At Grace, we use something called the Culture Index, a behavioral assessment. Similar to the DISC, the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, or many other such tools, the Culture Index measures individuals according to several areas relevant to the workplace, including autonomy (whether one is a “gas pedal” or “brake” kind of person), people orientation (introvert v. extrovert), whether one is fast paced or slow paced, and attention to detail. Like other devices, we use it simply as one aid in self-awareness, team dynamics, and job matching. It’s helpful to think of the Culture Index as a bell curve, with placement in each category along the curve relative to the average.
When looking at the autonomy scale of the Culture Index model, I find myself four standard deviations from the mean, depending on the curve, in the top 1.0-1.5 percent of the population in “gas pedal” personality (in nonscientific terms). This means that my natural bent is “move, move, move;” I want to make decisions quickly, then make them happen yesterday. I am an initiator (no shock to my family or team).
While this personality trait has its merits in the context of leadership, it can often be antithetical to the whole enterprise of an intimate walk with Jesus. Even if you’re not wired like me, even if you’re more “brake” than “gas pedal,” modern culture bends us toward constant motion. Busyness is king. The pace of life is relentless, and technology, which promises increased efficiency and the lure of leisure, actually increases our sense of urgency, rendering everything urgent and worthy of immediate response. As a result, we find ourselves more stressed and wrung out than perhaps at any point in history. According to a study by Gallup of 7, 500 full-time American employees, more than 70 percent of adults in their 20s and 30s are experiencing at least some level of burnout. Author Carey Nieuwhof notes a recent study of leaders, in which 93 percent identified that they had wrestled with some degree of burnout in the past year alone.
As Christ-followers, we know that this isn’t what life is meant to be. At Grace, and in Christian education, we teach and (hopefully!) model for students an integrated life, rather than a disintegrated one. This means that, instead of Creator and creation being separated, and each individual aspect of creation having its own discrete identity, God’s Word and His truth speaks to all of life and all of creation. Likewise, all of creation is interrelated; every aspect touches and concerns every other, because God created it that way.
This means that every aspect of our life, whether our work, or loving our friends and family, or anything else are all intended to be acts of worship, because worship is intended to permeate everything. I’ve said before that, as humans, we’re not just created to worship, but we’re created worshipping. Like the Bluetooth and cellular features on our phones are always looking for signals, our hearts are always worshipping: expressing value, worth, and paying something or someone our ultimate allegiance (unlike cellular and Bluetooth, however, we can’t turn it off. Worship is our “factory default”).
For the Christian, Oswald Chambers says that “worship is giving God the best He has given you. Whenever you get a blessing from God, giving it back to Him is a love gift.” God gives us blessings, meaning everything, so we can enjoy them and use them to bless others. And, He’s created us to find contentment in loving Him and loving others. The greatest use of the blessings He’s given us, and our best and ultimate enjoyment of those blessings, come when we use them for His glory- to make much of His name.
I enjoy a great meal, but the greatest enjoyment of that meal comes when I share it with others, around the table talking about God’s goodness in our lives. Good food and drink are best enjoyed as an act of appreciation, in worship of the Giver of all good things. Vacations are great, and rest over the holidays and on Sabbath are necessary, but those things are a rest from my work, and I’m most content when work is worship, and I’m serving the Lord by serving the people around me. Work and life are intended to be worship. We aren’t supposed to leave worship to go to work, but simply to exchange one form of worship for another.
In the case of work, this is often not the case. Often, even if work is worship, it’s worship of us, rather than God. Addiction is a form of worship, of disordered loves, loving something else more than God, and, as Nieuwhof notes, workaholism is one of the few addictions that actually rewards you. If you drink to excess, you may lose your job, but if you work to excess in our culture, people will esteem you, give you a promotion, and you’ll make more money. In so many ways, our system is designed to reward work as worship of self.
Ultimately, however, any idolatry, even the idolatry of work, takes its toll on us, costing us our health, our families, and leaving us with only hollow, soulless satisfaction. My ability to see and treat life, and particularly, work as worship is always tied up in the depths of my relationship with Jesus, and my ability to press into Him.
A few days ago, as I was sitting still before the Lord, asking Him to speak to me, He was gracious to do so. And, as always seems when that happens, His words were few and profound: “Sit still. Listen. Wait. Rest.” Psalm 73 reminds me, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” My contentment lies only in the Lord, and not in the things of this world, and unless I’m resting in Him daily, calling upon the grace to find contentment and peace in Him, my work, and the other things in my life, those blessings from the Lord will no longer be opportunities for worshipping Him, but for worshipping me. They will be my idols, those things I chase rather than God Himself.
The only way my focus will be true, the only way I’ll press into the Lord instead of engaging in this frenetic activity that distracts my heart and draws me to other things, is to be still and listen for the Lord to speak. Being still before Him allows me to realize that He is all I need, the one true voice in my life, the one love from which all the others in my life proceed.
This is even more important for leaders. Author Alan Fadling notes that in Acts 6, the leaders of the first century church found that the needs of the people were multiplying to the point that they had to appoint deacons, people respected in the church, to help them meet the needs of the congregation. Scripture tells us they did so in order to free up time for the leaders to “continue to give their attention to prayer and ministry of the Word.” These leaders had discovered the truth that a flurry of activity, even “good” activity like feeding people, was not the most important thing. Their primary, most important role was to spiritually lead their people by remaining in close contact with the Lord.
In addition to sitting still and listening, I have to wait on the Lord. This is often deeply difficult for me, a “gas pedal” guy with a bias toward action. So often I want to rush in and move to get it done: to act on the employment situation, to step in and resolve the conflict, to demand of God that He provide for us in a certain area now, or to manipulate someone into providing for us. These are almost always the wrong impulses. God, who loves me and knows my heart, consistently calls me to a state of trusting in Him, His provision, and His timing, to wait on these things, which are always better than when I interfere. And, only by sitting still and listening to Him do I have the wisdom to wait and to know His timing.
Finally, to rest. Rest is so contrary to our insanely-paced lifestyle. Yet, God created us with limits, and to need rest. Rest is a command and a blessing, because the Lord knows that we require it in order to stop believing all of life and work hinges on us (because, really, none of it does), and to once again rightly order our loves. Rest is counter-intuitive, itself an act of faith. We think the last thing we have time to do is to rest, and yet in rest we find the mental, emotional, and spiritual reserves we need to do all the work the Lord has given to us (as differentiated from what we don’t need to be doing, and to discern the difference between the two). We learn that the Lord can actually do more with us when we rest than when we don’t.
Work and life, like everything else we have, is a precious gift from the Lord, intended for worship. How we use it, to cause ourselves and others to flourish, or using it at our own and other’s expense, as a blessing or a curse, is completely dependent upon whether we’ll take the time to sit, listen, wait and rest in Him.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.