it carelessly and the whole thing falls flat to the ground.

The beauty in this is that I don’t need to learn how to make blocks. Agreed, it’s a weakness for me. On my friend’s resume, however, it’s a glaring strength. Every skill is a strength, whether acquired or innate. And he freely trades it in return for the product of another’s strength, be it food, clothing, or healthcare. By cultivating a skill he is able to meet the needs of others and also his own. Through his work he makes himself useful to others, while the rest of society, in turn, make themselves useful to him.

This is the essence of business.

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