Saturday, December 30, 2006

Spurgeon on Faith and Help at Work

Some years ago, I noticed a troubling trend in my life. While I readily acknowledged my need for God in many areas of my life, in matters regarding my work it appeared that I was often slow to seek God for specific help.

As an example, I would spend endless hours or even days analyzing a troubling problem before it became apparent to me to pray for wisdom. Rather than trusting God for help, I was in the ungodly habit of depending on my own abilities in the arena of my vocation.

British pastor and theologian C.H. Spurgeon has much to say to someone like me. He makes the point that a life of faith leads the Christian to seek help from God concerning his vocation - often, in practical matters of skill and abilities. From the nineteeth century, here's what he says to us today -

A believer may seek of God the qualifications for his particular calling. "What," say you, "may we pray about such things?" Yes. The labourer may appeal to God for strength; the artisan may ask God for skill; the student may seek God for help to quicken his intelligence.
...this wretched century has grown too wise to honour any God but its own idolized self. If you pray over your work I am persuaded you will be helped in it. If for your calling you are as yet but slenderly qualified, you may every morning pray God to help you that you may be careful and observant as an apprentice or a beginner

Spurgeon's godly, yet practical advice makes room for the pursuit for success. Instead of pursuing success in self reliance, he encourages us to seek God for success in our endeavors. Yet, he reminds us that external success isn't always God's will.

Faith bids you seek help from God as to the success of your daily calling. Know ye not what David says, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep."

You may expect success if you thus seek it: and peradventure some of you would have prospered more if you had more believingly sought the Lord. I say "peradventure," because God does not always prosper even his own people in outward things, since it is sometimes better for their souls that they should be in adversity, and then the highest prosperity is a want of prosperity. Faith quiets the heart in this matter by enabling us to leave results in the hand of God.

From Spurgeon's perspective, nothing is more important than seeking God's blessing on our behavior or conduct at work. He exhorts us to pay close attention to our conduct that we might walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

For, O brethren, whether qualified or not for any particular offices of this life, our conduct is the most important matter. It is well to be clever, but it is essential to be pure. I would have you masters of your trades, but I am even more earnest that you should be honest, truthful, and holy. About this we may confidently go to God and ask him to lead us in a plain path, and to hold up our goings that we slip not, He can and will help us to behave ourselves wisely.

See how Joseph prospered in Egypt because the Lord was with him. He was placed in very difficult positions, on one occasion in a position of the most terrible danger, but he escaped by saying, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" A sense of God's presence preserved him then and at all other times...And so, dear friends, engaged in service or in business, you may go to your heavenly Father and ask him to guide you with his counsel, and you may rest assured that he will order all your way, so that your daily calling shall not hinder your heavenly calling, nor your conduct belie your profession.

Spurgeon also understood how the work environment and the relationships therein can influence a believer.

Faith acts also in reference to our surroundings. We are all very much influenced by those about us. God can raise us up friends who will be eminently helpful to us, and we may pray him to do so: he can put us into a circle of society in which we shall find much assistance in this life's affairs, and also in our progress towards heaven; and concerning this we know that "The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord." Faith will keep you clear of evil company, and constrain you to seek the society of the excellent of this earth, and thus it will colour your whole life.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Joy to the World

Joy to the World by Isaac Watts is one of the most beloved of Christmas carols. It is a favorite of mine.

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" John 1:12

Verse 2
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

"Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!" Psalm 98:4

Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" Galatians 3:13

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. " John 1:14

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 15, 2006

WWJS - Where Would Jesus Shop?

An anti-Walmart group called Wakeup Walmart has enlisted the help of over 130 pastors in its fight against the company's business practices. A new television ad launched last week, features Pastor Joe Phelps asking the question - "can we continue to shop at Walmart without insulting God?". He also explains his rationale for participating in the ad in a special article to the Courier-Journal.

At the heart of the debate are allegations that Walmart has violated child labor laws, underpaid its employees, condoned gender based discrimination and failed to provide health coverage for half of the 1.3 million U.S. employees. However, the rest of the story is that Wakeup Walmart is backed by labor unions who have an interest in convincing Walmart workers to unionize.

This anti-Walmart sentiment is not new - this just happens to be the latest episode involving Christian activism. It's interesting to me that a number of pastors have involved themselves in a broad anti-Walmart movement. Some believe that they are on a mission from God to save Walmart from moral decay, while others like Pastor Phelps are focused on opposing their business practices related to fair pay and benefits.

In a prior post, I've blogged on whether this Christian activism is actually the best way to engage those who have an opposing view. I often wonder if taking a confrontational posture by default is effective engagement.

