John Cox teaches on "bad advice" as it relates to our work. That we should follow our passions, shouldn't mix our faith and work, and that the American Dream is the path to success and happiness.
Instead, he challenges us to follow Jesus, that our ministry is our work, and that dying to yourself and following Christ is the path to success and happiness
Something Sweet out of the Ingredients of Sadness
Why Good Leaders Have Always Written Letters to the Church They Love
All In With Jesus
Outrunning Your Past
Faith in Work
Following Jesus: How He Changes Your Place, People & Priorities - Luke 9:57-62
Our Purpose in Life
Healing, Hearing, and the Hope of the Gospel
Money, Stuff, and Eternity
Living the Word
An Audience of One
Mother's Day Message
A Biblical Perspective on the Value and Role of Women in Ministry
Baptism Celebration 2016
Sabbath: God's Solution to the Addiction of Busyness
Inside Out Church
Awaken the Hope of the World
An Evening with the Elders
Easter: The Greatest Evidence That God Is Real, Good, Powerful and Trustworthy
Good Friday 2016
Resolve to Be Faithful
Good morning, and happy Labor Day to everybody. Is everybody having a good weekend? Well, I hope you got some bad advice in meeting your neighbor. There are a couple of kinds of bad advice. Sometimes bad advice is obvious, and you go, "Okay, only a fool would go do that," but sometimes advice can sound like it's really good, either because it's intuitive or it makes sense, and you can follow it, and it leads to a bad outcome. That's the kind of advice we want to talk about today.
Earlier this year, my wife and I had the chance to go on a trip over to Israel and Jordan. One of the highlights of the trip was going to see one of the seven ancient wonders of the world: Petra in southern Jordan. If you've never been there or have not heard about it, you walk a couple of miles down this ravine, and then you come out into a clearing, and all of a sudden there are these huge carvings in the mountains that are hundreds of feet tall. They're just spectacular.
So we made the journey to go down to southern Jordan. It's surrounded by desert. We had a state-sponsored tour guide who wasn't going to go in the park with us but was telling us what we needed to do when we were there. This lady said, "Look, you're going to walk down this ravine, and you're going to see these spectacular things, and you're going to be able to wander all over and go wherever you want, because you really can't get lost. I mean, it's just the desert."
Then she said, "But when it's time to come back, there's a shortcut. It takes about 45 minutes to walk back out the way you came, but if you go down around this corner and through this tunnel, it's going to take you about 20 minutes. So make sure you take the shortcut." Then she disappeared. That should have been our first clue. So we spent the day in Petra. You know, you're climbing up hills and down hills. It was just terrific.
About the end of the day, I look at my watch, and we've covered about 12 and a half miles. If you were a fitness-crazed person with one of these watches, you would know that's about 25,000 steps. At that point I'm tired. Now I'm looking for the shortcut out of there. The problem was there really weren't any signs saying, "This way to the shortcut." We asked some people, and they didn't seem to know what we were talking about.
Then we ran into this one lady, and she seemed to know, but then she was kind of talking with a family member, and they were arguing about this shortcut. That should have been our second clue. A couple of people, the smarter ones in the group, decided they were going to go back the way we came. Even though it was a little bit longer, they knew the way. The rest of us, the fools and the adventurous ones, were going to take the shortcut.
This is what the start of the shortcut looked like. That is a path heading into the desert. There is no shortcut there. Right away we're thinking, "Where is this going?" We start down the path. We walk for 25 minutes. Now remember, we're supposed to be out of there at this point, and we are still in the desert. I'm thinking to myself, "Well, it can't get any worse than this." Then the lady who was guiding us takes a right, and we end up here.
Now I'm beginning to think, "What kind of shortcut is this?" If you were a person who gets claustrophobic, you would have been in trouble. Now we're about 45 minutes in, and it's starting to get dark, so we can't turn back. Now we are committed for better or worse. Because it's kind of curving, you could only see about 100 feet ahead, so it's very unclear how much longer this thing is going to take.
