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Your Work is God’s Work

October 19, 2011

Last week I attended a large deal-making convention. The place was brimming with investment bankers, private equity wonks, corporate development stiffs, and the like.

In other words, it was a room full of suits.

When we could no longer take the awesome power networking, the crowd neatly descended upon a cavernous ballroom theatre for a power lunch. Our featured keynote speaker was Ben Stein, the oddball economist who has somehow managed to cobble together a thriving career blending economics, political analysis and Hollywood star status.

I mostly associate Ben Stein with the movie, Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off, where he plays the excruciatingly monotone high school teacher standing at the front of the classroom attempting to engage the students: “Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?” 

In real life he is a little more colorful.

Mr. Stein is a pretty smart guy, and aside from his throwaway TV Shows, like “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and “America’s Most Smartest Model,” he can be frequently spotted in The New York Times business section, or The New Yorker, or a spot on CBS news opining on the current state of national politics and the economy. Not too shabby.

Once Mr. Stein took his place at the podium, he started ranting a bit about the Occupy Wall Street uprising, politely inquiring about the goals of the movement, and wondering how they might channel their vague attacks on corporate greed into something more productive.

Also, he mentioned several times his concern with their dress code and general standards of cleanliness.

Mr. Stein went on to comment on the importance of our young citizens’ willingness to work, to take jobs, whatever they were, in order to make ends meet. One might have gotten the impression from him that people are angry because their expectations are a bit out of whack.

I reflected on my own career. No one ever handed me a trust fund, or a silver-lined pathway lighting the way to my fabulous career. I had absolutely zero connections with the corporate elite. I went to a state school, all on grants and loans, then on to graduate school where I graduated, again, with 100% loans.

Then I struggled, and I was fine.

I had some good jobs – but I also took some jobs that I hated. I never expected anything different, either. I figured that at some point, even after getting educated, that you had to pay your dues, to suck it up, to press on – and that meant taking jobs – hard, difficult, un-glamorous jobs – in working your way to wherever, and just hope for the best. That is the beauty and chaos of America.

Ben Stein rambled on for a few more minutes and then ended the session with a surprising benediction:

“Don’t ever forget,” he said, “Your Work is God’s Work.”

Well. That came right out of left field, but I caught it.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 8:45 pm

    I have a hard time seeing my work as God’s work, even though I know I should do everything as for the Lord. It isn’t that I think I should have a better, fancier job. I got a degree in Social Work, so I wasn’t trying to get rich. But change after change has given me such a small job… and I miss working with clients but until we get certain things taken care of as a family, I cannot afford to take the pay cut that would come with going back into the field. Shot myself in the foot with not keeping my spending at the level of the previous income. I wanted to buy a house instead of renting. It’s all of my own making, so I’m trying some things that I know will change my attitude. Maybe I’ll print out a picture of Ben Stein with that quote on it and hang it in my cubicle!

    • October 21, 2011 6:13 am

      Carolyn, I do not know you, but I understand your feelings. Let me just encourage you for a moment.

      First of all, you are probably correct about some things being of your own making. I know how that can happen and then it is sometimes impossible to get untangled and free to make certain choices again. That is when your job likely looks the smallest. I won’t argue with you about that.

      At the same time, God is not small. You may see your job as small, but He does not. Based on Scripture, He sees it as a step in the journey and a test for future responsibility (Matthew 25:14-30) where the good servants were faithful with small things so the master put them over bigger things.

      You do not need to listen to the lies running through your head that tell you your job is small, you cannot make an impact until you get “certain things taken care of”, you have messed things up!

      Instead, focus on the promises from the Bible that tell you otherwise. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Being faithful in the small things will bring you opportunities in the bigger things. He will make your cause shine like the noonday sun.

      Turn and focus on Him and the rest will fade. I know it is not a simple as deciding once and it is done! Just keep deciding this every morning and just make it through that day…then the next…and then the next!

      Your job is important to those around you and your family. Treat it that way – as if it is the biggest job around – and you will be amazed at what happens!

    • October 21, 2011 6:22 am

      Good advice from Chris. Listen to him, Carolyn! Sometimes it is hard for us to actually see our jobs as important to God, but they are. Even the “small” ones. Even the tough ones. Especially the tough ones.