However, the pastors' participation in the Wakeup Walmart movement and this ad raises the stakes even more. I cannot help but wonder the following -

As a corporate entity, doesn't Walmart have the right to compensate their workers as they deem advantageous to the business provided that they do not operate unethically or unfairly discriminate?

Isn't part of management's responsibility to their customers and shareholders as well as to their employees? Customers desire greatest value for goods and services. Shareholders desire greatest return for their investment. Both desires operate for the common good of society.

Does this well intentioned activism actually mitigate against the advancement of the gospel? At the very least, such activism can dilute the essential message of the gospel which has the power to do far more than simply improve our payscale or health benefits. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. It's a message we must both guard with vigilance and proclaim with joyful confidence.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Deconstructing Racism


Few topics evoke as much emotion in our national conversation as the topic of race. In the wake of the Michael Richards episode, renown author Malcolm Gladwell writes about racism in his post Defining a Racist. He proposes that a racist may be defined on the basis of three criteria: content, intention and conviction. Here are snippets of what he says with regard to each criteria.


"What is said clearly makes a difference. I think, for example, that hate speech is more hateful the more specific it is...To make a targetted claim is worse than calling a name. Similarly, I think it matters how much a stereotype deviates from a legitimate generalization...All hate speech is hurtful. But racism crosses the line and becomes dangerous when it encourages false belief about a targetted group. "


"Was the remark intended to wound, or intended to perpetuate some social wrong? Was it malicious? I remember sitting in church, as a child, while our Presbyterian minister made jokes about how "cheap" Presbyterians were. If non-Presbyterians make that joke, it might be offensive. But a Presbyterian making jokes about Presbyterians with the intention of making Presbyterians laugh is fine, because there is a complete absence of malice in the comment. "


"Does the statement represent the individual's considered opinion? In Blink, I wrote a great deal about unconscious racism--how powerful and how prevalent it is. All of us, in our unconscious, harbor prejudicial thoughts. What is of greatest concern, I think, are not instances where those kinds of buried feelings leak out, but cases where hate speech appeuuars to have been the product of considered, conscious deliberation. Comments made in writing, then, ought to be taken more seriously and judged more harshly than comments made in speech; comments made soberly are worse than those made in anger or jest. "

As far as I know, Malcolm Gladwell is not a Christian but his analysis and comments are insightful. Clearly, identifying racist speech and actions can benefit from a more thoughtful analysis than simply the use of certain forbidden words. Gladwell's deconstruction of what constitutes racist behavior is a great help in this regard.

However, it falls short in understanding the heart of racism. If, as Gladwell says, much of racism is unconscious, it points to the fact that its malignancy is more than skin deep. Racism emanates from our souls and finds its roots from our rebellion against God. Racism is morally reprehensible not primarily because it is hurtful to others. Don't get me wrong - it is certainly hurtful and heinous but it is also far more than that.

Racism is first and foremost an affront to God, who as Creator, made each person in his own image. Each person, regardless of race is created to be a bearer of God's image. The notion that biological differences between races constitute a basis for exerting superiority over or discriminating against another person distorts God's intention in creation. Yet our societal attempts at solving racism through analysis, education and social programs fall short because racism is a problem of the heart. Racism is a stark reminder of the effect of sin on the human race.

This is where the gospel brings hope. At the foot of the cross, all are found guilty before God.

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one"
Romans 3:9-10

In Christ, all are equally valued before God.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:27-28

Here's the point of this post - the issue of race is strategically important in contextualizing the gospel to the world around us. It is a profoundly vital issue in our nation today but one that we've been unable to address effectively. God's answer to racism is to simply point to his church.

As the church, we have the opportunity to offer the only compelling picture of true unity and rich diversity. We also have the opportunity to tell them about the God who made such unity possible.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Revelation 7:9-10

Friday, December 08, 2006

The High Calling of Our Daily Work

One of my goals for Every Square Inch is to highlight resources that promote a rich application of gospel truths in business and culture. The High Calling of Our Daily Work is a wonderful resource that I've come to appreciate. There are articles, short audio messages and other great tools on their website.

They are also a sponsor of Faith in the Workplace, a featured section on the Christianity Today website. Their vision statement as found on the The High Calling website is the following -

"To be the internet source for people seeking the high calling of their work and daily life."

Check it out at

Monday, December 04, 2006

Spurgeon on Choosing Your Occupation

Charles Spurgeon offers timeless advice on faith, work and the choice of one's occupation. Whether you're a college student embarking on your career or a 45 year old executive in the midst of a midlife career change, these are truths worth remembering.

