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 (Manna 61: Church Life)
Managing Career, Family, and Faith: A Christian's Challenge
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Managing Career, Family, and Faith: A Christian’s Challenge

Philip Shee—Singapore

            “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world…They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world…As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (Jn 17:15-18)

Christians are often told to be in the world but not of the world. What does that translate into in practice? Apart from making sure our conduct and lifestyle do not conform to secular practices contrary to biblical teachings, there is one area that the majority of us have to deal with constantly—setting priorities among our career, family, and God.

It is a challenge to maintain balance between living in the secular world and thriving in our spiritual lives. Can we be a good Christian and be successful in our career at the same time? Is it possible to realize our full potential in our career and still be found favorable in the eyes of God?

THE MEANING OF PRIORITIZATION

The world is supposedly more advanced and efficient than the past. Yet, it is ironic that we are often much busier and suffer more stress than before. Greater efficiency but less time—how we strike a balance among our career, family, and church becomes a matter requiring real strategy.

Many tackle this challenge by notionally breaking their lives into phases and focusing on one area at each phase. Our prioritization process is also often quick to rank career first, family second, and church a distant third.

For this reason, we often see Christians waning in fervor as they gain ground in their career. That opportunity to make an impression, to break through to the next level of achievement, is often too good to miss. Hence, striking the balance here often means that “God can wait” or that “We will make up to the family later.”

In the parable of the wedding feast, the king ordered his servants to call those invited to attend the feast, but the invitation was taken lightly as each went their way, to their farms or to their business. The king was furious and deemed those invited as unworthy (Mt 22:2-8).

On another occasion, Jesus called someone to follow Him. Although the response seemed positive on the surface, the person asked Jesus to wait as he had to first bid farewell to his family. Jesus deemed this man unfit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:61, 62).

These two passages remind us that putting off the matters of God to a later date to focus on our career or our family may not be a wise choice.

The effective way of managing our time and energy starts with the realization that it is not about focusing on different aspects at different phases of our lives. A successful balance also does not pivot on an equal allocation of our time.

Actually, the only way a balance can be achieved is to make God the pivot and have everything else balance around it. This means that our one and only focus is God and nothing else!

This does not suggest that Christians, by default, are irresponsible workers in society and negligent spouses or parents at home. On the contrary, it is precisely because our only focus and pivot is God that Christians should display the most responsible behavior both at work and at home.

The motivation to do a good job at work is not our relentless and blind pursuit of material rewards, for career advancement, or the satisfaction of our ego, but rather the natural need for a good Christian to do the right thing, be an example, and bring glory to the name of God.

This is summed up in Ephesians 6:5, 6:

            Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice as menpleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men.

Likewise, it is precisely due to our love for God that we will naturally love and give to our family. A person who loves God and walks closely with Him will know how to care for his family and rely on Him to build a strong, loving family.

As we draw closer to God, He will give us the wisdom to naturally strike the balance in faith, career, and family. Therefore, the formula to manage conflicting demands for our time and energy really lies in just focusing on God.

This is very different from using our own human or worldly wisdom, as relying on our own abilities will inevitably lead us to focus on our career, followed by family, and leaving God and the church to fill whatever is left of our spare time.

GAINING SUCCESS IN THE SECULAR WORLD

Christians seeking to serve God may often face the dilemma of whether they should allow their fullest potential in their career be realized. The corporate world constantly pushes for better performance year after year and seeks to promote performers to achieve higher levels of responsibility.

The question is whether Christians should continue to attain or accept more and more senior positions in their careers, which often compromises the time for and the quality of service to the Lord. On the other hand, are Christians meant to be underachievers even if they may not necessarily be under-performers?

The Bible does not forbid Christians from being achievers. In fact, there are examples of God’s people who attained very high levels of achievement. At only thirty years of age, Joseph became second only to the pharaoh of Egypt, a leading nation at that time (Gen 41:40-44, 46). Daniel became one of three governors under King Darius (Dan 6:1, 2).

However, one commonality in these cases is that the achievements were unequivocally the work of God to fulfill His own special purpose. Neither Joseph nor Daniel actively sought their high-ranking position. All they did was to simply continue in their faith and integrity towards God even in the face of adversity.

Joseph, when tempted, did not yield to his mistress and, when jailed, did not murmur against God (Gen 39:7-20). Daniel did not compromise his beliefs to enjoy the delicacies of Babylon and risked his life to continue to pray three times a day, as was his custom (Dan 6:1-10). They simply did the right thing. The rest of the road to achievement was paved by God.

As we advance in our careers, the examples above remind us to sincerely make the following considerations:

·         Are these career opportunities engineered by us or by God? Are we over-working to be rich or to achieve advancement in our career?

·         Is this promotion pandering to our ego or is there potentially a higher purpose of God?

·         What is the state of our faith? That is, are we so close to God that we are truly focusing on Him and allowing our way forward to be charted by Him? Or have we drifted from God such that we are actually engineering our own moves but wishfully hoping that God will concur?

·         If we were to rise to the highest levels in our career, would we be able to use our achievements to contribute to God? If so, are we willing?

·         Are there any direct conflicts with our faith? Will we put ourselves in potentially difficult situations where we may need to compromise our beliefs?

As we search for answers, the Bible has also laid down the following familiar and related teachings:

            Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Prov 3:5, 6)

            Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? (Prov 23:4, 5)

            But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt 6:33)

While everyone’s situation is unique, maintaining a close relationship with God, devoting ourselves to deep and long prayers, and consistently seeking wisdom from Scripture should certainly provide solutions to whatever circumstances we face.

VERDICT AT THE END

            For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mt 16:26)

Let us picture the scene at our retirement party. On that day, we are surrounded by colleagues and business associates celebrating our illustrious career. What thoughts will be racing through our minds?

What will we rejoice over? What will be our regrets? Will our family still be there as well, rejoicing and celebrating together with us? Will we take comfort in knowing that we have been a light to the world and salt to the earth? Will we be thankful that God has walked with us and guided us through our entire career? Will God be pleased with us?

The list of questions can go on. But for now, there is still some time before that day. How we manage our time and efforts in maintaining a balanced life today will determine how we view our career. What thoughts do we want at our retirement party?

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