  2. October 19, 2011 9:28 pm

    Enjoyed this post. Especially the surprise ending. 🙂

  3. October 19, 2011 10:21 pm

    i have to admit that some people may be a bit out of whack about their whack. But then again…i am not one to really look very closely at people’s whack proportions.

  4. October 19, 2011 11:37 pm

    Ben Stein? Really? I thought he kind of went down hill after that free credit thing. He has always confused me. Obviously a very intelligent man, but how did he attain that star-status? Love his final statement, though. I kind of had to take the long way around to get to that point too. Maybe he doesn’t see it that way. Dunno. But it sounds like an interesting evening.

    • October 21, 2011 6:26 am

      I guess it is confusing, with all the different areas he is involved with. But if you look him up on Wikipedia, it is actually amazing the variety of projects he had done: from political speech writing to the voice of cartoon characters on Nickelodean. So no wonder you are confused.

  5. October 20, 2011 1:53 am

    Great catch, Bradley. Interesting reflections at a complicated time. And remembering that our work is God’s work is a great idea – even when it comes from out of left field. :>)

  6. October 20, 2011 6:37 am

    Hmmm…you paid for your own college education? You didn’t demand that college tuition be free?

    Our work is indeed God’s work. He ordained it.

  7. Dan permalink
    October 20, 2011 10:47 am

    Ben Stein is a Zionist, bigot, and general nut-job.

    Big miss on this one.

  8. October 20, 2011 11:29 am

    This touches a raw, raw nerve. Just yesterday my bonus son moved out of our home. He’d returned in December, with a stated intention of earning a four-year degree and abiding by the house rules we’d laid out. These rules included crazy demands like “don’t lie to us.” “Don’t be disrespectful in our home.” “Clean up after yourself.” Stuff like that.

    His dad gave him repeated warnings that we meant it when we said he needed to respect our rules. And last month, when he crossed a deeply-drawn line yet another time, his dad gave him 30-days notice.

    We had hoped he might use that time to acquire a second job, as he works 18 hours a week and is carrying two units this semester (the classes that interest him were full. He returned to school in January and has not yet seen an adviser to find out which courses might count towards the degree he claimed to want.)

    Now he’s working very hard to portray himself as a victim of his heartless parents. He “can’t” get another job because he won’t work at something he doesn’t love, and he thinks he might be up for a promotion. So he’s chosen to be homeless, or so he tells us.

    He’ll be 24 soon.

    We pray for him a lot.

    • October 20, 2011 2:58 pm

      Oh Sheila, how painful. I’m so sorry. So sorry.

    • October 20, 2011 4:44 pm

      Oh, this does hurt. You know it’s for his own good, but…

      • October 20, 2011 5:32 pm

        Exactly. We hope and pray that he’ll know it too, someday.

        Yesterday he told his father that he’d been looking for an excuse to toss him out.

        Truth is, we’ve spent the last month looking for a reason to tell him he could stay. He’s here now, getting the last of his things, and he’s calm, it’s peaceful. So I bite my tongue to keep from telling him so.

    • October 21, 2011 6:30 am

      THis must be heartwrenching, Sheila. People talk about “tough love,” but wow – it’s got to be another thing entirely to be living out those choices right in front of your eyes. Stick to your guns, though. It sounds like it’s a matter of maturity, and in my experience, the best teacher of maturity is hardship and even desperation. He will be okay. You will be okay. And, in time, the family relationships will be okay. It may be a long, complicated road for you, though.

      I have already been praying for him, and you.

      • October 21, 2011 8:26 am

        Thanks, Bradley. It is heartwrenching. And frustrating. This is our second round with him–he came home at 19, after being discharged by the Navy for sleepwalking, and left under a cloud a year later. That time it was months before he spoke directly to us.

        He seemed very earnest when he came to us last year laying out his school plan and asking to return, and assured us he would happily follow the house rules. I must sound really hidebound, but the disrespect and lying are big issues to us and we weren’t willing to endure another round of that.

        The hard part is that he was not raised to a sense of entitlement. Not at all.

        Thanks for your prayers.

  9. October 20, 2011 11:39 am

    I like Ben Stein. I think he was a speech writer for Nixon at one point. He seems pretty humorous.
    Our expectations have extreme power. I think my father raised me without a lot of entitlement, and I hope to raise my boys in the same way.

