Watching Usain Bolt in the Olympics destroy the opposition with his scorching speed in the 100 metres while at the same time hardly seeming to break sweat or take the whole thing very seriously reminded me of a picture I used to have of myself running. I think the picture was taken when I was about 16 and I was running for the Air Cadets. That particular picture came into my mind not because I was like Bolt, scorchingly fast, or because I had a relaxed running style, in fact it was quite the opposite. The picture was an “action shot” taken of me sprinting amongst a group of other boys and I have the most torturous look on my face and every muscle in my body seems to be strained to breaking point. People used to comment on, and laugh at, my contorted face when I ran. For a while I was quite embarrassed by that picture which captured my running face for eternity for those who hadn’t had the misfortune to see me run in person.
Recently however I have changed my opinion about this picture which used to cause a red flush of embarrassment to cross my face if others saw it. Now if I were to find it in some photograph album (remember them?) I think I would actually be quite proud of it and not at all embarrassed by my odd facial expression. Actually the more I having been thinking about it recently the more I would really like the attitude that lay behind that teenage facial expression to be seen in everything I do, if not the expression itself. In that race all those years ago I was utterly committed to doing the very best I could. I was determined that if I got to the finish line and was beaten (not an infrequent experience I might add) that I would never be able to think to myself I could have won that “if I had just tried a little harder.” That photograph, if I could find it, would not now be a source of shame but rather pride. The pride would stem from being able to see in myself all those years ago on the running track something I would like to cultivate in my life now, an utter determination to do whatever I am doing to the best of my ability.
Something else, apart from Usain Bolt’s speed and nonchalant attitude, reminded me of that old picture of a younger me. It was these words from the Apostle Paul to the first generation of believers about their attitude to what they do in life.
” Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24
I sort of grew up with a nagging doubt as to whether God worked on Mondays or outside of the four walls of the imposing church building of Greenock Elim Church. I realise I have to make allowances for probably not being the most attentive teenager when it came to sermons but honestly I struggle to remember much that was said that was about life outside of church and its programmes, which incidentally ran every night of the week. Sundays seemed the epicentre of being Christian and church its focus and everything else in life was treated as a bit superfluous. Subconsciously I came to believe that there was a sort of pecking order for Christians which ranked the importance of what people did. Ordinary “lay men” were at the bottom of the pile (well maybe “lay women” were cause I don’t think they ever actually got a mention) and then there were various kinds of Sunday school teachers, then the members of the “deacon’s court” and then there were the people whom it seemed were doing something really significant with their lives, the pastors and of course at the very pinnacle of all evangelical life, the foreign missionary. We heard a great deal about what pastors and foreign missionaries did in that church, about their call to “full time christian service” and about strange experiences in exotic places. Strangely in a town dominated by ship yards and electronics factories I never heard much about serving God as a welder or product line worker. Life seemed to be split into the “church / spiritual part” which was important and the “work” bit which seemed to be frankly seen as a bit of a distraction from the really important church stuff.
I couldn’t help but notice that Paul by contrast sees all of our lives as a whole, he says ” Whatever you do” He refuses to split life into different compartments, church life, devotional life, working life, social life, sex life? Instead he assumes that every part of our life is infused with the same significance if we are followers of Jesus. Paul says that whatever we do, we all ultimately have the same vocation and it amounts to a calling from God. Whether we are a employed as a waitress, a doctor, an office worker, an academic, engineer, bus driver or street sweeper if we are followers of Jesus Paul says our calling is actually “to work for the Lord” which he equates with to “serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Just reflect on that for a moment. God’s Word is saying that it doesn’t matter who pays your wages into the bank, ultimately they are not your boss, as a follower of Jesus no matter what your occupation, the most important part of your job description is that you are there to serve Christ. Pastors, car mechanics, cooks, cleaners and cross cultural evangelists are all called by God and they are called by God to serve Him wherever they are and whatever they are doing. There is no such things “secular” work and “kingdom” work, everything we do is Kingdom work for whatever we do we are to serve the King in doing it.
One of the implications of this is that my job as a church leader isn’t any more significant than a Christian who works in a call centre, or a stay at home parent or a shop worker, we are all called, all called to serve Christ through our job or profession. Within the Kingdom of God there is no pecking order, no elite group of disciples called to “full time christian service” while the others only get to serve Christ on part time basis when they turn up at a Church building. Just think over what you do in the light of what Mark Greene says all about this, “Work is both necessary and good. God doesn’t take the Christian out of the world; rather, he transforms all aspects of life in the world, including work. In line with this, Paul calls on Christians to do their work for God. Work becomes one of the ways in which humanity serves God. It becomes a component of our worship. Interestingly, Hebrew uses the same word for “worship” as for “work” – “avodah”… Work then is worship. It is done for God, and this has radical implications for our attitude to the quality of our performance.”
What Mark Greene means in that final sentence, “this has radical implications for our attitude to the quality of our performance.” is that in every aspect of our life, including the part we are paid for, our lives should be a living embodiment of that picture of my contorted and plukey 15 year old face. In the same way I put everything into my running back then, when I could run, today as Christ followers we are to strive to do whatever we do to the very best of our ability. Paul puts it like this, whatever we do, we do it for the Lord and therefore we are to “work at it with all our heart” When we serve the Lord, in whatever area of life, we are to do without reservation, with nothing held back. Every time Bolt runs there is nagging feeling he could have ran faster if he had put “everything into it’ That same nagging doubt is never to linger round what we do as servants of Christ. I can’t remember what position I came in at the end of the race that my picture was taken in, I am certain it wasn’t first or last, but I do remember that I had the self satisfaction of knowing that I had put everything into it and couldn’t have done any better. The New Testament pictures our whole lives as a race and I have been reminded by Usian Bolt, an old picture and the Apostle Paul that I want to run that race so that at its end the One whom I have been serving won’t look at my life and say you could have tried harder.
How about you? Do you realise that whatever you did today however mundane it may have felt had real significance because it was a God given opportunity to serve God? Do you realise that your calling is no lesser or no greater than anyone else’s that you are not a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God if you are not a pastor or a worship leader or cross cultural missionary. How does that thought affect what you have to do tomorrow, and next week and next year, doesn’t it inspire you to do it to the best of your ability as ” It is the Lord you are serving?”