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When I Was Blindly Chasing My Boss’ Approval

I watched intently as a group of HR staff handed out certificates and a small gift to the month’s outstanding worker. A small part of me hoped they would stop by my desk. But alas, after years of waiting, it never happened.

However, I was not going to let a monthly award program get in the way of me gaining the big prize, which in my eyes, was to be awarded the “exceeds expectations” grading in my annual performance review. Needless to say, I spent a huge amount of time trying to be the best employee there ever was in my department. I accepted assignments despite my growing workload, did overtime without complaining, and found ways to support both the marketing and buying team, each time thinking my efforts would catch my bosses’ attention.

So, imagine my disappointment when, after three years in my role, I failed to achieve the “exceeds expectations” grade, sitting on  “meets expectations” instead, which was one rank beneath.

Recently, a year after leaving the company and moving overseas for a different opportunity, I learned the workmate who took over my role was given “exceeds expectations”. A part of me died when the news reached my ears. Learning of her superior rating left me dissatisfied, and a strong sense of injustice washed over me.

“I worked my tail off too, putting in hours of work. What did she do that was different?” I thought. And in my opinion, she was a little hard to like. She enjoyed trumpeting her own successes (often within earshot of our managers), and wouldn’t think twice of spreading news about other people’s mistakes and failings. Thinking that a person like her would be able to attain the very grade I was hankering after made me envious.

Yes, I was one unhappy employee. But the incident saw a train of questions rolling through my head: Why was I so hung up over men’s reward systems? What does “meets” and “exceeds expectations” really mean in the larger scheme of things? Will it guarantee me a nicer, sweeter spot in Heaven? Would God say to me at the end of my life, “Well done, Michele, for achieving exceeds expectations in your annual work review”? Surely not!

Reflecting on these questions had me questioning the whys behind my work ethic.

 

Serving Our Earthly Bosses vs Serving God

You see, when I was working my tail off finishing every assignment, I did it because I really wanted my managers to approve of me (and also with hopes they wouldn’t think of laying me off should the company find itself in an economic jam). But along the way, I had forgotten that the one person who is truly worthy of my wholehearted service is God.

Ephesians 6:5-8 says we are to:

obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as we would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slaves or free.

A huge uh-oh moment sunk in when I read the verse as I realized that my intentions, while good, were misguided.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving our best at work, but working for God requires a greater sacrifice and commitment than working for our earthly bosses. For instance, with our bosses, it’s easy to pretend we are enjoying the extra tasks set before us even though we are disliking every minute of it. But as it says in Ephesians 6:5, we are to work with “sincerity of heart”, and I believe that this means not complaining behind our managers’ backs about our bulging inboxes or the unfair workload allocations (but bring it up with your manager, if you must).

When my eyes fell on the line “because you know the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do,” I realized I should be looking to Him instead for my reward.  Even if our workmates around us have no issues blowing their own trumpets, or openly complaining about their struggles,  I think God would want me to soldier on quietly, and with integrity (not nipping out for extended coffee breaks or mindlessly watching YouTube videos when I should be working), even though my hard work might go unnoticed.

 

“Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”

Ephesians 6:5-8 also helped me see that even when our earthly bosses may overlook us for a promotion or sweep our achievements under the carpet, God sees and judges everything, and He is a fair and just Person who does not change like shifting shadows (Psalm 25:8, James 1:17).

However, as a “slave of Christ”, the expectations He has for me are quite different from my employer’s, which are more about converting sales and meeting deadlines. I think if God were to map out my KPI (Key Performance Indicators), they would include loving my colleagues when they are insufferable (John 13:34-35), not giving in even when I am dying to pass on a delicious gossip (Ephesians 4:29), and honoring others (Romans 12:10)—to name a few.

And when work gets challenging and unfair, I believe God would want me to persevere (James 1:12), and to continue showing up for work every day with a positive attitude, ready to do good even when it gets hard (Galatians 6:9). I also know that God would not want me coveting my workmate’s performance review or her pay increase.

Doing the above can seem so dull and laborious. What fun is there in toiling if you can’t at least tell everyone what you’ve done? Why bother with integrity when everyone around you is taking long lunch breaks and watching funny cat videos on repeat? But as Christians, we are called to a higher standard, and we are “to do everything without complaining or arguing, so that we may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation, in which we shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Identifying the different work standards I have been called to has made me realize that the temporal things I crave and chase aren’t as important to Him as how I’m treating those around me or conducting myself when no one else is looking. The “exceeds expectations” grade that I desired so much would pale in comparison to the reward of hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of my service on earth.

And that’s a goal worth aiming for.

