Will Work For Free

If your job ended today and the paychecks stopped coming, what part of your job would you continue to do for free? I’ve been faced with this question for the last few days, having finished at Crossroads, but not yet having started at Gordon Conwell. Even in unemployment, the days still seem to fill themselves, so it’s taken some amount of intentionality to prioritize the things I value.

In between chores and moving logistics, I’ve found myself continuing to do two things in particular. My very first day out of the office, I met with a few students and have continued to this week. I also started blogging, which doesn’t employ the public speaking aspects of preaching, but is an attempt to communicate God’s Word to others for life change. These are the things I loved doing as a youth pastor and the things I hope to keep doing whether I find an opportunity to be paid for them or not.

I recommend asking, “If my job ended today, which elements of it would I keep doing?” It might be helping people find the products they need, creating systems and processes, beautifying the world, or caring for others. It might be any one of a thousand things that would never even cross my mind. Indeed, based on Paul’s letter to the Romans, we should expect to be surprised by one another’s interests and abilities:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”

Considering the variety and peculiarity of the universe God made, it should be no surprise that we enjoy and excel at completely different things. We have different interests, skills, and styles–what a boring world it would be if we didn’t! Most of us can agree, on an abstract level, that diversity is a blessing.

Yet, none of us get to live completely on that abstract level. We live in a space- and time-bound reality where many of us don’t like our jobs. Most can think of something they’d rather do and all have aspects of their work that they dislike. This is why I believe it’s good to know what you’d keep doing, aside from your current arrangement with your employer, simply because of who God made you to be.

Four reasons we should ask, “What would I keep doing for free?”

1. You may be able to focus more on your strengths in your current job. Perhaps not right away, but if you act with character and humility, your employer may be open to shaping your role over time.

2. If you focus on your strengths, you will bless your employer. In a “what-first” mentality, we decide what we want done and then find someone to do it according our specifications. Great organizations need to learn when to employ a “who-first” mentality, taking stock of who they have and then figuring out what they can do best.

3. If you can’t use your strengths in your job, now or ever, you may need question it. God has placed you where he has placed you and though it may be time to set your sights in another direction, you may be here for a while. Nonetheless, it’s worth asking if you should set a new course, explore some new options, and get some wise counsel to help you make good plans.

4. If you can’t switch jobs or re-shape your job, you can still find space outside of your workday. None of us have extra time; we’re all spending 24 hours a day on something. You, however, will never free yourself to make the impact you want to make in the world if you don’t ask critical questions about what you value and start sacrificing the things you don’t.

The Selfishness of My Frugality

This morning, I felt pretty good about myself for reading our chapter for small group one day early. We’re going through Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, a book on “connecting your work to God’s work.” In chapter 2, he compares the 21st century, American view of work to the ancient Greek framework, leading up to the following observation:

Often people who have made it into the knowledge classes show great disdain for the concierges, handymen, dry cleaners, cooks, gardeners, and others who hold service jobs. (47)

My first response was to think, Wow, that’s so true of other people. I should come up with some incredible discussion questions: Who makes your life work? How do you treat them?

Some ill-advised honesty came over me and I tried to answer the questions.

The first people who came to mind were road construction crews. I resent them. Whoops.

What about baristas? No, I avowedly will not say “baristas” in small group. I’m the guy who doesn’t go to coffee shops. I’m the guy who brews his own coffee and keeps our family out of chapter 7. Baristas would not do. I’m too good at avoiding them and their little tip jars.

Keller mentions house cleaners. Definitely not shelling out for something I can do myself.

What about grocery store clerks? Fully 75% of the time, I use the automated check out system. Much quicker. No human interaction required. And baggers? I’ve never asked for help out in my life. I think you might have to tip those guys if you do. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” after all.

Bankers? ATMs. Postal worker? Condo. Never see him. Target employees? Buy everything with Amazon Prime. Free 2-day shipping, and 5-10% most stuff. Ice cream scooper? I repeatedly remind Annie how much cheaper it is to buy a half-gallon at QFC. We find one on sale then self-check that sucker.

I have so designed my life around efficiency with my money and time that I often go days or weeks without interacting with any service providers. Do I disdain the “concierges, handymen, dry cleaners, cooks, gardeners, and others who hold service jobs”? I don’t sneer, but I don’t support them either. All of a sudden I realized, I live like saving my own dollars and cents is more important than supporting others’ endeavors to create and contribute.

Now, not all janitors and window cleaners take Genesis 1-2 to heart, living as the Imago Dei, finding dignity in their work and seeking out opportunities to create and carry out beneficent dominion over the world around us. Perhaps, if I start living that way, I can help them take hold of it; perhaps not. But God takes His own Word quite seriously. “Live frugally” is not the second commandment.

You’ll have to make your own decision about the selfishness of your frugality (while you’re at it, you may need to consider the selfishness of your opulence as well). You’ll have to consider your own circumstances: What will it take for you to make ends meet, be generous with others, care for your family? What I’ve realized this morning is not that I necessarily need to move away from a frugal lifestyle as a whole, but that I must think beyond my own money in each decision, considering who else might be involved. Patronizing my local grocer or bike shop may cost me an extra couple dollars, but is it really my financial wherewithal that got me those couple dollars in the first place? If that money came, not from me, but from the God who 1) provides and 2) decrees love, then I need not fear wise generosity. There are time to support service people as they labor, not only to provide for their children, but to co-create with God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Consider, today, how you can move beyond selfishness, even beyond politeness. How can you invite those around you, especially those you’ve habitually ignored and taken for granted, to take part in the creative charge that God has given humanity? How will you support them in that endeavor?