Flying into Palm Springs, California, USA, brought a new understanding to a passage of Scripture I had read often. Looking out the airplane window, everything suddenly changed from barren desert to lush green grass. It didn't take any scientific analysis for me to know the reason for the change—there was now life-giving water! How did I know? The proof was in the life.
That's when I thought of John 7:38: "Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says" (TM). Your life and mine should look like an oasis in the desert to those who don't know Jesus. It is the evidence that He is real and that God loves the world (John 17:21-23). Dallas Willard states that the Church is hindered in reaching the world for Christ because the way we live doesn't line up with what we say we believe.
According to Willard, we try to see how many people we can get into heaven instead of seeing how much heaven we can get into people. Many people "will not be in heaven because they have (not seen) the reality of Christ in a living human being." I don't know about you, but that is a convicting thought for me. Much of the gap between our living and believing is played out in the workplace every day.
Because we spend more than 60 percent of our waking hours at work, it makes sense that the primary place of Christ being formed in us occurs there, whether or not we work with fellow believers. It's where emotional buttons get pushed, revealing hidden wounds from our past; where faith easily flies out the window and is replaced with self-effort, and where awe and wonder are shrouded with the reality of human brokenness.
After working with many church and parachurch organizations, I can say with confidence that even a Christian mission statement on the door isn't enough to guarantee a Kingdom environment exists within.
God said the greatest commandment is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and body.
Second only to that command is to love our neighbors as ourselves—including the ones we work with. We try skipping right to the Great Commission—to service and ministry—and it just won't work without the first two.
So, what does a Kingdom environment look like? What does it mean to love those with whom we work? Even if we work among people who don't yet know Jesus, we must ask the same question since we are the representatives of God's kingdom no matter where we are. There are four key clues to explore in determining whether we are operating by Kingdom principles. How do we think about and handle influence, power, diversity, and failure?
Do we value and respect those with titles more than we value the person in the mailroom or the invisible employee who sits at the front desk? If we are one of the influential people where we work, then Jesus warned about letting people put us up on a pedestal (Matthew 23:6-8). Instead, we are to use that influence to create a place for others—invite them into the circle, give them a voice, and make them feel wanted. People are desperate to be seen by someone, anyone, rather than feel like cellophane—having others look right through them or walk right by them.
Today there is a huge market of knowledge experts and plenty of people ready to buy their instant cures for powerlessness—in marriage, parenting, career, health, and so on. In Matthew 23:9-10 Jesus admonishes the people: "Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God" (TM).
Even more surprising is Jesus' next statement: "And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them." In God's kingdom, we were created to participate, make decisions, and develop solutions to problems. We do a great disservice to people when we usurp their personal power to contribute in significant ways or work out their own journey with God, even when they want us to tell them what to do.
Often thought of as a male versus female issue, diversity is really more about sameness. Do people where we work feel a need to think the same or be the same in order to be respected, valued, or promoted? One pastor described the potential impact of wanting everyone in God's kingdom to be alike. He said, "Satan tempts us to be entirely diverse with no unity or entirely a unity with no diversity. If he can succeed he eliminates 'babies.'" In other words, sameness does away with new life, change, and creative solutions. People are made unique for a reason and each perspective is needed.
Failure itself seems one of the greatest proofs of the existence of God. The fact that humans have the ability to see forward, imagining beyond their current circumstances, have a determination to move toward it, and then conceive a method to get there cannot be anything short of divine design. Few consider the ability to fail an amazing gift. The result of that movement sometimes ends in a way that is labeled failure, and people are quick to point out blame.
Peter is often chastised for taking his eyes off Jesus instead of focusing on the fact that he was the only one willing to risk. His so-called failure proved to the world that humans can walk on water! How do we react to failure?
Alignment between what we say and how we live is carefully watched by the world around us.
When Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount, the crowd burst into applause because they had never heard teaching like this. It wasn't just His words. "It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers!" (Matthew 7:29, TM).
Lynn Bell is an international speaker, writer, and trained life coach.
Holiness Today, July/August 2008
Please note: This article was originally published in 2008. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.