Sunday, July 27, 2008

Working with God in mind

Thank God Only on Fridays?
“Thank God It’s Friday” or TGIF took on a cult phenomenon when it was first coined in the late 70s. Many have attributed the early beginnings to a movie and song of the same name. There is also an American restaurant that uses the acronym in their name so as to epitomize the meaning of their business, to help people wind down after a hard week.

The basic use of the term TGIF is to celebrate the end of the workweek, a time for people to let down their hair and hang loose. After five toilsome days at the workplace, Friday represents the day where workers can finally start becoming more like themselves, in contrast to working days where they have to either put on a façade before people they do not like, or to do things their bosses ask them to do, against their own wishes. Working is not seen to be a glamourous thing. For some, it is downright burdensome, and if they have a choice, they would rather quit. Few people like Mondays. Assuming a typical Monday-Friday workweek, most prefer Fridays. Many workers I know prefer Fridays. Some dress up more casually on Fridays. Some take extended coffee breaks. Others simply choose to start that day early so that they can go home earlier. Moods on Friday are lighter. Some companies like US Cellular was reported even have a ‘No-Email’ Fridays! Intel has even piloted one program to do just that, to address the ‘stilted cubicle communications,’ where two engineers sitting next to each other communicate through email rather than face to face conversation. Some Intel staff have even taken a further step to explore ‘Quiet Time’ in the office. The report however gives a qualified statement about the effectiveness of No-Email-Fridays, that they are more effective for people who sit in the office most of the time. This is an astute observation and should help us avoid throwing a wide blanket to banish emails on Fridays. The point is clear. The idea is not simply to say that email is evil. It is to recognize that we are humans after all. We cannot forget that while emails are important for our daily work, having that face-to-face contact keeps us human.

Three Observations Gen 1:22b-23
1) In the creation narrative, God made the sea creatures and the birds in the air on the fifth day. He did not give thanks to himself only on that day. He declared the goodness of creation every single day. ‘… And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning.’ (Gen 1:22b-23) I have three observations on this verse. One, the ‘evening’ was stated first, before the ‘daylight.’ A day essentially starts in the evening! This is in contrast to the popular use of ‘day and night’ rather than 'night and day.' Many people see the day as the beginning. However, looking at chronological time, the start of a new day actually begins at 12AM, which is that moment past midnight. If we were to see the day beginning at 12AM and ending at the 11:59:59 PM, evenings are essentially the markers to distinguish the actual day. You may ask, what’s the significance of such an observation? What is so special about a day that begins and ends in evenings? The Jews actually take it even more literally. If the clock-day begins at midnight, the Jewish day actually begins at ‘sunset’ the day before. For example, Saturdays for a Jew begins on Friday 6PM or about an hour after sunset. Thus, a typical Jewish day starts in the evening and ends at the last moment of daylight. This is the Jewish interpretation of ‘evening and daylight’ in their understanding of the Genesis narrative. For the Jews, a 24-hour day begins in the ‘evening’ and ends in ‘daylight.’ This literal interpretation is best seen in the light of beginning a day in the evening sundown, and ending in the daylight sunset. In contrast to our normal definition of a day beginning with work, by starting a day from evening, it is an opportunity to give thanks, first thing in the beginning, to remind us that God is in control from the start. If we were to hurriedly start a day without being mindful of our Creator, we will be like entering a day ‘blindfolded’ into thinking that we know the way to do our work. Starting our day correctly involves a proper disposition of the heart and mind, so that we can start the day purposefully and intentionally. If we do not have an intentional stance, our work will lack meaning. Our attitude toward work will be less thankful and our quality of work will be negatively affected. Max Lucado lists the following depressing statistics:
  • One-Third of Americans say, “I hate my job.”
  • Two-thirds of your fellow citizens labor in the wrong career.
  • Others find employment success, but no satisfaction.
  • Most suicides occur in Sunday nights.
  • Most heart attacks occur on Monday mornings.
Lucado goes on to give us this advice: “Before you change professions, change your attitude toward your profession.” (96)

Like an engine that takes time to start up, evenings can be seen to be a time for one to get ready for a busy workday. If one did not properly prepare for the day, he or she becomes vulnerable to a negative view of work. I encourage you, my readers to move a level deeper. See the day not simply as a time for useful work. Sleep/rest 8 hours. Work for 8 hours. Have other activities (eating, drinking, miscellaneous activities like travel etc) for the other 8 hours. This is living a balanced life.

