Editor’s note: Leaving education and entering the workforce is a momentous step. We spend our first two decades preparing for it, yet it is only the first step in a long journey. With a struggling economy and longer life expectancy in the developed world, the younger generations may need to work for more than sixty years before they can retire.Even though it seems logical to focus all our energy on our career development at this early stage, it is more important to strengthen our faith and service to God during these formative years, when we are still relatively unburdened by responsibilities. As youths who love God, we may question if it is possible to dedicate ourselves to serving God while also having a successful career. How can we establish a rooted faith and service alongside our secular work? This Q&A, in which the Singapore youths posed their questions to Deacon Philip Shee, was conducted during one of their weekly youth services.
1) What are some guidelines for Christians in choosing which industry to enter for work?
The Bible gives us principles. If certain jobs break these principles or put us in a dilemma—reconsider. For example, should Christians be politicians? I say no, not because we shouldn't serve the country, but because politicians need to be diplomatic and will end up compromising their faith. Should Christians work in the casino or as chief research and design engineer for cigarettes? Gambling and smoking are against the Bible’s principles, so avoid working in such industries. We should also think carefully about professions that will put us in unsavory environments or make us so busy that we have no time for God.
2) Is it possible to succeed at work and put God first? How do I make time to attend extra services, such as youth service or Bible study?
Yes, it is. Putting God first does not mean that our work will automatically suffer. I speak from experience and from seeing many other believers put God first while they work.
1. Remember our pivot
When we talk about work-life or work-faith balance, when one side takes, the other must give. If work demands more time or energy, then our relationship with God suffers. The pivot model is more aligned with our Christian faith. Christ is the fulcrum—our center—and everything else revolves around Him. This leads us to the second point.
2. Remember our purpose
In order to keep our lives centered on Christ, we must remember our purpose. Why do we work hard? It is because Christ tells us that we are to serve our masters like we serve Christ (Eph 6:5–8) and because one who does not work shall not eat (2 Thess 3:10). Our purpose is Christ, not personal glory, wealth, or even to take advantage of society’s kindness. When we see this as a purpose, then we work because we serve Christ, not ourselves or mammon. By extension, if our work takes a toll on our faith, consider changing jobs.
Our purpose also includes this: while we work to make a living, it is an opportunity for us to display our Christian virtues, evangelize, and glorify God. If we do not do this, then our pivot isn’t Christ. Perhaps our pivot has become the need to survive, succeed at work, or even attain a luxurious life.
What practical steps can I take?
Simplify our life. There is a brother whose work in finance leaves him with a packed schedule. To help himself pivot his life around Christ and fulfill his purpose, he diligently fulfills his responsibilities but eliminates the unnecessary, such as socializing through golf, since this takes up a sizeable amount of time. He also simplifies his life by not watching television. His purpose guides his actions—at the end of the day, he isn’t in the banking industry to make a name for himself. By keeping a lower profile, he isn’t roped into taking on extra responsibilities that take time away from serving God.
Reflecting on our life’s current pivot and purpose gives us the chance to recalibrate. Is the way we think about work aligned with how God wants us to think? Are we struggling to fulfill our basic duty at work, or is it because we have taken on extra unnecessary responsibilities? If we try to live our lives according to God’s purpose and yet our faith continues to suffer, it may be time to change jobs or consider dropping our various commitments, such as “side hustles” or personal projects. It may even mean drawing a lower salary or slowing down our climb up the career ladder.
While attending extra services may appear to take time away from one’s study or work, if we are diligent in working hard during the week, then we can use these services as a time to unwind and enjoy close communion with our God and His people.
The struggle of seeking God first while working gets more complicated when one is married and, subsequently, has children. One of the best decisions that we True Jesus Church Christians can make for ourselves is to marry in the Lord. Having a God-fearing spouse makes this challenge of seeking God first a lot easier to manage.
3) Is it okay to take a break from church work that gives me stress and anxiety?
Paul offers us some useful principles for this question in Romans 12:3–8, 11–12. The first principle is to be realistic about what we can handle.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt each one a measure of faith. (Rom 12:3)
Not thinking of ourselves more highly than we should includes the amount or type of work we can do.
Serving God starts with the needs of the church and her people. The purpose of church work is to let us grow spiritually as we help others grow too. If we are so badly affected by the work, how can we help others grow? That is why Romans 12:3 urges us to serve according to the measure of our faith. If, at a particular moment, we are so burdened that it impacts
our health and faith, take a break. However, remember that breaks do not last forever. Deciding to give up serving God is not correct. We must serve or face the same consequences as the unprofitable servant who hid his master’s talent in the ground (Mt 25:18, 30).
Those who coordinate church work should consider the gifts that others have. We can also reflect on what gifts the Lord has given to us. Going a step further, we can pray for gifts. If we are struggling to fulfill a role because we lack a specific skill, pray for God to give us the ability to do His work.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Cor 9:8)
Maybe we have gifts, but we are going through a rough patch in our life that makes fulfilling a certain role too onerous to bear. It could be that, at such a moment, we don't have that measure of faith to serve in this area. In this case, take a step back. God's grace is not meant to crush us but to lift us. If we witness such a scenario, be understanding: even the spiritually strong have moments of weakness. Don't judge them. Help them and lighten their load for a while.
Sometimes when we do church work, we give ourselves pressure! We may have unrealistic expectations that we struggle to achieve. Remember that God helps us according to His will. We sow and water, but the increase ultimately comes from Him (1 Cor 3:6).
Nevertheless, we need to be mindful of our attitude as we serve, such that we are “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11). We should reflect on ourselves and consider the source of our stress or anxieties. Does our anxiety, for instance, stem from a desire to quickly deal with the matters of God so that we can spend more time on our leisure?
