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  How To Win At WorkMonday, December 11th, 2023  
By Paul Basden

  • First, motivate yourself.
  • Second, know what time it is.
  • Third, get started.
  • Fourth, be useful.
  • Fifth, face the facts.
  • Sixth, complete what you start.
  • Seventh, embrace hard work.
  • Eighth, face your problems.
Between the ages of 25 and 65, most of us spend more time working than sleeping, eating, playing, or doing anything else.

Consider this recent humorous look at work in the form of a Top Ten list of signs indicating that your company is planning a layoff. (Work is hard, but is there anything wrong in laughing about it?)

10. Company softball team downsized to chess team.
9. Dr. Kevorkian hired as a "transition consultant."
8. Pretty young women in marketing suddenly start to flirt with dorky personnel manager.
7. The beer of choice at company picnics is Old Milwaukee.
6. Giant yard sale in front of corporate headquarters.
5. Company president now driving a Hyundai.
4. Annual company holiday bash moved from Sheraton banquet room to abandoned Fotomat booth.
3. Employee discount days at Ammo Attic are discontinued.
2. Company dental plan now consists of pliers and string.
1. CEO frequently heard mumbling "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo" behind closed doors.

Work is too important not to laugh at, right? Yet it is clearly more than a laughing matter. In reality, it is nothing less than a gift from God. What God gives, God values. And God values hard work.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs contains over twenty-five proverbs on work and laziness. A handful of these passages deserve special consideration. They suggest vital ingredients on How to Win at Work.

First, motivate yourself.

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler." (Prov. 6:6-7)

Sluggard is a word that occurs fourteen times in Proverbs and nowhere else in the Bible. Today we would say lazybones, that is, someone who resists, resents, even hates work. It refers to someone who doesn't understand that living in God's world calls for diligence, attention, and hard work, not laziness and sloth, indolence or apathy.

The message to the sluggard is short, sweet, and sarcastic: go find an ant, watch its ways, and see what you can learn. Such observation should yield two lessons. The first is: motivate yourself. The ant "has no commander, no overseer or ruler." It needs no prodding or pushing from outside to do its work. It simply acts out of self-motivation.

Almost nothing you bring to work is more important than being self-motivated. And there is almost nothing harder than trying to motivate another person to do good work. In fact, it's an impossible task! Only you can motivate yourself to work, and you can never fully motivate another person to good work. That is a law of life.

What, then, are the best motivations for you to do your best work?

The Bible teaches that we humans were made to work. Before sin ever entered the world, God designed human beings to work. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Gen. 2:15) Work was a good gift from God. It still is.

In addition, we have creativity to offer the world, and this often is best expressed in our vocation. This is some of what it means to be created in the image of God. Even as God continually cares for the world through Providence, so we care for the world through our work.

Also, we can glorify God through our work. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…" (Col. 3:23).

If you want to fail in your job, wait for others to motivate you. But if you want to win at work, motivate yourself!

Second, know what time it is.

"Yet [the ant] stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (Prov. 6:8).

The second lesson from the ant is equally profound: recognize the times. The ant knows instinctively when it's time to store up food for cold winter months. It has built-in foresight. It does not wait until winter arrives, then wonder why there is not enough food. It plans ahead.

Do you know what time it is where you work? Do you know what time it is in your profession?

Folk-rock legend Bob Dylan recently had his face on the front cover of Newsweek. Dylan was famous in the early 1960s for noticing the changing times in our country. His best-selling songs, "The Times, They Are A-Changing" and "The Answer is Blowing in the Wind," pointed out just how much the world was changing, yet few noticed what was happening. He charged the leaders of his day with not knowing what time it was.

The same is true for the world of work. Many people in the workforce don't know what time it is. Price Pritchett is an expert in organizational change. The author of seventeen books on the dynamics of change, Pritchett has earned a Ph.D. in Psychology and for over twenty years has served as a consultant to major American corporations such as 3M, GE, IBM, American Airlines, BellSouth, Chemical Bank, and Ernst and Young. In New Work Habits for a Radically Changing World (Pritchett & Associates, Inc., Dallas, TX), he states the following:

"During the early 1900's, 85% of our workers were in agriculture. Now agriculture involves less than 3% of the workforce."

