I remember the first time I ever read Mark 8:34. I was reading in the break room at my job during a lunch break. I slammed the Bible shut and told God, "No! I am not doing that!"
"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Mark 8:34 (KJV)
"What does this have to do with my job?" you might ask. Everything.
The story of the Bible begins with work - God's work of Creation - and continues quickly to detail the work that He has given us to do. Things “go rather pear-shaped” from there, as the Brits say, but the point is that God created us to be beings who work. We are meant to have a life rich with purpose, value, and meaning. God’s story ends in much the same way with a renewed, interconnected heaven and earth where we will not just be sitting on clouds playing harps but will continue forever to work with God and each other to creatively carry His creation further.
But in the here and now, everything is still “pear-shaped” or; not the way it is meant to be. Our idea of work is something more like the meaning of the word ‘toil.’ Many of us view our jobs not as filled with purpose and meaning but as a necessary evil where we spend the majority of our days and, indeed, our lives all the while trying to escape back to our “real life.” I don’t believe we were ever supposed to make such a distinction. When we were children, we knew that, someday, we wanted to grow up and BE something. Remember that? Our thinking was more correct then.
In the next verse, Christ continues, “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”
What does this mean? If you can get over the immediate imagery of physical death, one thing He means is this: our natural understanding of this life, our place in the world, and of our work is pointed in the wrong direction. To get back on track we have to reverse course and follow Jesus’ manner of life. His cruciform life. This involves every aspect of our lives and especially our work. In America, we’ve created a double meaning to our day-to-day where we separate “sacred” from “secular.” By necessity, most of our time is spent in the secular space and, if we’re honest, when it is time to be in the sacred space much of our attention remains focused on secular things. Again, I don’t believe we were ever meant to make such a distinction. Nothing is secular. Everything is sacred. Your work is sacred. Your job today is the place where you can meet with God and reclaim your position as His partner in the development of His Creation.
How do we do this? First, you have to deny yourself. When you deny you - your work isn’t about you. Human beings were not created to pursue money and possessions and positions of power. We were called to live in community with one another and work to create value for the benefit of others. When your job has that kind of purpose it empowers you to work hard. In Mark 10:42-45 Jesus’ gives a picture of what greatness looks like in a corporate setting:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45(ESV)
The flip side of that same coin is to take up your cross. This carries the idea of sacrifice. We’re not simply to work for the good of others rather than ourselves but also make sacrifices for the sake of a greater good. Every American can agree on this: we work in a culture that values the wrong things. The products of our employment, the practices within our organizations, and the people who create them are deformed by these values. It is going to cost you something to correct your course. Have you ever noticed this about intriguing and inspiring quotes posted on social media? They usually come from influential figures who have been dead a long time. We’ve lost the idea of sacrifice in our culture. We no longer have the grit to endure much difficulty. Maybe we never did. Maybe the idea of sacrifice is so rare, so startling to our sensibilities that we tend to glorify any examples we find of it. Didn’t Jesus tell us there were few on the path?
Sacrifice is made possible by companionship. Soldiers in a battle will endure all kinds of difficulty for the sake of their comrades. Times of difficulty and loss in our lives are also times when community is gathered for support. Likewise, when you live for others you will find others who will live for you. And when you persevere for a noble ideal you will find that you don’t struggle alone. Best of all, God finds us in our work. If no one else does, He does, especially when the work is difficult. Or is it that in choosing to follow Him in our employment we find Him already employed in redeeming this world from evil and we enter “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Philippians 3:10 (KJV)
May you find true life in what you do with yours today. Peace!