Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part II

22 Aug

In 1 Peter 5:6-10, the Apostle admonishes his hearers to, “…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” Titus 2:12b,13 confirms this concept, commanding that, “We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” Our momentary trials are nothing when we look at God’s Big Picture.

As difficult as it seems at times, we know that everything that comes into our lives does so for a purpose. And nothing which touches our lives does so without God’s permission. In Genesis 31:7, Jacob confessed to Rachel that, “…your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.” While God’s idea of what doesn’t cause permanent harm doesn’t always match our own, God does promise that He will never allow us to encounter anything that He isn’t going to pull us through… and that includes serving under a difficult boss.

Instead of focusing on how frustrating the situation is, we’re better off asking God to explain the lesson that He’s trying to teach us or the character trait that He’s trying to develop in us. After all, character is like muscle: it can only be built under stress!

Romans 5:3-5a tells us that, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us…” We have the same assurance as Job that, “…he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10 NIV) The truth is, no matter how mean, erratic, or volatile your boss may be, you won’t always be in his grip. Jacob (the hero of our story) realized this and we need to as well.

There’s more to a cheerful attitude, however, than just keeping our focus on the “big picture.” Face it, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, that universal view simply eludes us. In times like this, when all we can see is how absolutely miserable we are, we need to realize that we aren’t alone.

We’ll take a look at some ways to remind ourselves of this next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share some ways in which a Godly perspective on trials has positively influenced your workplace experience in the comment box below!

 

Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part I

15 Aug

“Work Ethic”. You’ve probably heard the term before. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation… the principles of conduct governing an individual.” In other words, you may say, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,” but if you slack off every time the boss isn’t watching it will quickly become clear that this isn’t your ethic.

A good work ethic is more than words; it’s a character trait. Who you are when no one is looking matters. Setting the dictionary aside, you might define a good work ethic as, “Knowing what is right and doing it, even when you don’t feel like it.” Since you’re probably used to doing this with at least a few things in your every-day life (like taking out the trash, finishing an assignment for school or work, or paying your utility bill), it shouldn’t be hard to transfer the principle over to your paying job. At least, theoretically.

You see, a good work ethic isn’t just about our action, but about our attitudes. The question isn’t just, “Do you take out the trash each week,” but “Do you take out the trash without grumbling and complaining.” Most of us will recall that in Colossians 3:23 we are told to, “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” This command is easy to remember and act upon when your work environment is a pleasant one, but much less so when the task or the person(s) for whom you are performing it are not.

While our attitudes govern our actions, it is our perspective which governs our attitudes. The result is that forming a proper perspective is the ultimate key to a good work ethic. The Apostle Paul recognized this, declaring in Philippians 4:12,13 that, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” He understood that contentment in his line of work was not the result of an individual situation, but of how he viewed that situation. And this godly perspective gave him the ability to perform at his best even in the worst of circumstances.

We see this particular perspective prominently displayed in the story of Jacob. According to Genesis 29:20, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” While Laban’s goal was to use Jacob for his own personal gain, Jacob was able to see past this own frustration by focusing on his own long-term goal and not on his immediate situation.

You might call this “big-picture thinking.” It’s what happens when you recognize important factors like that work is only a small portion of your life and that it doesn’t have to influence you any further than the revolving doors leading into the parking lot. Like LasVegas, whatever happens here stays here… if you let it. And that requires a conscious, committed decision. (To be continued…)

Work Ethic: An Introduction

8 Aug

One of my favorite summer activities was always the neighborhood water fight. During the hottest days of August, my friends and I would turn the entire street into a war zone. Like two armies, we’d advance against each other, sheltering between cars or trees, all in an attempt to make certain that the other side ended up wetter than we were. All of this was fun until, almost inevitably, some track star would show up with a super squirt gun that could unload fifteen gallons of water in four seconds from a distance of half a mile. You couldn’t get near him without getting rain in your face. And trying to out-strategize the quickly moving target with water in your eyes was nearly impossible. The result was the complete demoralization of just about everyone who encountered this “Moron of Mayhem.”

It didn’t take me long to discover that these sort of people continue to exist long after High School and that, thanks to their “leadership ability,” many of them find their way into positions of workplace authority. They still delight in presenting people with a moving target, constantly changing job requirements and operation standards, often without any warning. The biggest difference here, however, is that instead of a squirt gun, they have authority over paychecks, work schedules, days off, and generally anything and everything you do for the 4-8 hours that you’re in their domain.

