Have you ever reached over on a Monday morning to hit that snooze button one more time? I know I have. Maybe you had a really busy weekend and feel exhausted. Maybe you know that as soon as you arrive at the office, an overwhelming project will await your attention on your desk. We may all have days when we do not feel like getting up for work, but we should always know why we get up and go.
No matter what your position, industry or role at work, you are not at your current job by accident. You are there to do so much more than collect your paycheck and pay your bills. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and God has blessed you with a job, He has handpicked you to be His salt and light in the marketplace.
Called to the Darkness
It's easy to forget that it's the darkest places that need light. During the early part of my professional career, I didn't understand that God wanted to do more than just bless me with a job: He wanted me to bless my place of employment. This misunderstanding led me to dart from one job to the next, holding four different jobs over three years. Each time I quit, I cited numerous reasons for my quick departures: My boss was mean; my co-workers were lazy or irresponsible; no one in the office seemed to take the company's mission seriously; and several co-workers were cheating on their spouses.
Far from bearing the fruit of righteousness, these quick job changes caused my family and friends great concern. Rather than share a detailed account of my experiences, I devised a one-size-fits-all explanation. "Darkness," I would respond stoically. "I left my job because I was surrounded by darkness." I was young and highly employable, yet the perfect job seemed perpetually out of reach.
My "righteous indignation" took its toll and I began buckling under the weight of mental and emotional stress. Here I am, I thought, trying to follow the Lord, taking a stand against darkness by leaving intolerable work environments—yet something is terribly wrong.
One night, I cried out to God in sheer desperation. I knelt in prayer and asked, Why do I feel this way, Lord? Why am I constantly confronted with darkness in the places where you have made it possible for me to work? Where is the light?
Almost instantaneously, a still, small voice answered me in my spirit: You are the light.
As the Lord taught me more about this unique ministry of taking Jesus to work and living out my faith on the job, I began to understand that our assignment in the marketplace is to be a vessel for God's anointing. Amazingly, our function as God's vessels of light in the marketplace has a lot in common with the function of a vocational minister. In both cases, individuals need to be ready and willing for God to use them whenever and however He chooses. We cannot meditate on that truth long without realizing that fulfilling our marketplace assignment requires not only professional excellence, but also an uncompromising devotion to God.
God uses all of our experiences. He places us as "missionaries in the marketplace" not only so we can evangelize the lost, but also so He can shape us into His image while He uses us to touch unbelievers. Our marketplace assignment develops and perfects our personal testimonies of faith, commitment and trust in God. While at times this process can be painful, God deliberately and lovingly plants us in places where He can work out the imperfections in our lives. The temptation to leave in the middle of an assignment may be great, as it was for me early in my career. Yet while our flesh is attracted to comfortable outward conditions, God values our inner maturity too much to let us slide! This level of maturity is what Paul references in Ephesians 4:11–15.
Do not be surprised if you find people at work who are struggling with an area of weakness similar to something you have dealt with yourself. I have come to realize that we are meant to share liberally with others the growth lessons we learn from our marketplace assignments for their benefit and for the glory of God. As we take this task seriously, we will begin to experience genuine compassion for the people who are outside the protection of the Most High God. We will eagerly and wholeheartedly partner with God as He draws men and women to Himself.
God's Plan for Work
Everyone might like the idea of taking a permanent vacation, but in reality work has been part of God's plan for mankind from the beginning. "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden'" (Genesis 2:15–16). This interaction between God and the first man took place before sin entered the earth. The Lord has always intended for us to work and eat the fruit of our labors. Idleness has never been part of His will. In fact, "having nothing to do" is part of the fall of man.
We know that Jesus came to save us from sin and bring us into the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 20, He tells a parable that illustrates His call for us: "He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went" (Matthew 20:2–5). God is calling us to labor in His vineyard. He wants to rescue us from idleness by calling us to work, and He has enough going on to keep all of us busy. Not only that, He has promised to reward us for our labor. It just does not get better than that!
It is easy to imagine that we are laboring in God's vineyard when we volunteer for our church or do other ministry work. Yet God intends that the marketplace jobs we do every day be set apart for His glory just as much as if we were pastoring a church or traveling as an evangelist. God wants us to see all the work we do as a holy calling. Paul said it this way: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23).
Work is a blessing. We all understand this when we are out of a job and need to find employment to keep the bills paid. Yet God's purpose for our work goes so far beyond meeting our financial needs. Each job or "assignment" we receive from Him is part of His divine plan to expand His Kingdom. Unfortunately, there are still people—and some believers are among them—who stand idle in the marketplace just like the men in the parable. Some are lazy, but others simply do not understand why they are there. They do not know God's plan for work.
God wants to make sure we are fulfilling the roles He prepared for us before we were born. The Bible teaches us that God judges us based on our stewardship of what He entrusts to us in this life. When it comes to our professional lives, we know He is interested in how we spend the money we earn and how we treat the people we meet. Do we also realize that He is just as interested in the quality of the work we do?
Passport to the Lost
Think about the lives of missionaries. They leave the comfort of their homeland to take the Gospel to people who would never have the chance to hear it otherwise. Missionaries know when they enter a new land that they may be the only representatives of Jesus Christ that the people ever see. They conduct themselves in a way that is above reproach to avoid hurting their Lord's reputation. In short, they live their lives on the mission field exactly the way we should live our lives when we go into the marketplace.
The most obvious meaning of the word missionary is "someone on a mission." That is who we are! First and foremost, our work in the marketplace is a passport that affords us entrance into the lives of lost people we would never otherwise meet. They may be struggling in their families, suffering from past hurts or simply searching for purpose and meaning in life. They are people made in the image of God, people whom He loves dearly.
Think of it—you may be the only real Christian that the people on your job ever get to see. God is calling us to take the Gospel to those we supervise, to our co-workers and even to our superiors. That is what it means to be salt and light in the marketplace! Just as God sends missionaries overseas to bring the Gospel to other cultures, He sends each one of us to our unique professional subculture to carry His Good News. When men and women see us as loving and compassionate people who set a standard for excellence in all we do, they will be drawn to the God we serve.
In order for us to accomplish our "mission in the marketplace," we must understand the importance of the positions we hold and the professional roles we play. We must understand that God will give us the wisdom and strength to please our earthly bosses and our heavenly Boss! We do not need to compromise one for the other. When we are focused on faithfully representing Jesus in our character, conduct and work ethic, we cannot help but perform our jobs with excellence.
Jesus summed up this divine combination of holiness and excellence in Matthew 10:16: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." We must never think that being spiritual means being ignorant! Jesus tells us that it is possible to be wiser than the world and yet remain untainted by its ways. When we take Jesus to work with us, we ensure that His wisdom will guide us in all that we do.