Who Are the Folks at Work, and Why Even Care?

Here’s a verse for you not found in the Bible:  “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get” (Gump 1:1).  Kids are the exception.  They always seem to know what they’re going to get.  That’s because they mash the chocolates first. Take this from an old pro.  I usually caved in each one of them with my finger in order to make sure I didn’t end up with a lame flavor like lemon cream.   It infuriated my dad to see indentions in every chocolate of a holiday gift box.  Fortunately, there were four of us kids, which provided some level of deniability.

Now let me say your workplace is like a box of chocolates.  On the outside everybody looks the same—smiles and professional attitudes.  On the inside it’s something else.  How do you know what you’re going to get? Take a lesson from the kids.  Push a little and find out.

I haven’t been in a secular workplace for many years, but I have lived it vicariously through friends and family and folks in the churches I’ve served.  In the average workplace, marital problems and divorce are major emotional stressors.  People bring this pain to work hidden inside them.

Believe it or not, pet grief is another common one.  Somebody’s Golden Lab needs to be euthanized.  The sorrow is real to them.  Of course then there are the usual suspects like health scares, job security, and kids doing stupid things.

People limp along with these crazy burdens, trying hard to remain high-functioning.

The Bible has something to say about the whole thing.

Psalm 23:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He makes me to walk in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil.  My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Honestly, who wouldn’t want that?

But the sticking point is right at the beginning of the Psalm, where it says, “The Lord is my_______.”  Before you can go any further, you have to fill in the blank.  Your answer has to match what is found in the Psalm, or else everything bottlenecks right there.

You can’t say, “The Lord is my childhood religion” and hope for all the blessings promised. 

“Shepherd” means that the Lord has the say-so in your life. He has the right to restrict and to allow, to choose and to refuse for you.  You must listen to Christ in order for Him to be your Shepherd.

Here’s the hard truth:  most of your friends at work, whether they’re Christians or not, aren’t exactly into listening to the heavenly Christ.

But there’s another way.

In Matt 9:35 Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages.  He found gross ignorance, so He “taught in their synagogues.”  He found bad news everywhere, so “He proclaimed the gospel [the good news] of the kingdom of God.”  He found disease and affliction, so He healed all of them.

When He saw the crowds in this condition, He felt sorry for them (Matt. 9:36).  They were harassed, pummeled by the relentless forces of life—and helpless to stand against any of it.

The Bible at this point could just as easily have been describing any of our workplaces—where people converge for ten hours a day and try to make a living while holding at bay their private desperation.

The whole scene was “like a flock of sheep without a shepherd,” a metaphor understood by ancient ears to convey hopelessness.  Sheep can’t survive without shepherds.   They eventually wander into areas where predators pick them off.  Those that stay where they are, graze a patch of grass down to nothing, defecate where they eat, and increase their bacteria intake until they become ill.

This is what Jesus sees when he sees the people of your workplace.  He doesn’t see impressive, capable, beautifully tanned individuals.

But while the Son of God feels compassion, He is far from despairing.  He said to His disciples, “the harvest is plentiful” (Matt. 9:37).  Jesus switches gears from the metaphor of a demolished scattered flock to a field of crops ready to ripen.  He sees an opportunity to harvest these souls for the kingdom of God.

There’s only one problem:  “the laborers are few.”

If I had been there, I probably would have said, “Don’t worry, Jesus.  We don’t need anybody else anyway. You’re good enough.”  I’m pretty sure I would have said something like that because it’s what I often think.  Like most of us, I have a hunch that adding people to the work of God is a risky idea, and sometimes disastrous.

Think of the weird things you’ve heard from folks allegedly in ministry.  Worse, consider the breaking news you’ve sometimes seen when yet another leader disappoints an entire segment of the Christian population.  That’s why I would have said, “Lord, if you start adding people to the effort, it’s going to spoil things.”

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t share those perfectionist sentiments.  Otherwise, nobody at all would be allowed to participate in ministry, including me.

Apparently, Jesus wasn’t afraid of our goofing things up.  He told the disciples, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38).  Ultimately the real problem is not with the folks at our jobs.  It’s with our availability and willingness to reach them.

Only prayer of the most earnest kind can dislodge us from places of comfort.  You and I, the potential laborers, have powerful reasons why we shouldn’t get involved at any deeper level with the problematic folks at work.  “I don’t know enough.”  “I’m not an evangelist.” “That isn’t my personality.”

Incidentally, Jesus has heard every one of these.  When we pray the Lord would thrust out workers, we’re basically asking Him to overcome all these objections.  You’re praying against your own reluctance to reach people for Christ.  And it’s important that that happens.  God knows your coworkers aren’t listening to Jesus in heaven, but they might listen to Jesus in you.

This isn’t about pirating work hours for Bible study, or doing things that will get you reported to Human Resources.  It’s more winsome than that.  God sends His presence and Word into the office, all wrapped up in skin and teeth and hair.  That’s us.  We effectively bring the Shepherd of souls into contact with our coworkers – people whose protective veneers often mask afflictions of every kind.

This dynamic which we call incarnation, is similar to what happened when the Word first became flesh in Jesus Christ (c.f. John 1:1, 14). Though we are nowhere near the level of perfection He represents, our imperfection hardly deters God. 

For a while, you are the word of God to folks who refuse to read the Bible.  You are the first and possibly the last Bible some of them will ever read.

Yet it’s incredible how quickly we can grow numb to that fact.  My particular workplace is my church.  I’ve known a few people there longer than others—My wife of over 30 years, for instance, and two elders with whom I’ve served for the last decade.

Because I see them so much, it’s easy to begin to feel like they don’t need my help.  After all, they’re big boys and girls. They know how to read their Bible and pray and be spiritual.  It’s not critical that I’m even in a good mood when I’m around them.  If I’m offensive, they’ll just get over it.  They have to.

If you start living life that way, you’re done with shepherding souls to Jesus.  You’ve allowed familiarity to dull your desire to be a blessing to other people, some of whom are vitally important to you.

And don’t even talk about the folks and situations you might consider unimportant.  Last week I met with a lapsed Christian who is not a part of our church.  He had some questions about organizational stuff—things I am well acquainted with.

I figured I could answer those questions while daydreaming about cheesecake.  It was going to be another plain old meeting.  No big deal.

But then another thought came along, no doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit—What about shepherding this person to Jesus?  I had exactly three minutes to pray, so I did.

As I sat down with my new friend, it struck me how little I knew about him.  We were talking about religious surface issues and I realized I didn’t know what was in this piece of “chocolate.”

Again, a sudden thought—Mash on it a little.  No, I said back.  That’s rude. Then why are you here, John?  Why do you pray for me to use you and then declare every situation off-limits?

So I mashed.  Which was scary.  When you are laboring for the Lord out in His field, just because there’s something brown in front of you doesn’t mean it’s chocolate.  If you mash it, you might get a nasty surprise.  Some vitriolic sentiments might come out that makes everybody feel uncomfortable.  And I really didn’t want to uncork all of that stuff right there in the coffee shop.

I went ahead with it anyway.

“Ahem.  Say, uh…How is your relationship with Jesus these days?”

The ensuing one hour conversation didn’t lead to an altar call.

But it did put another laborer out on the field.


Photo Credit:  Andi Jetaime

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