Sadly, escaping the clutches or such people is often easier said than done. The labor market doesn’t always work in our favor and it isn’t uncommon to find oneself unable to find another job with a less controlling or irrational boss. If this is your situation, take heart. Many others have been there before.

Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this particular type of employer/employee relationship can be found in Genesis 29-31. After stealing Esau’s blessing, Jacob ran off to stay with his mother’s relatives while things cooled down back at home. No sooner had he arrived in Rebecca’s homeland than his attention was captured by the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her name was Rachel and she just happened to be his uncle’s daughter. After some negotiation, Jacob agreed to tend Laban’s flocks for him if he would only give her to him as his wife and, for the next seven years, Jacob busted his tail making his uncle rich. When the time was up, the wedding went through only for Jacob to discover the next morning that it was Rachel’s sister Leah who was lying in bed with him! Clearly, he had been cheated.

Not wanting to cause too much strife within the clan, Laban agreed that if Jacob would work another seven years, he would give him Rachel for his wife, as well. Reluctantly, Jacob agreed, but it quickly became clear that the “bride swap” was not the end of his uncle’s conniving schemes. During the years that followed, his uncle tried to cheat him again and again, attempting to diminish his wages no less than ten times! To say that the situation was infuriating is an understatement. It was unbearable!

So how did he make it through his commitment without his brain frying? The answer is: a positive work ethic. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what it means to have a good work ethic… and why it matters when we find ourselves in less than favorable employment situations. Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

Paychecks and Self-Worth: An Introduction to Industry and Economics Part II

1 Aug

The salary offered at most workplaces isn’t a reflection of the worth of the individual performing the task, but the value of the service they offer. Minimum wage is the going rate for grocery baggers… and that is likely to remain the same whether the man performing the task is a High School dropout or a Physicist with two PhD’s. There are plenty of people who are willing and able to perform the task for the pay being offered and, as a result, most employers have no reason to pay an individual more than the going rate.

So is this a reflection on the money-grubbing, power-hungry activities of free market business men and women? In some cases, yes. But in many (if not most), it’s simply a reflection of the labor market’s equilibrium (the price at which, on average, people are willing to sell their labor and at which, on average, employers are willing to purchase it.) Simply put, it’s the free market system at work.

So what about businesses that generate millions in revenue, but don’t pass it on to employees? Is that fair? Well, to begin with, it’s important for those of us seeking higher wages to recognize that the whole point of going into business in the first place is to make a profit. If it weren’t those who currently own companies wouldn’t be risking their own time, money and effort to start a business – they’d let someone else do that while they worked for a regular paycheck like the rest of us. It isn’t unusual for those who take a risk to feel that they deserve the reward for doing so. In business, that reward is profit.

Profit drives business and, indirectly, it also drives pay. It can be easy to take a quick glance at a revenue statement that suggest a company is rolling in dough and then complain that they don’t pay their employees enough. While it’s true that some companies do underpay (and sometimes dramatically), it’s also true that a revenue statement isn’t the whole picture.

Simply put, revenue is just the dollars received in exchange for a good, service or idea. It doesn’t take into account fixed costs like the rent on the building in which the business is housed or variable costs like heating that building during the winter months. Expenses like these are often lumped together as “overhead” and they can make up a huge amount of a company’s expenditures long before labor (a variable cost) is ever factored in.

Start subtracting the cost of cleaning supplies for the bathrooms, those improvements to the company break room, and the updated parking lot security and the difference between revenue and expenses rapidly begins to decrease. The statement that shows this difference (known as “Profit and Loss” or “P&L” for short) can be very telling. It isn’t unheard of for a company to make a few million dollars in revenue, but end up in the red – having spent more money than they made.

When they do end up in the black (having actually made a profit), business owners are faced with choices, each of which is influenced by a variety of factors. While they may choose to award that profit to employees in the form of higher wages, they may also decide to reinvest it in a new computer system, the replacement of aging facilities and equipment, or in new lines of stock or alternate business ventures. The result? Low or unchanging wages – even in the face of increasing profit.

So what’s the bottom line? While there are many factors which influence the wages we make, only a few are tied to us as individuals. And most of those are influenced by the labor market, itself – what skills do we have, how high the demand is for those skills, and whether others with the same skills willing to work for less. None of these factors are tied to our worth as a human being. Our paycheck does not reflect our value.

In the end, there is only One person who was ever willing to pay what we are worth as individuals created in God’s image… and that was God, Himself. Our value is reflected in Christ’s atoning death for us.