2) A second observation I have is that God reflected on his work at the end of the work day. A pause for a cause; A recess after the progress; a hiatus to take stock of the status. At the end of the day, by taking the time to reflect and be thankful, we appreciate more of what we have done, learning from them precious lessons and preparing for a new day to improve ourselves and our work. Without such a meaningful break, we will not be able to adequately take stock of our lives. Time becomes an endless and cruel master, imprisoning us in hours of despair, minutes of dejection and seconds of desolation. Mark Littleton describes our ‘hurry-scurry society’ people like those reduced to:

cutting their showers so that they do their backs on Mondays, the feet on Tuesdays, and a rinse only every third day (underarms, every day, of course – they do have some respect for others)…” (15-16)” [Mary Littleton, Escaping the Time Crunch, Moody Press, 1990, 15-16]

Littleton laments that “Time no longer just ticks. It crunches. It squeezes people from waking to retiring until they literally feel like a used toothpaste tube.” (Littleton, 11)

For Littleton, he says that the solution to escaping the time crunch is ultimately a supernatural one. More specifically, only God can help us, and time is not supposed to be our enemy but to be used for the glory of God. Indeed, Genesis may be teaching us this lesson subtly, that just as God the Creator taking a step back to admire his creation and call it good, we must also take a step back at the end of the day to reflect and give thanks for all that has been done, and not to be worried about things that are not done. Worry will propel one’s sense of anxiety into disproportionate amounts and make time an enemy to be grappled with, rather than a friend to accompany us in our glorification of God’s name. If we do not take time to pause, even in our most honourable causes, we will not only find 24 hours insufficient, we will eventually wear ourselves out (burn-out) and we will be physically and emotionally weakened.

3) Thirdly, this reflection was done every day of the week. Every day for God is good. Fridays are not to be deemed a better day than any other day. We live ‘seven days for God’ as advocated by Paul Stevens. When we do so with an attitude to give God the glory, we will learn the cure for monotony in our daily living. When we worked with God in mind all the time, when we rest with God in our hearts all the time, we learn the truth about God and ourselves. Let me end with Lucado’s excellent words on using our uniqueness for God daily.
What if everyone worked with God in mind? Suppose no one worked to satisfy self or please the bottom line but everyone worked to please God. Many occupations would instantly cease: drug trafficking, thievery, prostitution, nightclub and casino management. Certain careers, by their nature, cannot please God. These would cease. Certain behaviours would cease as well. If I’m repairing a car for God, I’m not going to overcharge his children. If I’m painting a wall for God, you think I’m going to use paint thinner? Imagine if everyone worked for the audience of One. Every nurse, thoughtful. Every officer, careful. Every professor, insightful. Every salesman, delightful. Every teacher, hopeful. Every lawyer, skillful. Every corner of every chapel, glistening. Impossible? Not entirely. All we need is someone to start a worldwide revolution. Might as well be us. [Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life, (W Publishing Group, 2005) p94]
These three observations are to be seen as one whole. If we can practice adequate pauses in our waking hours, if we can take the time to reflect and be thankful throughout the day, and if we can do the same on a daily basis, we can make every day a blessing not only for ourselves, for others but most importantly, for God. We will learn that we are mortal beings under the mercy of the Immortal God. Bernard of Clairvaux has this to teach us.

"If you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reserviour than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reserviour waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reserviours." (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Truly, we may live for a day being the most effective and efficient canal. That should not be the purpose for our lives. We must become like a reserviour to receive God's blessings in all its fulness, so that we can become a channel of blessings not simply for many, but for any who is in need. This is the gospel of Christ. The good news of becoming a reserviour for God, so that we can work out the glory of God among people, always with God in mind.


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