The woman who lived there who was kind of helping guide us was saying, "Hey, just a little while longer." Well, then we ran into this. What we realized was the shortcut was actually kind of a riverbed that when it flooded in southern Jordan all the water would rush through. No one told us there was still water in it. This looks like I'm the American Ninja Warrior, and I want to assure you I was anything but. I'm just trying to make sure I don't get wet. I'm thinking, "Where is the shortcut?"
It went on from there. We got past the water, and we hit the boulders. They were four to six feet high, and we were having to pull people up. Finally, three hours later, we emerged from the shortcut, and it was dark. I remember thinking, "This is going to be one of the greatest stories and one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever gotten in my life." That was advice that seemed right at the start, but the more you got into it, the more you thought, "Uh-oh. This is going to lead to a dead end." That's what we want to talk about today.
Because today is Labor Day weekend, we thought, "Let's take popular advice that we hear all of the time in our culture that applies to our jobs." When I say job, you might be a stay-at-home parent, so every time you hear the word job, just substitute caring for little ones, or if you are a student, just think homework, tests, papers, that kind of thing. But it applies. Here is some common advice you hear from our culture about how to apply faith in work.
1. "You should follow your passion." You hear that, and you think, "That's what I hear all the time in our culture. You should absolutely follow your passion." Like all bad advice, there is some truth in this. When you are thinking about taking a job, you ought to think about, "What is it that I'm interested in?" If you hate something, don't do that. You should also think about, "What am I good at? What are the skills I've used that I can apply? That should inform my job choice."
On the front end, trying to figure out what you're interested in and what you're good at are good things to do as you take a job. Where this advice goes south is once you already have a job, because it doesn't take you long to be in a job before you can lose some of your passion for it. You can lose it either because the newness of the job wears off or you can just run into problems and struggles at work.
I have a friend I work with… His great-aunt, who is named Betsy, taught him a phrase for this kind of stuff that happens at work. She was a salty woman, so let me kind of "PG-ize" it. It goes something like this: "If it's not one darn thing, it's another darn thing." When you take a job and you are in it for a while, you can begin to say, "You know what? My boss, the issues I have to deal with… This is no longer fun, and I am no longer passionate about this job."
Then you say to yourself, "I've either picked the wrong job or I need to change my job." We live in a culture that is changing jobs more frequently and more often than in any time in American history. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of them is this underlying belief that you should be passionate about your work all the time and if you're not, something is wrong. We look at other areas of our lives and see the same kind of thing happening.
My assistant just signed up to work with an organization called CASA in Dallas. CASA is an organization that works with neglected and abused children as they're going through the legal system. I went down to see her get sworn in last week, and the person who was swearing them in was introducing them and saying, "Hey, here's what you're about to do," and she said, "I like Chinese proverbs, and here is a Chinese proverb about how to be happy."
She said, "If you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap. If you want to be happy for a day, go fishing. If you want to be happy for a month, get married." Let me just stop right there. All of us who have walked down that path understand that marriage is terrific, but it doesn't take long in a marriage before you realize it's not always fun. If you tell yourself, "I'm no longer passionate about this person to whom I just got married two months ago," that is going to lead you in a bad direction.
It is a bad idea to make decisions based on your emotions, because emotions change. If happiness is your standard, there are going to be plenty of times, whether it's in your work or your relationships, where you are not happy. In fact, God tells us in this phrase that we've kind of said, "If it's not one darn thing, it's another darn thing…" That is actually a Bible reference. It's a little bit different in the Bible. It's John 16:33 that says, "In this life you will have many troubles. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
God says, "You're going to have problems," and if you think the definition of a good career choice is "Find your passion," that is going to take you down a bad path. When we think about that, our standard is we want work to make us happy. That's not God's goal for our work. God says, "I want your work to make you holy, not happy." Sometimes when you grow the most is when you face problems.
When we're looking to make decisions in life, it's a bad idea to say, "How do I feel about that?" or "Does that make me happy?" A better perspective is to say, "Okay, what does God have to say about that?" That's a good piece of advice. If you think about that, there are a couple of places in the Bible where you can go where it says exactly that.
One of them is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where God says, "All Scripture is God-breathed…" Which is from him. "…and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." God would say when you are facing decisions you ought to look for his wisdom.