"In 1950, 73% of U.S. employees worked in production or manufacturing. Now less than 15% do."

"As recently as the 1960's, almost one-half of all workers in the industrialized countries were involved in making (or helping to make) things. By the year 2000, however, no developed country will have more than one-sixth or one-eighth of its workforce in the traditional roles of making and moving goods."

"The Department of Labor estimates that by the year 2000 at least 44% of all workers will be in data services-for example, gathering, processing, retrieving, or analyzing information."

"The information supply available to us doubles every 5 years."

"In 1991, nearly 1 out of 3 American workers had been with their employer for less than a year, and almost 2 out of 3 less than 5 years."

"Constant training, retraining, job-hopping, and even career-hopping will become the norm."

The times, they really are a-changing! Do you know what time it is where you work? If you want to fail in your job, ignore the changing times; but if you want to win, know what time it is!

Third, get started.

"How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (Prov. 6:9-11).

The ant offers yet another lesson for us to learn about work: get up and get going. You never see ants lying around doing nothing. Nor do you ever see successful business-people doing nothing. Success at work can happen only if you finally get started.

Since this passage seems to criticize sleep, let me clarify: there is nothing wrong with sleep! It's a gift from God to restore our energy for the next day. But to fail to get up and get going day after day is to invite economic disaster. Success tends to follow hard work. Do you live to sleep, or sleep to live?

If you want to fail in your job, then put off beginning your work. Keep singing Manana, Manana, Manana is good enough for me. Keep letting opportunities slip through your fingers. But if you want to win at work, then get started! Begin with the task you hate the worst, the project you're behind on the most, the job you've been putting off the longest. Do get started!

Fourth, be useful.

"As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him." (Prov. 10:26)

Here is yet another picture of the sluggard, and it's not pretty. This is the worker who is slothful in his or her job and who is not habitually helpful to anyone. This is the employee who is more of a nuisance than a blessing to employers, who violates their trust, and who embarrasses them in front of others. This is the person who ends up being as much of a pain and an irritant to co-workers as vinegar is to the teeth and smoke is to the eyes-all you can do is walk away and cringe.

Physicians must take a vow when they assume the role of medical provider. The promise: "First do no harm!" This should be the motto of all of us in every job: do no harm, do some good, be useful. Make your employer or supervisor proud of you for the way you work.

I recently read a story of a chance encounter between one of the founders of American Airlines and a lazy employee.

C.R. Smith, one of the founders of American Airlines, stopped once in Nashville, Tennessee. He found two desks in the American Airlines sector of the airport. On one a phone was madly ringing. Sitting at the other, with his feet propped up, a man was reading a newspaper. Smith said, "Your phone is ringing." The man said, "That's reservations. I'm maintenance." Smith answered the phone, and it was a father urgently needing to get to California. Smith rattled off the schedule from memory to the man and hung up. The other man, attracted by Smith's knowledge of the schedule, said, "Say, that was pretty good. Do you work for American Airlines?" Smith said, "Yes, I do. And you used to." (Peel, Discover Your Destiny, 170)

If you want to fail in your job, then don't do anything more than what's expected of you. Don't be helpful. Ignore your job description. Don't answer that other phone. But if you want to win at work, be useful!

Fifth, face the facts.

"He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment." (Prov. 12:11)

Earlier in this century Eugene O'Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh, a play about one man's "pipedreams" and his unwillingness to face reality. So he never faced the facts; he just lived in a fantasy land. Now while fantasy lands don't require real food or homes or clothes, the real world does. No worker has the luxury of living in a dreamworld, wishing things were different, pretending that things are not as they appear. In the real world, we are compelled to face the facts.