4 Lessons From the Life of a Small Church Pastor

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

The church I became a Christian in is probably one of the smallest churches in Singapore. I started attending it because the pastor’s wife—who happens to be my husband’s aunt—reached out to me during a period of trials. Through her, I found comfort in God’s Word and a Christian community who really encouraged me.

There’s only one pastor in this church—the senior pastor. He originally served in another church, but then God led him to plant his own church over 20 years ago. Today, he and his wife continue to faithfully minister in this little church, where the congregation has rarely grown past 30 members at a time.

The small church has no building of its own. We used to rent a room at an old bungalow, but it was demolished to make way for new developments. Because of our small size and limited finances, we could not find a permanent place to meet in. We finally settled for renting a function room in a hotel every week. We hoped that the change of environment might bring in more people, especially since the hotel environment is cosy, and the hotel is centrally located. Two years have passed, however, and people come and go.

Most visitors are tourists staying in the hotel who return home at the end of their stay. Outreach efforts to non-Christians are limited because of our few resources. Initiatives to start a church website were futile as we eventually realized that we lacked the technological skills.

At a parachurch conference or mass prayer meeting, my pastor is known only to us and his pastor friends, but unknown to the masses. He never receives invitations to speak at conferences. He is just an unnoticed small church pastor. Through his life, I saw the struggles of a small church pastor.

Pastor is even looked down upon by his own relatives, who have yet to believe in Christ. They criticize him as an unsuccessful small church pastor, and antagonize him for feeding on church member’s money instead of finding work. I tried putting myself in his shoes and mulled over these comments—they sounded so hurtful.

Despite all these difficulties, Pastor has never lost sight of God. His faithfulness and passion really inspire me to look at my own life and ask how I can better live for God. Here are a few things I have learned from my pastor.

 

1. Be faithful in ministry

In the face of a seemingly small ministry harvest, disappointments, and persecution from relatives, our pastor holds firm to the call of God to shepherd his flock. Pastor showed us what it means to be faithful to one’s calling even when that calling is tough. He has chosen to persevere and anchor his faith in the unchanging love of our faithful God in the toughest time. From his life, I am learning that ministry is not about popularity, fame, or success. Ministry is about trusting the Lord with obedience even in the unknown and barren times.

 

2. Glorify God in all we do

Pastor knows that God is sovereign over all our successes. God’s delight is not in the strength of horses, nor in the legs of a warrior, but it is in those who fear Him and put their trust in His unfailing love (Psalm 147:10-11). In everything that he does, I have seen Pastor ask himself whether his work will glorify God. This really encourages me to take the same attitude. After all, we are created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7), and we will not find our purpose apart from God.

 

3. Live out the Gospel

Even though there are only so few people in the congregation, Pastor takes his responsibility to preach edifying sermons seriously. He prays through each and every message he shares, and so speaks words that convict our hearts and transform our thoughts, that we may walk in the light of Christ.

Because Pastor demonstrates deep trust in God in all situations; he does not just preach the gospel, but lives it out and makes it real to us. This has reminded me that God’s Word is not to be taken lightly. Despite the size of our congregation, I see the power of God’s Word ministering to the hearts of people. Often members of the congregation will go forward to the altar when our pastor closes his message with a challenge or invitation. As I continue to listen to God’s Word preached and continue to study it on my own, my interest as well as my discernment increases.

 

4. God always provides

Because the majority of our congregation are old and retired, tithes and offerings are small. But our pastor never seeks after wealth, and instead gives generously to missions. He continues to show us that we can be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13). He shows us God’s sustaining grace. He makes God’s power real to us.

God has always provided for our pastor and his family, sometimes even through our church members, who are generous in supporting them whenever they can. The pastor’s wife has been offered many different job opportunities, which enabled her to provide for their daughter. Pastor has also learned to be handy with tools, and can often fix anything broken. In short, God has not allowed the family to suffer lack. From their example, I am reminded to remember and trust in God’s goodness, and to be hardworking when God provides various opportunities for us to sustain ourselves.

 

Though his ministry is small, this faithful pastor has really taught me a lot. I am inspired by his faith and hope to share with him how he has made faith real to me. I have learned that no ministry is too small to impact lives, and that when we are committed to living godly lives, God will display His glory and power in our lives. He never puts to shame those who walk rightly with Him. This encourages me as I continue using my gift to write and co-labor with ministries to share the gospel and impact lives.

I’m No Superwoman and It’s Perfectly Okay

In English novelist Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, there is a particular discussion on the attributes of an “accomplished woman”. These are “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages”, as well as polished manners and an appetite for reading. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, dismisses the entire notion as impossible to achieve.