The same thing shows up in Joshua 1:8, where the author says, "Do not let this Book of the Law [God's Word] depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…" **Think about it often."…so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."** The Bible would say, "Don't make decisions based on how you feel or if it makes you happy. You should make decisions based on God's Word."
What does God's Word have to say about our jobs? You might think, "Well, what God's Word has to say about jobs is jobs are the result of the fall and are a part of sin, so you have to deal with it, and it's not fun." That's not how God views our work. It started in Genesis 1 with God working when he created the world. God worked for six days. On the seventh day he rested, and he said his work was good.
Then he created man, and one of man's responsibilities was to take care of the world God had created. You realize that work is a part of how God has designed us, for meaning and fulfillment, for the chance to make a contribution. That is a part of how God has wired us, and that is why when we think about work we think about those kinds of things.
What happens is in Genesis, chapter 3, there's the fall, and God says, "As a result of sin coming into the world, now your work is going to be hard." So we step into that, and if we have the wrong expectation of work, if we think, "Is this going to make me happy? Do I like it all the time?" that takes you down a bad path. God says work is going to be hard, but that's a good thing.
If you look at James, chapter 1, when God is talking about hard things in life, God says, "Whenever you have hard things you ought to rejoice, because hard things help grow you." If you look at James, chapter 1, verses 2-5, it says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…" When something bad or hard happens to you, rejoice. What kind of advice is that? Then he goes on to say:
"…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."
God says, "Work started out great. Now it's full of problems, but that's okay. I'm going to use those problems to shape you. My goal for you at your job is not that you would be happy. My goal for you at your job is that you would become more holy, more like me." When you have hardships, you lean into God, and he shapes your character, and it is in that crucible that he makes you more like Jesus.
If you have a mindset that every time you hit something hard you're going to run, that is going to stunt your growth. So this idea that you want to follow your passion is right in the sense that you want to find out how God has wired you and what your interests are. Where it lets you down is if you begin to think your passion is the same as happiness. All of us have jobs where we're not always happy, and if you are like me, who has had a number of career changes over the years…
If I'm not happy in my job for a while, I begin to think, "You know what? I am in the wrong place. It is time to make a change." What I have learned through good decision making and bad decision making is that when I am in a job and I am frustrated, it's a good sense to start digging and figuring out why that is. "Why is this not satisfying to me right now, and what is God trying to teach me in the midst of this that I can learn and grow?"
If I lose sight of that, I begin to say to myself, "I am not having fun. Life is too short. I need to have fun. I need a new job. I wonder what I could do." I will start daydreaming about all of the things I would rather do than what I'm currently doing. What I would say here is this is not to say that you have to be in the same job for 40 years. What it is to say is if your criterion on whether your job is a good one is if you are happy, that is a bad criterion. That is not going to lead you well.
It sounds right. It starts off well. It does not end up in a good place, because you just keep swapping jobs and you don't learn and grow through the hard things. You might say, "John, that's all good for you to say, but you work for the church. If you knew my boss…" What I would say to you is look at David. David's boss Saul was trying to kill him. Not figuratively. He was trying to kill him. David felt like God had put him in that spot to be faithful and a servant, so while he watched to make sure he didn't get killed, he did not run away from the job.
You might say, "Well, if you only knew my job…" Look at Joseph. Joseph did not want to be in jail or a slave for almost 10 years. That was not his plan, and yet God used that. He had a plan for Joseph's life. He grew him up only to later use him to provide an escape and relief for all of the Jewish people in Egypt.
God is at work in you, transforming you, and he can use you where you are. If your criterion is "This doesn't feel good," that's bad advice. Good advice is "Rather than follow your passion, you should follow Jesus. You should say to him, 'How is God using this to grow me? How can I become more like Christ, more servant-oriented, more others-centered?'" That is the path of transformation. That is the good advice.
2."Don't mix your faith and your work." That's another piece of advice we hear a lot in our society. It's basically, "Hey, you should come to work. It's okay to have beliefs. Just do not share them. If you combine those things, bad things happen. So don't do it." I have a brother who when we were growing up was the kind of person who always liked to push the edges of the envelope. If you said to my brother, "Hey, whatever you do, don't push that button," he would be thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I pushed that button."
