February 11, 2019 • Life for Leaders
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
In last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that we have a new identity in Christ. Though our identity continues to be shaped by where we live, to whom we’re related, and a number of other characteristics, who we are “in Christ” matters most of all.
That’s different from what comes naturally (or should I say, culturally) to many of us. When I meet someone new, I’m usually inclined to ask them, “So what do you do?” By this I don’t mean, “What do you do for fun?” I mean, “What do you do for work? What is your job? Your career? Your profession?” Those to whom I ask the “What do you do?” question get the point without explanation. They don’t say, “I breathe. I eat pizza. I watch football. I pray.” Rather, they say, “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a business owner” or “I’m in sales.” Work gives us our fundamental identity in much of contemporary culture.
This prioritizing of work strongly shapes our sense of identity. If what I do for a living is the most important thing about me, the thing you most want to know, then I can easily equate my role at work with my true self. Who am I? What is my fundamental identity? I am the Executive Director of Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership. If this clarifies who I really am, then it also defines my worth as a person. If I’m successful in my job, if the De Pree Center flourishes, then I have value as a human being. If not, I am a failure, not just at a job, but in life.
Moreover, if my essential identity is established by my job, then everything else in my life will be ordered and valued in light of my work. I will invest in key relationships only if they enhance my work or, at any rate, don’t take time away from it. I will offer myself in service to others only if I have extra time, that is, time when I don’t need to work. I will be part of the community of God’s people, but only if this commitment doesn’t detract from my need to be available to work. And so forth and so on. I’m sure you get the point. Perhaps you live it. Or perhaps you know others who do.
But when our core identity is determined not by what we do for work but by our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, everything in life shifts. Work, whether paid or unpaid, continues to matter, but mainly as a way of offering ourselves in service to God and to the world as his representatives. My decisions about how to invest my time and money will be guided by God’s truth and eternal values rather than how they might enhance my professional success. Most of all, my core sense of being will depend not on how successful I am at work but on the undeniable and unchangeable fact that I am beloved by God, that I belong to him through Jesus Christ, that Christ is my Lord, Savior, and friend, and that he will never leave or forsake me.
Something to Think About:
How does your work influence your sense of identity?
How does your identity in Christ influence your work?
Something to Do:
If you are a journaler, spend some time writing about how your work (or lack of work) influences your sense of identity. If you’re not a journaler, talk about this with your small group or with a close Christian friend.
Gracious God, for much of my life, my work has defined my being. When I was young, people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I got older, they asked me what I was training to do through my education. Now, I am often asked what I do. My soul has been shaped so that I see myself most of all as a worker.
In a way, this is close to what you have intended for me, since you made me to work. Yet, when my sense of self is shaped most profoundly by my work rather than my relationship with you, then everything goes off kilter. My work is no longer an offering for you, but rather an idol. My value as a person is determined not by your love and call but by the outward signs of my success.
Forgive me, Lord, for defining my being apart from. Forgive me for assigning to you second place, or third place, or even lower. Help me, Lord, to know who I am as your child, your servant, your beloved, your disciple, and your friend. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Confusing Vocation with Identity
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Thanks for the devotional, Mark. I remember seeing a quote from an artist out in Malibu. I think her name was Sally Hess. She said, “My work is something I do. It is not who I am. Who I am is far greater than anything I could ever do.” Maybe instead of asking people, “What do you do?”, we should ask them, “Who are you?”. I imagine, however, one might some blank stares, an existential response or a recitation of that famous poem by Emily Dickinson.