Why work? Thatís the question Dr. Arthur Holmes, DBUís 1997 Staley
Lecturer, challenged us to consider recently. Why did God create
work as part of His design? If we work just to make a living, Dr.
Holmes contends weíve missed the point, and our work is likely to
be unsatisfying as a result. According to Dr. Holmes, work is an
opportunity to serve others.
His talk reminded me of the experiences of two friends of mine.
James Tennison makes his living as a portrait artist. (He is
extremely gifted. Recently James was hired to paint the governorís
portrait for the capitol building in Austin.) About five years ago
James struggled with a bad attitude because he wanted to paint
other things. Like landscapes, for instance. But landscapes donít
pay the bills. So he painted portrait after portrait after
portrait.... "I used to hate doing portraits," James says. "On
every one, I secretly hoped it would be my last one. I used to
wish for an inheritance so I could paint what I want."
James also teaches art in a local university. Sometimes he got
nervous because he had to do painting demonstrations. He thought,
"Iím supposed to be the expert. My students are watching. What if
I blow it? What if I paint this and it looks stupid?"
Fortunately, God did a great work in Jamesís heart. James began
to see his work as an opportunity to serve. He humbled himself. As
an act of love, he began to count his customers as more important
than himself. The results were dramatic. James says, "The servant
mind-set changed everything. Rather than dwelling on myself and my
desire to do my own thing, I began focusing on my clients and on
how much joy I would bring them if I did a wonderful painting of
their child or spouse or whoever." For James, itís not just a job
anymore; itís a ministry. He often mentions how much joy he now
has in his work.
This change in approach also helped his teaching. James says,
"I finally realized, ĎThis isnít about me; this is about
them. Iím here to serve them. The nervousness has
The second story is about Mike Shrock, a friend from my college
days. Mike owns a landscaping business in Oregon called Living
Color Landscaping. When Mike first took over the business, it
included landscaping on fourteen Burger King franchises. From the
outset Mike saw his business as a ministry and really put his
heart in his work. He went to Disneyland to study how they did
their landscaping. Mikeís goal was to make the help franchise
owners by making the landscaping so sharp and so colorful that it
would grab the attention of people driving by. If Mike learned
from an owner that his franchise was about to be inspected, Mike
would send out an extra crew to plant new flowers and to re-mow
the lawn (even if it had been mown just a few days earlier) to
make the place look incredible. Needless to say, his customers
were thrilled with the service they received and Mikeís company
grew to handle forty-eight Burger King accounts along with many
others. Mike had a lot of joy in his work.
About two years ago Mike became the co-pastor of a small
church. He loves to pastor. He decided not to draw a salary from
the church, but to keep his landscaping business as a source of
income. He began to see his job as Godís provision. It provided
the finances to pay the bills so Mike could pastor his church. His
change in the way he viewed his landscaping job brought an
unintended consequence. As he labored just to make a buck, he
became extremely bored. Mike said to me, "To be honest with you,
for about a year now, Iíve hated my job. Nowadays I find myself
checking the contracts to make sure weíre doing what we said we
would do. I never used to check the contracts--because we
were always going so far beyond what we said we would do."
When Mike realized recently that he was using his
customers rather than serving his customers, he corrected
his mind-set. "Instead of focusing on how bored I am, "Mike says,
"I look for something else I can do to make their place look
better. Itís really made my work a joy again."
Hmmm. Maybe Dr. Holmes was right.