Switzerland used to own the watch business. But Swiss watchmakers in the 1960s didn't face the facts about quartz watches, and today Japan owns the watch business. A half-century ago, American railroads didn't face the facts about the rise in popularity of cars and airplanes, and today railroads do precious little business compared to their glorious past. According to a recent Newsweek article, taped conversations of LBJ from the Oval Office in 1964 reveal that the U.S. government didn't face the facts about the Vietnam War until way too late; by the time they did look squarely at the issues, hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost in an unwinnable war.

If you want to lose in your job, then ignore reality. Live in a dream world. Build your home in fantasy land. But if you want to win at work, face the facts!

Sixth, complete what you start.

"The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions." (Prov. 12:27)

This verse draws a sad picture of a man who goes to the trouble of hunting and catching game for food, but then is too lazy to roast it for eating. It's a perfect illustration of the well-known truth that fools begin well, but never finish well. When I was a college student at Baylor, near the end of every semester our B.S.U. Director would give us a speech. It was the same every year. We called it his "Finish well!" speech. In it, he would challenge us to finish the semester as well as we began it. He would urge us to be as upbeat as we faced final exams as we were on the first day of class. We needed to hear it then, and we need to hear it now.

Few things are more frustrating than working with someone who starts a job, then leaves it incomplete. When that happens, someone else has to finish it. Hasn't it happened to you before?

If you want to fail in your job, begin well...then quit! But if you want to win at work, then finish what you begin. Do what you say. Complete what you start!

Seventh, embrace hard work.

"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty" (Prov. 14:23).

You've probably noticed a fact in the marketplace: some people prefer talk to work. They would rather discuss the job than get out and do the job. This is a recipe for vocational failure! The general rule is that hard work gets you ahead in life and makes you a decent living. Talk gets you nowhere...except to the poorhouse!

Thomas Edison, America's foremost scientist and inventor, was famous for the hard work he invested in his inventions. The man who supposedly said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," also said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Charles Kingsley once said,

"Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you a hundred virtues which the idle will never know." (Leadership, Fall 1996)

If you want to fail in your job, just sit around and talk about what needs to be done. But if you want to win at work, then embrace the job before you. Perform the doing of it.

Eighth, face your problems.

"The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside!' Or, 'I will be murdered in the streets!'" (Prov. 22:13)

Here is a third look at the sluggard. It ranks as one of the most curious proverbs in the book. The saying points to the ridiculous excuses that some people make in order to avoid work. Perhaps you have heard about the man who didn't want to get up one Sunday morning and go to church. His wife shook him and shook him until he was awake enough to talk. She demanded that he get up, eat, shower, dress, and go to church. He refused. She demanded again. He refused again. After a long moment of silence, he looked at her and said, "Give me three good reasons why I should go to church today." She responded: "Okay, First, you're a Christian. Second, the people there love you. Third, you're the pastor!" All of us make excuses to avoid work when there's a problem we don't want to face.

Fear of facing problems is normal. But John Claypool was right when he said, "The truth may hurt, but only the truth can heal."

Max DePree, retired business executive and active Christian layman, tells the following story.

A year ago I was at the School of Education at Harvard talking about some of these ideas related to change. During the question-and-answer period, a man said he had had lunch with an executive from AT&T shortly after the company announced it was laying off 40,000 people. When the subject came up, the man from AT&T said, "What you have to understand is that there are no more jobs. There are only projects." (Fuller Focus, Spring 1997)

If you want to fail in your job, then make excuses when you don't want to work. But if you want to win at work, then face your problems head-on!

Now while this sermon is about how to win at work, it ultimately points to a more profound question: how can you win at life? After all, life is more than work. Vocational success does not automatically translate into relational and emotional and spiritual success. So how can you win at life?

Here is a word for you on this serious subject-not original, but profound. As you work hard, don't worship your work. Don't become a workaholic. Balance your work with play and worship, heeding Randall Lolley's pithy warning lest "We worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship." Surely this is not God's will for Christ-followers.

Therefore work hard. Do your job well. Offer your labor to Christ. Seek God's Kingdom first. In so doing, you will win not only at work, but also at life.

2000-2002 by The Christian Ethics Today Foundation

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