One time when we were in high school, he was in chemistry lab, and they were doing some experiments. I wasn't in the class with him, but I certainly heard about this. The teacher said, "Okay, whatever you do today, do not mix compound A and compound B, because if you do, bad things will happen." So my brother… He has his surgical gloves on. He has his mask on to protect his eyes, and he's thinking, "Hey, I wonder if I just took one drop and put it in what would happen."
So you know what? He does. He caused a fire in the chemistry lab. The teacher had to run and grab the chemical fire extinguisher, rush over, and put the thing out. As you might expect, the chemistry teacher was really happy with my brother, who claimed to know nothing about how those chemicals had gotten together. He learned his lesson. When someone says, "Don't combine these things," do not combine these things.
That's what our society tells us about how we should think about our faith. "You can go to work. You can be a great worker. If people ask you about Jesus, you're happy to tell them, but do not combine these two things." What God would say is nothing could be further from the truth. God would say if you are a believer, you can't help but bring your faith into your job, because you can't separate those things.
This whole idea that you can keep them separate is an impossibility. When you go to work, you bring who you are, which is a follower of Jesus, to that job. You say, "Okay, well, what does that look like practically?" This is what it looks like. It starts off by saying if you are a follower of Jesus you have to realize who your boss is. You may think it's the person who signs your checks, but if that's what you think, you have the wrong boss.
The Bible says if you decide to follow Jesus, he is your boss, and he cares about how you work. We see that in Colossians 3, verse 23. It says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
God says you are serving him. You are working for him. So be excellent, because God is excellent. He has made you his representative wherever you go to work or school or in your house. You are his representative, and he calls us to do our best, to be excellent because he is excellent and he wants excellence from us.
So when you show up for work, the first part of integrating your faith in work is realizing who your boss is. When we show up, we work hard not because of our human boss but because we have a God who loves us, who has sacrificed for us, and who is calling us to himself. So realize who your boss is and work faithfully. What's interesting is if you are excellent at your job, that earns trust and credibility, and it then opens up a chance for you to have influence wherever you work.
But God says it's not just enough that you work hard. There's another part of this, which is "If you are working for me, my followers are characterized by the way they love." You say, "Where is that in the Bible?" Jesus says to his people in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
God's perspective on this is not only do you need to show up at work and be excellent at what you do but also you need to love the people you are with. The ones who are easy to love don't count. When we are talking about loving people, we're talking about the ones who are hard to love. I want you to picture in your mind, whether you're a student or you're a stay-at-home mom with multiple children or you have a job, the hardest person for you to love in your workplace.
God's advice to you is when you show up, whether it's today or tomorrow or Tuesday, love that person. Find out how you can care for them and help them. That's what God calls us to do, because you, again, are his representative wherever you are. God loves his people. Since you're his representative, he wants you to love them. That's what he wants you to do. So be excellent, love other people, and then pray for the opportunity to have influence.
I realize that in a room like this some of us share our faith all the time. It just comes naturally. We're extroverted. We love these conversations. It's easy. It's our gift. We can't remember a single day when we haven't had one of these kinds of conversations. For others of us in this room, that is a very threatening thing. Let me just talk to this latter group. Here's what I would say to you.
First, pray. Pray that God would give you opportunities. Several years ago in my job I was working at a hedge fund. If you don't know much about hedge funds, hedge funds are just organizations that get a lot of investors to give them money, and they invest the money for them. Then once they make more money, they give that more money back to the investors, and everybody is happy. That's in laymen's terms what a hedge fund is.
One of the important jobs in a hedge fund is to meet with your investors. I had been praying that God would give me the opportunity to share, and then one day, my boss, who's one of the partners at the hedge fund… We're in an investor meeting with one of his friends. My boss takes out a $100 bill and puts it on the table and says to this investor whom he happens to have known for 10 years… He says, "I'll bet you'll never guess what John used to do. In fact, I'll give you three guesses. If you can guess what he used to do, the money is yours."
