Is Our Work Excellent and Praiseworthy?
In Philippians 4:8, Paul urges
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
I find these higher thoughts come easily to me as I interact with my husband, focus on church activities, enjoy my hobbies, and partake in the niceties of life. But sadly, that’s not where the bulk of my time is spent, and I catch myself struggling to be excellent and praiseworthy in my work as a mother, homeschooler, and writer. Whether paid or unpaid, we all have a vocation that takes up the bulk of our time and energy.
So far in our series, we’ve taken a look at checking out of our culture with a deeper appreciation for art and literature, and battling against self-glorification by fostering the ministry of hospitality. Now we’ll do a self-check and see how well we’re applying these principles to our work life.
The Push in our Culture
In our Western world, we’re presented with the American dream; anything is possible if you work hard enough. It’s an ideal that forged our country and brought us to where we are today: a land of opportunity and blessings. However, we’ve turned it a bit on it’s head, or maybe sideways, and created new cultural standards:
- If you don’t have everything, you need to work harder to get it
- There is no end to the hard work–the sky’s the limit
- The end justifies the means
- Everything is earn-able
- If they have it, I can too
- I can have it all
- I’m in control
This topsy-turvy view affects our motivations, desires, focus and behavior. And it’s not limited to a traditional work environment–we can see it in our family dynamics, how we spend our time, our roles at church, etc. It sets us up for ambition, comparison, and ultimately, a divide between our spiritual life and our secular life, but that’s not how Christianity works. True discipleship permeates our whole lives.
These new cultural standards we’ve created are in opposition to the teachings of Christ.
The Truth in the Word
Let’s step back a chapter in Philippians and take a look at a warning from Paul:
For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3: 18-20)
It’s so easy for us to chalk this warning up as meant for “others”: those that are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” After all, we’re not His enemies; we’re adopted into the family of Christ. But would Paul be brought to tears with this admonition for non-believers?
The “many” he’s talking about here are those that profess Christ with their mouths, but are not willing to take up their cross, sacrifice their lives, or be transformed into His image. They create much more confusion in our midst because they’re harder to identify. Paul gives us markers though: their god is their stomach and they’re focused on worldly things.
In truth, it’s not always “they;” but very often it’s “we.”
Heart and Head Check
If you notice, Paul doesn’t talk about behaviors that are the problem. He talks about focus and thoughts–our underlying motivations. It’s a heart issue.
So where are your thoughts? I know I struggle from time to time with my motivations and focus. Jesus gives us a warning about specific drives that lead to destruction:
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)
What are you motivated by: Money? Comfort? Personal Fulfillment? Worldly happiness? Admiration?
They’re in stark contrast to truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, and beauty. They are not admirable, praiseworthy or excellent.
In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul further teaches
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.”
Scripture never teaches us to stop working–work is good! Wanting to do it well and having ambition is good! But our motivation behind our work is what sets us apart as different from the world. Proper motivations are what bring God the glory.
Realigning our Work
None of us want to be “enemies of the cross;” most of us truly want to do our work as if we’re doing it for the Lord. Our everyday lives–our work–is the greatest ministry God has given us. So . . . how do we stay the course?
- Submit to the Spirit--get quiet with the Lord and listen. Set your plans, motives, desires aside and turn your attention to the Lord alone. You’re not using Him to get answers or direction. You’re just submitting. Answers and direction are a by-product of submission.
- Read his Word–God speaks through it all the time. It’s His standard, designed so that our hearts can come inline with His.
- Bring the Word with you through your day–Scripture is meant for every part of your day and life; don’t leave it at home or to the mornings. Meditate on scripture. Use breath prayers throughout your day. Keep Him with you.
- Pray–Ask for help. Ask to be searched. Ask to grow closer to the Lord. He will refine you with fire and draw you closer. The evidence of that process will come out in your motivations.
I struggle with this. My motivations waver, and I find myself wanting to compete with someone else, or wanting to be successful just for the sake of being successful. I get big ideas and want to throw myself into them just to see if I can do it. Just to prove I’m capable of it. The lure of the world for me isn’t really about making money or garnering acclaim from others, it’s more about my own self-worth. I look to worldly things to help define who I am; what a sad thing to do. It’s something that will only lead to my shame and destruction.
But we have a glorious Father, don’t we? One that gently instructs; who’s mercies are renewed every day; one that loves me more than I can ever fathom. One that doesn’t want me to go down that terrible path. I’m reminded that He defines me. He is my worth.
During the time I wrote this particular article, I was getting distracted with some pretty big ideas, and once again had to take some time to slow down and meditate on what God’s purpose is for my life. My breath prayer was “prepared in advance.” It’s a reference to Ephesians 2:10. He already has the perfect plan set; I just need to step into it and surrender.
God gave me three things while I was meditating that are to be my focus: writing, teaching and loving. That’s it. If my super-awesome ideas don’t fit into this directive, they’re to be passed by. They’re for someone else to accomplish. Thank you, Lord, for your direction.
If you’re just getting started or if you’ve hit a roadblock in getting closer to Christ, I highly recommend doing some outside reading. One of the most helpful resources I’ve found for practical transformation is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. You can find my affiliate link to it here.
We’ve been patiently waiting for my little orchid to bloom as I write this 6-part series. This is sure taking time, but I know it’ll be worth it! I can now see the bottom pouch, and the side petals are getting larger. Crossing my fingers it’s going to open soon.
Living A Different Life Series
Enjoy the whole series on living a different life as a Christian. One that focuses on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.
- Week 1: Set Your Mind Upon Finer Things: A Series for Living a Different Life (including the start of the orchid story!)
- Week 2: Enjoying the Visual Arts: Part 1 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 3: Cultivating Hospitality: Part 2 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 4: Slow Down with Good Literature: Part 3 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 5 Aligning Our Work with His Work: Part 4 in A Series for Living a Different Life
- Week 6: Connect with Food: Part 5 in A Series for Living a Different Life
My newsletter (that you can sign up for here) is the highlight of my ministry. Every Monday you get the direct link to our weekly scripture meditation (it includes a breakdown of the scripture to help you dive deeper–you can see an example here), a roundup of all the week’s articles that I’ve published, AND I try to keep it fun and interesting!