October 5, 2019 • Life for Leaders
People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening.
My daughter once had an Australian cattle dog named Hope. Hope was made to herd livestock. And, if there were none to be found – as was the case at my daughter’s home – Hope would herd anything else that moved – like little children, or other dogs, or even cats. No matter how much they resisted, she did it anyway.
As dubious as it was for Hope to herd little children and cats, things were even worse when she had nothing to do. Hope wasn’t meant to be bored. If there was nothing to do, she would find something. And, she was smart. She quickly figured out that the backyard fence was no match for her ability to dig. More times than I could count, Hope made a mess of the backyard enacting her own version of “The Great Escape.”
For you see, Hope was wired to be a working dog. Her Creator gave her remarkable energy and intelligence for the purpose of herding cattle. And she was either going to fulfill that purpose, or create havoc doing something else!
I find Hope a useful metaphor. Like Hope, we’ve been created as human beings for a purpose (see Why Does Why Matter?) As our text from Psalm 104 suggests, that purpose involves work of all kinds. And, Psalm 104 sets human work in a larger context of wonder, delight and gratitude.
Watching dogs like Hope do the work for which they were created is remarkable. With their feet barely touching the ground, they corral and direct livestock with incredible skill. And, they seem to do it all with something akin to delight and gratitude. They always seem to return to their master with a “that was fun” look and eager for more.
What Hope presumably does from instinct we have the privilege of doing by choice. We too have been wired for work, even though our work is much more complex and nuanced, requiring thoughtful engagement and considerable discernment. Nevertheless, Hope can teach us something about fulfilling our purpose and the destructive consequences of not doing so. Our capacity for work will always find expression in some form. Our challenge is to be intentional and discerning about how we choose to live that out. Like Hope, we can either fulfill our purpose for good or create chaos wherever we turn!
Unlike Hope, our work is rarely singular in its focus. Our vocation as human beings is often multi-faceted. In my current experience, my vocation includes providing leadership in board roles at for-profit and not-for-profit companies, in being a parent to adult children and a grandparent to an infant and a soon-to-be teenager, in serving my local community in volunteer roles, and so on. Even in one of those contexts, there are different dimensions to providing leadership. For example in my board roles, I am called to help discern strategy, build governance teams and foster an innovative organizational culture. One of the gifts of being human is the sheer variety of the particularities of our work.
This brings us back to Psalm 104. “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24, NRSV) The world is an expression of God’s works, which are many and varied. Not surprisingly, being made in the image of God, our work often has a similar manifold dimension to it.
Psalm 104 also reminds us that we are made to delight in and express gratitude through our work. The Psalmist says remarkably, “May the LORD rejoice in his works.” (Psalm 104:31b, NRSV) One of the great discoveries of the biblical revelation is that God delights in the work that he does. We, as his image bearers, are intended to do the same. And, we are intended to express our gratitude to God through and in the context of our work. “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104:33, NRSV)
Something to Think About:
In what ways do you see your work as an expression of a God given vocation? How is your work an expression of your understanding of who God has made you to be?
Where do you find delight in your work? Where do you struggle? Why do you think that is?
Do you have a sense of coherence about your work? Do you struggle with the different dimensions of it? How might you see the different parts as being an expression of God’s vocation in your life? Or, alternately, are there aspects of your work that you may want to delegate or divest to others?
Lord God, we are grateful that the earth is full of your creatures and creations! We marvel at the sheer variety and abundance of all that you have made. And, we marvel at how you delight in all that you have done. Help us to find similar delight in your works and give voice to that delight back to you in praise.
We are also thankful for the work you have given each of us to do. We are grateful for the variety in and among our work. Help us to see your hand in our work and to discern your call in all that we do. And, help us to give you thanks for the privilege of working with you in the world that you have entrusted into our care.
We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Human Creativity with God (Psalm 104)
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.