What my boss knew was that I had started a church in Virginia 10 years before that. I used to be a pastor. There are not many ex-pastors who work at hedge funds, so my boss was on pretty safe ground that he was going to get his $100 back. And he did. But you know what it did for me? It opened up a whole other level of conversation, because now this investor was intrigued. "How do you combine faith with investing? How did you go from being a pastor to being a hedge fund guy? What did that look like?"
What was interesting was he wasn't just interested. He went back and told the people he worked with about it. I started to get calls from people. Some were believers wanting to know, "How do we live as believers in this industry?" Some people occasionally would just get lost or something would go wrong and they would call me. If you pray for opportunities, just pay attention, because God will give them to you. Then just share your story.
The great thing is God says if you share your story, that's all you need to do. You are not responsible for how the other person responds. You say, "Where is that in the Bible?" That is in 1 Corinthians 3. There, Paul is talking about trying to reach people, and he's talking about it in terms of farming analogy. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 Paul says, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
If we then share about what God is doing in our lives, God will be faithful to grow. What you'll see is sometimes people respond and are interested and want to have more conversations and it leads to good things. Sometimes you are talking to the hand, and people don't want to hear it. Either way, you've done your part. You've been faithful.
Let me tell you this. If you are excellent at work and love the people you're with and look for opportunities to share, even the ones who are not at all interested, what will happen is over time things will go wrong in their life, and when they do, your goal is to be the very first person they call. A lot of people will be scoffers, and they don't need the faith. In hedge funds that was especially true. I worked with some great guys, but not a lot of them felt like they needed God.
But what would happen is periodically something would go wrong, like their girlfriend would break up with them or their marriage wouldn't be like it was supposed to be or something would go wrong with their kids. In one instance, one of the guys we worked with got brain cancer, and all of a sudden a window opens and people are receptive. Now you have an opportunity to share. You just need to wait. You're being faithful if you're being excellent and loving people well and praying for opportunities and taking advantage of them. You are God's representative wherever you are.
Now one of the other bad things about this whole idea that you don't combine faith and work is that, if you work in the marketplace, it is easy for you to tell yourself that your work does not matter, that it doesn't have eternal significance. I know, because that's what I used to tell myself. Like when I worked at the hedge fund, sometimes I would say, "You know what?" We would meet with an investor, and I would be in the car going back, saying, "You know what? Is that what I'm doing? My whole job is to make rich guys richer. That's what I'm doing."
That did not feel like it had any significance. It would be easy for you to say, "You know what? My job has no eternal significance," because other people could do it or because there's nothing eternal that comes out of it. What I would say to you is you don't understand your job. Your job is to be God's representative where he has put you to love and serve, and he will use that to change lives.
You may think, "Well, jeez. I wish I had John's job, because he gets to talk about Jesus all the time, and people expect him to, so they're not surprised by that." What you need to know is that sometimes guys like me wish we had your job, because in my world I have to work very hard to come across lost people. I don't work next to a lot of lost people up there on the eighth floor of the Tower, so I have to work very hard to get into these conversations. You in the marketplace get to have them all the time.
Now if you looked back at my career, what you would see is I worked in the church, and then I went to business, and then I went to another business, and then I'm in the church. Who knows where I'll be next? What I will say is work is a place where God shapes you. Work is a place where God will then use you, and this whole idea that you have to separate your faith and work… If you do that, that is a dead-end path.
God wants to use you. Your work is significant. You can make a difference no matter where that is. Even if you sometimes say, "Hey, you know what? I hate this place," just make sure you are being faithful in that place. God has you there for a reason. So the first bad advice is "Follow your passion." The right advice is to follow Jesus. The second bad advice is "Don't mix faith and work." The good advice there is that your ministry is your work. That is what God has called you to do, and he's going to use you in and through that.
3."The American dream is the path to success and fulfillment." I think this is the one that has gotten into our society the deepest. "If you want to be happy, chase the American dream." We live in a culture where our kids are trying to get the best grades they can because they want to get into the right school. If you don't get into the right elementary school, your life is over. Then the same thing happens in middle school and then high school.