    • October 21, 2011 6:33 am

      Yes, he was a speech writer – that’s how he got started early on in politics. He actually wasn’t that humorous on stage, though. I think he’s more of a serious guy at heart and just found himself in these comedic roles.

      Your last comment there is enormously powerful, about expectations. That’s it. So much shapes the life we end up with, from the expectations that seep into our subconscious frame of reference. Parents have a lot to do with that, I’m afraid.

  10. Susan DiMickele permalink
    October 20, 2011 12:28 pm

    I like him too! No doubt he planned to sneak that comment in the end. Love it.

    Hey, and your career journey sounds a lot like mine — state schools, lots of work, scholarships, and loans and I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything. I just worry about the next generation (like my kids!)who think they are entitled to a certain standard of living.

    • October 21, 2011 6:34 am

      This entitlement thing… I wonder how long it will take for that to play out in our country, to know if it’s really true, and what the impact will be. I worry about the same thing.

  11. Phil permalink
    October 20, 2011 1:06 pm

    I think we may have forgotten to teach our kids how to work hard. This sense of entitlement frustrates me too. It is refreshing to meet a 20-something who is willing to work, fail, get back up, and keep pushing on. They are sadly rare these days.

    • October 21, 2011 6:46 am

      It’s interesting that there aren’t any twenty-somethings commenting here to offset our concern about entitlement… I know they are out there!

      I know and have met many young people who are hard working and ambitious. But unfortunately I see a fair share of the other side, too.

  12. October 20, 2011 4:47 pm

    Personally, I love Stein. He took on the whole Evolution debate in a masterful film a couple of years ago, where he wrapped experts up with some very simple questions.

    And we here at the Postal Service love him, because he first loved us:

    • October 21, 2011 6:53 am

      Wow, this is just from a few days ago! I told you, you can spot Ben Stein everywhere, once you start to look.

  13. October 20, 2011 6:02 pm

    I’m in favor of Stein too. His movie (Expelled) was -okay- in my opinion, but his interview of Richard Dawkins is a must-see.

    I want to be gentle in my opinion of the Occupy people. Some change is needed, I imagine. But still…

    In college I carried a full credit load and played baseball and after baseball worked part time. Spent my spring breaks sleeping in at my parents and grandparents homes, and my CD collection was bunk. Now, my wife and I drive old cars and have cell phones that can only-just call, and we’re paying off miserable 15-year (low interest!) loans.

    A lot of people my age and a little younger say that I’m lucky to have a job.


    But not lucky.

    • October 21, 2011 6:51 am

      Thanks for this, Bob. I remember those 15 year loans. Keep up the faith – they will be paid off some day! You are doing well. You are doing God’s work.

      (and by the way, my shoulder has been bothering me lately – can you take a look?:)

  14. October 21, 2011 10:15 pm

    Brad – This post was so interesting, as are the comments. My dad and I were just having a conversation recently about entitlements and menial jobs and immigration law and social security. It was one of “those” conversations.

    I suppose entitlement is really a continuum more so than a black and white issue. As Americans, we feel entitled to rights and privileges most of the world would never dream of. But I certainly wouldn’t expect someone to pay for me to live if I didn’t work. And yet even the way we value some skills over other seems to create a sense of entitlement – people who work with their minds (like me) tend to feel entitled to larger salaries than people who work with their hands (like my step-dad). Another notch on the continuum, perhaps.

    I really wonder what knowing that “your work is God’s work” does for one’s sense of entitlement. Does it heighten it? Or diminish it? Perhaps we should also remind ourselves that “his” or “her” work is God’s work – the banker, the plumber, the babysitter, the teacher. Maybe when we elevate the work of others, as well as our own, we give people more of a sense that being entitled to a job is a far better entitlement than a free ride.

    You have a way of making me think that I just love.

  15. October 22, 2011 8:24 pm

    Hey Brad,

    Yeah, us twenty-somethings are out here.
    I’m afraid that this is a crazy and complex game we’re playing here (i.e. – what’s ‘actually’ going on with our economy).

    Wild times…wish I could say I was earning a paycheck every 2 weeks. Not the case. Oh well. Gonna have to turn it up a notch.

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