 

Paychecks and Self-Worth: An Introduction to Industry and Economics Part I

25 Jul

Last week in “Scripture’s View on Human Value”, we explored what the Bible has to tell us about the worth of each of us as individuals. With this in mind, it might seem reasonable that a society which recognizes this worth would ensure that every individual received an equal share of the wealth.

Unfortunately, as those who have lived and died in communist countries may attest, such generosity is possible only in a society in which every individual is altruistically dedicated to the greater good. In reality, such “equal” distribution tends to promote both corruption and a decrease in productivity. After all, why should I work extra hard so that the person who sits around doing nothing can feed his family? Instead, many nations have opted for the “fair” system known as capitalism: each individual is free to make as much money as is possible provided that they “color within the lines” of the democratically determined laws.

Our goal here, of course, isn’t to debate the relative value of communist/capitalist systems, but to provide an introduction to the free market economy which drives the latter. An understanding of this economy is essential if we’re to comprehend why our pay doesn’t reflect the constitutional principle that “all men are created equal”. Or why our seemingly “upside down” society in which those who appear to do very little often earn more than those who do much may not be so upside down after all.

This understanding begins with the law of supply and demand. Put simply, this law states that the scarcer a resource is, the higher the price it demands. There aren’t a large number of people in our country (or throughout the world, relatively speaking) who are qualified physicians or certified engineers. The result is that the price for those services and the salary of the individuals who provide them is high. There are, however, millions of people capable of hauling carts out of the local Walmart parking lot. Greater availability = lower demand price.

Whether you own a small Mom and Pop store or a publicly traded company, your goal as the business owner is to maximize profit… and one of the ways this is accomplished is through minimizing expenses. But is it fair to minimize expenses by depriving others of a higher wage? We’ll take a closer look at the answer to this question next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on the law of supply and demand in the comment box below!

 

Paychecks and Self-Worth: The New Testament and Human Value

18 Jul

Last week, in “The Old Testament and Human Value”, we took a brief look at human value in light of creation. This week, we’ll explore several passages from the New Testament and examine human value in light of our re-creation.

In few places do we see our Creator’s love or the value that He places upon humankind as clearly as in the Gospels. John 3:16 declares that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Throughout His life on earth, Jesus made a career of helping those who could not help themselves. (Mark 2:17) He devoted Himself to healing the blind and lame, curing the lepers, and raising the dead. Through His words and His actions, He made it clear that He did not value human beings as we value each other. And he proved it by His death on the cross.

In Romans 5:6-10 we read, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” And Ephesians 2:4-8 tells us that, “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In Revelation 5:9 the saints declare, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Race, nationality, social position, education, skill, mental ability, good deeds, and our income level find no place in God’s evaluation of us. His care and concern is not limited by our love for Him or the size of our paycheck. What He has created has value simply because He created it. And that should be enough for us.

But is it? To be honest, despite a firm belief in this Truth, many of us still struggle to define ourselves within the constructs of our society. We may be valuable to God, but that doesn’t mean that we are always seen as valuable to others. Our battle to prove this worth, to fight against injustice (either real or perceived), often takes the form of a fight against society. And in few places is that battle as fierce as in the realm of employee wages!

We’ll take a look at this issue next week, but in the meantime, feel free to share an encouraging Scripture or two in the comment box below.

 

Paychecks and Self-Worth: The Old Testament and Human Worth

11 Jul

Last week in “Determining Society’s Winners and Losers”, we examined the perspective that a person’s worth as an individual is determined by the number of digits in their paycheck. We discussed the role that popular culture plays in perpetuating this view, and we posed the counterview that neither Scriptural nor economic principles lead us to this conclusion. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the first of these as we explore what the Bible has to say about the origins of human value.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Each of us from the very beginning until the present day bears the mark of God’s image. We are unique among all His creations in that He has given us not merely intellect, but a soul. “The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

That God intended for this image to be guarded is evident. In Genesis 9, verse 6, He commands that, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” There are no caveats which exclude those of a certain race or creed. There is no exception made for age or infirmity. And none are excluded on the basis of wealth or poverty, education, skill, or their potential as contributing members of society. Humans, all humans, have value simply because they are the handiwork of their Maker.

More importantly, this handiwork is not and never will be an accident. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord declares to the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” And in Psalm 139:13-16 we read, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”

While our parents may not have planned for our advent, our Creator did. He knew exactly when and where we would be born, how we would live, and who we would become. While He didn’t create us with equal abilities or equal opportunities, we can be assured that each of us were created with equal care. Each of us has value in the eyes of God. And for that reason, alone, we ought to value each other.

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