The following verse tells us to develop and sustain a zeal that can triumph over difficulties by “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Rom 12:12). Our worship of God must come before our work for Him.
4) How can I prevent physical and spiritual burnout?
In the Bible, there were people who burned out, such as Moses and Elijah. If we experience burnout, we shouldn’t hate ourselves for it. Why did Moses and Elijah burn out? Because they cared. They cared about their people, but they also cared about themselves in an unhealthy way. Elijah, for example, exclaimed, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kgs 19:4; emphasis added).
1. Get physical rest
Do not underestimate the need for physical rest. Being insufficiently rested will take a toll on you. Carve out time in your schedule to rest and exercise. I make time on Sunday mornings to walk, for instance. Do things that you find therapeutic; this will help you both physically and mentally and thus indirectly benefit you spiritually. If getting enough sleep means putting aside some forms of leisure, such as watching shows or gaming, consider making that choice.
2. Reflect on our expectations
Should we find ourselves increasingly frustrated or fatigued with our work, we can ask ourselves: Why am I burning out? What am I expecting?
The root cause of Elijah’s burnout was his misaligned expectations. After he defeated the false prophets, he assumed that God’s people would turn back and the battle would be over. However, this did not happen.
Maybe we too have expectations today: I thought that if I advised my friend, he would turn back to God. I thought the church would move this way, but it hasn’t. I put in so much effort, but my hopes have not been met.
Do we, too, have misaligned expectations? We are often encouraged when we see good results from our work. However, when our expectations are unmet, we grow disappointed and tired, leading to burnout.
3. Know our motivation
Another important question to ask ourselves is: Why do I serve? What is my motivation, and what do I seek to achieve through our work?
We are often affected by what people say and expect of us. We are affected by the physical results we see. Consider Noah’s work of building the ark. Over the years, not a single soul listened. Not only that, they mocked. But Noah was a righteous man. When we do the right thing and have no result, that does not mean we have done the wrong thing. This gives us two more points for consideration:
- Are we doing the right thing? If we are, then even if there are no favorable results, it’s okay, just as in Noah’s case.
- Do we remember that God is present and that we are not alone? Elijah thought he was alone. But God was still there, just not in the way he thought—God was in the still, small voice. Elijah didn’t know there were seven thousand others whom God had preserved either. If we believe we are the only ones who can defend the truth and are doing what is right, and we feel like the whole world is turning against us, let us remember that God has preserved others too in this faith. Without such spiritual eyesight, we would easily feel demoralized.
4. Regain strength by being alone with God
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. (Mt 14:22–23)
We often burn out because we are so overwhelmed with tasks that we forget to spend time alone with our heavenly Father. As Jesus worked tirelessly in His earthly ministry, He rested, not by laying down, but by recharging spiritually.
It is in prayer that we can understand God’s will better. The less we pray, the less we understand. It is easy to find ourselves in a vicious cycle where doing more church work means having less time to pray, so we do not understand God’s will. This inevitably leads to spending more time on His work. What, then, should we pray for? To renew our minds according to God’s perspective and to recalibrate our attitudes towards His work.
5. Seek support from others
At different points in time, some believers may be strong, while others are weak. When the strong become weak for a moment, then co-workers who are strong can step in to support. Ultimately, we are journeying together towards the heavenly kingdom, so do not hesitate to ask for help.
If we find ourselves supporting a co-worker going through difficulties, they may wish to vent their frustrations or sorrows. At such moments, lend them a non-judgmental listening ear. After they cool down, there may be room to gently address some of their ways of thinking, such as offering an alternative perspective, without coming across as being self-righteous.
5) If I am already involved in many church work, how do I politely turn down new church work assignments?
If you are already involved in many church work, don’t feel shy about declining new tasks. However, it is important to note several things. Firstly, we tend to stick to what we are more familiar with. Are we rejecting a piece of church work because it is out of our comfort zone? Next, we should not do church work just because we enjoy it. We have to do what is needful for the church, and we must consider the church’s needs holistically. Ultimately, we are vessels for God.
Also, consider the following questions:
- Is the work that needs to be done important, urgent, and meaningful?
- Are there others who can do this work? Are we one of the few who have the skills for this work?
- If the work is important and/or urgent, can I deprioritize or let go of other less important and/or urgent tasks?
- If the work is not so important and urgent, can I consider doing it another time, or suggest an alternative person be approached?
- Would I be able to stretch myself and do this work if I reprioritize my current tasks?
- Is the person asking me new to the role or inexperienced in coordinating work? If I turn him or her down, how can I encourage or help him or her find an alternative?
6) I have served with my church co-workers for a long time, yet I do not feel like we are friends. Do you have tips on how to develop a better relationship with them?
It is good to reflect on our relationships with co-workers from time to time and to seek a more brotherly bond with them.
In church, do not be task-oriented; be people-focused. Serving God is different from secular work, and we do not just tick items off our agenda here. Fundamentally, what is important is not just getting the work done but also doing it with people next to us and growing together.
Learn to go beyond the superficial in church. Get to know one another and share about our faith issues so we can intercede for each other. When we do, we will naturally learn to care for one another. This mutual care will help us iron out unnecessary misunderstandings as we serve together.
Do fun activities and eat together. Visit each other. Ask each other about personal experiences. Regularly ask yourself these, too, as you serve: How many people were edified today? Today, have I grown in my faith?
 The Stanford Center on Longevity reports that as many as half of today’s five-year-olds can expect to live to one hundred, and work for more than sixty years.
“The 100-year life is here. We’re not ready,” Stanford Center on Longevity, accessed December 17, 2021, https://longevity.stanford.edu/the-new-map-of-life-report/#1637124315004-b149a6e6-23ec.