True faith in him who loved us, and gave himself for us, also seeks direction of the Lord as to the sphere of its action, and waits upon him to be guided by him in the choice of a calling. Some people are trying to do what they were never made for, ambitious beyond their line. This is a grievous evil. There should, therefore, be a seeking unto God for guidance and direction; and faith leads us to such seeking.

Spurgeon also speaks to the nature of the work suitable for a Christian.

In the choice of a calling faith helps a Christian to refuse that which is the most lucrative if it be attended with a questionable morality... Trades which are injurious to men's minds and hearts are not lawful callings before God. Dishonest gain is awful loss.

He warns not only of dishonest gain but also of the kind of motivation that places the pursuit of money as the primary aim of work and the center of one's ambition.

"Make money," said the worldling to his son; "make it honestly if you can, but, anyhow, make money." Faith abhors this precept of Mammon, and having God's providence for its inheritance, it scorns the devil's bribe.

Spurgeon's advice is practical in the sense that he understands that God creates each person with unique gifts and abilities. The discovery of one's call must take that into account.

Callings should be deliberately chosen with a view to our own suitableness for them. Faith watches the design of God, and desires to act according to his intent.

He advises that faith also takes into account the providence of God in placing us within the scope of a particular time, place and opportunity. The faith that seeks God for vocational guidance is markedly different from a purely analytical assessment of our circumstances. Instead, there is a leaning upon God as we assess our position in life; trusting in God's sovereign favor to lead us into what he intends for us.

We should also by faith desire such a calling as Providence evidently has arranged and intended for us. Some persons have never had a free choice of what vocation they would follow; for from their birth, position, surroundings, and connections they are set in a certain line of things, like carriages on the tram lines, and they must follow on the appointed track, or stand still. Faith expects to hear the voice behind it saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Trusting to our own judgment often means following our own whims; but faith seeks direction from infallible wisdom, and so it is loaf in a right way. God knows your capacity better than you do; entreat him to choose your inheritance for you.

If the flowers were to revolt against the gardener, and each one should select its own soil, most of them would pine and die through their unsuitable position; but he who has studied their nature knows that this dower needs shade and damp; and another needs sunlight and a light soil; and so he puts his plants where they are most likely to flourish. God doeth the same with us.

What I love about Spurgeon's perspective is that he never drifts far from the gospel. He reminds us that God may have either fortune or poverty for us but he remains faithful to work for our good and the praise of his own glory.

He hath made some to be kings, though few of those plants flourish much. He has made many to be poor, and the soil of poverty, though damp and cold, has produced many a glorious harvest for the great Reaper. The Lord has set some in places of peril, places from which they would gladly escape, but they are there preserved by his hand; he has planted many others in the quiet shade of obscurity, and they blossom to the praise of the great Husbandman.

These God centered perspectives from the 19th century may seem odd to us at times. Unfortunately, much of what passes as career advice today, even from Christians, will often emphasize the practical aspects of choosing a career but leave little room for the spiritual. It may espouse the view to "do what you love" but often without accounting for God's calling. It may assess career opportunities on the basis of pay or marketplace demand but not in terms of what brings honor to God or serves our neighbor.

Spurgeon exhorts us to think about our career choices rather differently.

Friday, December 01, 2006

High Tech Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend the Washington DC High Tech Prayer Breakfast. Although I had previously heard about the event, this was the first time I was able to attend.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast is an annual event serving as an outreach to high tech professionals in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Christians in the technology business may sometimes operate in anonymity as we busy ourselves with running companies, building software and managing projects. Yet, you will find among the ranks of these christians, some of the leading executives, venture capitalists, corporate lawyers, bankers and technologists in the region.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast offers us an opportunity to reach out to our colleagues and business associates in a non threatening and compelling way.

This year's event was attended by over 800 individuals. It was keynoted by Jay Coughlan, former CEO of Lawson Software. He offered a compelling testimony of how he came to faith in Christ and how God has changed his life. It was a joy to hear of the mercy of God shown to Jay. You can read more about his testimony in this article.

The High Tech Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC was started by Carl Grant, who serves as its President and unofficial chief evangelist. By day, he's the Vice President, Business Development for Cooley Godward, a leading law firm. Carl is one of the most connected individuals in the Washington DC tech scene and genuinely, one of the good guys in our business. After attending the High Tech Prayer Breakfast in Atlanta, Carl was moved to start an equivalent prayer breakfast in the Washington DC area. It's attracted a good response and couple of years ago, the Washington Post even ran a nice story about the the event.

I am glad for guys like Carl and others in the organizing committee who make it a point of using their gifts to make a unique difference in the marketplace.