I was thirty-four and walking through the door of the largest advertising agency in Minneapolis for my first day. How could this be? I had been offered a job for which I didn’t have the necessary “pedigree.” While that job would fade away in three years, it positioned me for another assignment that would be pivotal for my future.
Working in communications almost didn’t happen for me. While I always enjoyed writing, my life had gotten off track. My father died when I was eighteen and I didn’t take it well. I ended up dropping out of college and enlisting in the Air Force to beat being drafted into the Army.
By the time I was thirty-four, I was married with two children but didn’t have the required college degree, advanced or undergraduate, employers expected.
The agency job was a turning point in my life. My boss Dave was a real gift from God. He saw things in me I didn’t see in myself. He always gave me challenging work, forcing my raw abilities to develop, and gave me on-the-job training. He was more than an employer; he became like a father to me, someone who wanted me to do well.
Our Compassionate Employer
Not all of us have bosses like Dave, but we can all work for a compassionate heavenly Father.
The parable Jesus tells in Matthew 20:1-16 is usually referred to as the “Workers in the Vineyard.” In his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey more aptly dubs it the “Parable of the Compassionate Employer.” In this perspective, it’s about the vineyard owner’s sensitivity and compassion for the unemployed and his great generosity.
Our Father wants all of us to make ourselves useful, to him and to one another (Gen 1:28, Gal. 5:13). He desires for everyone to have the dignity of work as well as the opportunity to contribute to the shared good, like the vineyard owner:
- He personally goes out to find workers. He starts by hiring the number of workers he needs. Perhaps he hopes the others will find work after he leaves.
- He goes out four more times throughout the day and discovers more people still looking for work. Each time he hires more until almost everyone has work to do.
- With only an hour left, he goes again and finds the last few remaining. Many would have given up by now, but maybe they’re too embarrassed to go home. He could have easily given them a handout but instead, gives them work. The result is they’re able to contribute and will be paid for their work, returning home with their heads held high and their self-respect and dignity intact.
- Now it comes time to get paid. Only the first to be hired have any agreement about what they’d be paid—a day’s wages. Some of the others agreed to take the vineyard owner at his word—to be paid what is “right.” The last group had no commitment at all.
- He amazes them all with a very different view of what is “right.” Starting with the last hired, he pays every one of them one day’s wages. He is generous when it comes to anyone working in his vineyard. It turns out his justice is cloaked in mercy.
With this parable, Jesus was describing the kingdom of heaven and the characteristics of his Father, whom he had come to serve.
As coworkers in Christ, we, too, are working for our Father. Just like my boss Dave had done with me, we can exhibit our Father’s characteristics in our work and in our relationships.
The Heart of Our Call
Much of the discussion around faith and work focuses on being “stewards of creation.” We take the raw materials God provides and draw out their potential. Each of us is called to work the soil entrusted to our care, to get our hands dirty, to make ourselves useful and helpful, and to foster a civilization that can flourish.
Being stewards of creation emphasizes our functional role, the “doing” part of God’s plan. This is the outward aspect, the face of our calling.
But in all the doing, it’s easy to miss the relational aspect of working for our Father, the heart. It’s the “being” part that fuels the fire of devotion and dedication even through the toughest of times.
A New Attitude
The idea of working for a heavenly Father sounds nice, but what does it actually look like?
Ed Karbowski works out of his home as an IT “help desk.” Isolated from management, coworkers, and clients, his work is often tedious and can intrude on his life 24/7, usually at the most inopportune time. He was frustrated by this until he had a change of perspective:
Working for a small, private company, I need to wear many hats. My role has increased exponentially, but my compensation and recognition has been frozen. I felt exploited, and it was affecting my attitude.
The Holy Spirit was constantly bringing to mind my poor attitude. While I felt exploited, I knew I shouldn’t be looking at things this way. I work for my Father!
I am getting the opportunity to use the talents God gave me to build his kingdom and serve people he has placed around me. This brings me dignity and fulfillment.
Focusing on working for our Father is key to enabling the good of work to minimize the toil of work. As Ed found, this focus makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.