Even back then, Austen knew that the idea of an ideal woman was unrealistic. You would think that such an idea would have disappeared with the times. However, though the idea has evolved, it still exists today. Today, women are pressured to be, among other things:

  • A successful career woman
  • A loving wife and patient mother
  • A great cook and homemaker with an eye for design
  • A fitness and health enthusiast
  • A passionate advocate for social causes
  • A committed church member serving in at least one ministry
  • A trendy Instagram-worthy fashionista

Deep down, we know that this idea of a “superwoman” is unrealistic, yet we are still taken up with it. At least I am. Thinking that I can do it all, I have often found myself overcommitted with projects, from event planning to serving in church to exercise to studies. I would stretch myself thin, only to collapse in despair and exhaustion, brought down by either my failure or the sense that there’s always more to be done.

This struggle to be a quintessential multitasker was evident recently, when I had to care for my four-year-old brother. I honestly enjoyed the good sibling time we had together, but I felt listless at the end of the day. While my peers were out sealing deals, submitting press releases and finalizing consultancy reports, I had spent the day playing with my brother and making sure he finished his meals. I felt unaccomplished.

I often feel this way—as if I have not yet done enough. But along the way I’ve learned a few lessons on how I can choose to respond to that perception.

1) Choose humility

I have to acknowledge that I’m no superhero. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I can’t be a cook and a seamstress and an administrator all at once. I’ve often had to swallow my pride and admit my limits. I have to admit that I’m just not God.

2) Choose grace

There was one time when I was in tears because I was behind on household chores, and my husband had to gently reassure me that his love for me was not determined by how brightly the floor gleamed. In that moment, I saw a little bit more of how God loves us too. We are not defined by our accomplishments, nor is our worth measured by our strengths and weaknesses. Rather, everything we have is by grace, and all we are able to do is because God enables us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

3) Choose faithfulness

The chief lesson I’ve learned is that our lives are defined not by one big moment, but rather by the sum of many small ones. Hence, what is actually required of us is faithfulness―faithfulness to God and faithfulness in loving others. And this faithfulness is played out in our day-by-day lives.

Proverbs 31 describes a noble woman who seems to be the superwoman. I used to be both awed and terrified by her. But in reading the chapter again, I noticed that the verses actually talk about everyday, mundane tasks―cooking, farming, crafting. The Proverbs 31 woman did not claim superwoman-hood. All she did was to be faithful with whatever was given to her daily. That commitment was what her husband and children praised her for—”Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29).

It’s not just about nailing that important presentation. It’s also about whether I treat my fellow teammates with respect and care while we work together. It’s not just about having a grand wedding. It’s also about whether I continue to love and serve my husband every day after. Do I choose God every morning, and not only on Sundays?

Understanding faithfulness has given me new insight into what it means to be an accomplished woman in God’s eyes. And it is much more achievable than the demands we impose on ourselves. I do still aspire to be a good wife, daughter, homemaker, volunteer, and worker. But now I choose to admit my limitations, humbly receive the grace of the Lord, and commit to be faithful with whatever I have and can give in the 24 hours given―even if it means that the only thing I accomplish today is to care for my brother.

ODJ: whose opinion matters?

July 25, 2015 

READ: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 

God will give to each one whatever praise is due (v.5).

I carefully crafted a Scripture lesson for my church youth group. After I presented it, a young man in the group said, “I believe you could have done a better job.” I was hurt. But then I recalled a phrase once spoken by someone else in the church: “We call ourselves servants of God, but when we’re treated like one we get upset.”

It’s hard to avoid being affected by others’ opinions of us. A pastor wants to know if his sermons are hitting the mark. A young woman wonders if her ministry is meeting the needs of the poor she’s serving. While personal appraisals can help us improve, they shouldn’t be the primary benchmark in validating what we do.

The apostle Paul had a clear perspective that he was a servant of Jesus. He used the less common Greek word hypêrétês for servants in 1 Corinthians 4:1. This word means an under-rower, a figure taken from the galley ships of the time. In other words, he saw himself as a lowly servant.

As such, Paul didn’t focus on how well the Corinthians or anyone else thought he was carrying out his duties or how popular or unpopular he was. His personal evaluations of his own performance were irrelevant (v.3). What did matter to him was God’s estimation of his service. He concentrated on doing the job God had put before him to the best of his ability. He strove to be faithful: “A person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful” (v.2).

Sometimes simple faithfulness to God’s call may not result in big numbers or meeting success markers, so it’s important to fix our eyes on the One we serve—Jesus. The Lord bases His rewards on our faithfulness in simply following Him. And He gives us all we need to do so.

—Poh Fang Chia

365-day-plan: Mark 9:38-50

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Read Numbers 12:7, Colossians 1:7, 4:7 and Matthew 24:45. Notice the key character quality highlighted in these verses. 
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How have the opinions of others affected you recently? What would it mean for you to do your best for God’s glory and leave the results to Him? 

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