God forbid that you not get into the right college, because now God can't use you. We tell ourselves, "I will be happy when…" "I will be happy when I get into the college I want to get into. I will be happy when I get that next job. I'll be happy when I get promoted or when I get a raise." We convince ourselves that this happiness, fulfillment, and contentment we are chasing is just around the corner and that if we only run a little bit farther we will find it.
You might say, "Well, jeez, John, how have you experienced that?" That is the story of my life. I grew up in a home the oldest of three sons in a navy family. I actually went to junior high and high school in Annapolis, Maryland, at the Naval Academy. What I learned from a very little age is that if you are a boy, your significance, first of all, comes from your athletic prowess. What kind of athlete are you?
Then once you get a little bit older, it's what kind of success you have with the opposite sex. Are you popular? Do all of the girls like you? That's where you get your sense of identity and authority and meaning, and then it transitions to what you do and how much you have. That is the world I grew up in, so, naturally, I'm trying to figure out, "How do I get into the best school I can?"
Now my dad was great when I was little. He gave me a tremendous amount of freedom. He gave me very little advice when it came to colleges. Here was my college strategy: "Where do I want to go to college? Well, I'd like to go to Princeton, I'd like to go to Harvard, and I'd like to go to Stanford. Why don't I apply to those schools?" Those were the only three schools I applied to.
I didn't say I was smart. No fallbacks. But God got me in, and I ended up at Stanford. I'm surrounded with people now who have told themselves their whole lives, "If I only get in here, then I will be happy and fulfilled." You know what? I was surrounded by people who were not happy and fulfilled. They told themselves, "If I only get the right next job…"
I've watched that happen for the last 30 years of my life. It has taken me into ministry. I told you I started a church. If you want to be happy, do not take a job in ministry, because it's hard. I started a little church. It was in Virginia, the Washington, DC suburbs. I was convinced, "I'm going to be here forever. It's going to be thousands of people. They're going to love me. It's going to be a significant difference," and that was not my experience.
My plan and God's plan were different plans. It would have been easy for me to go, "God, where are you? What's going on?" I did a lot of that. I eventually came to the conclusion that I'm not the best pastor. You may say to yourself, "What do you mean you're not the best?" Here's what I mean. If you're going to be a great pastor, one of the things you have to be is a very good communicator. I'm an okay communicator but not a great communicator.
You might say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, a great communicator is someone who is very creative, because they have to have something new to say every single weekend. I speak about once a year. That's my strategy. That's because I'm not that creative. So this was waning on me and just going south, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh." So I'm like, "Okay, I'm not that great of a pastor, but I can build things like organizations and people. Where can I go to develop that gift?"
Remember, I'm not that smart. I think, "I'll go to business school." Now I had one great advantage that you don't have: that pastors don't normally go to business school. If you're a business school, your highest value is diversity. You want a diverse class. Since no one wants to go from ministry into business school, that is the perfect path if you want to get into a great business school. So that's what I did.
I landed at a small place in Boston called Harvard. That's where I went to business school. You know what? I was surrounded by a whole bunch of people there. Were they happy and fulfilled and content? Nuh-uh. They kept telling themselves, "It's just around the corner." There, we were all concerned with, "What's our next job?" Then the great jobs you had were in management consulting and in hedge funds. That's where everyone wanted to work coming out of there.
I didn't know anything about investing, so I went and applied for a job in management consulting and miraculously landed a job with a great management consulting firm. If you don't know what a management consulting firm is, here's what they do. They work for companies solving big problems and taking advantage of big opportunities, and they will charge a company $250,000 a month for a team of four people to help them solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.
That was a great job, but it didn't fulfill me. There were a lot of times where I was not happy. There came a time in that job where I had one little girl, my wife was pregnant with a second little girl, and for about 12 weeks I was in London, England, on Mondays and Tuesdays; Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Wednesdays and Thursdays; and flying all around the country on Friday because I was in charge of the recruiting efforts for the Dallas office.
I'm like, "What am I doing? This is not what I signed up for." Then I'm like, "Okay, I need a new job. I don't know what I'm going to do." One day I get a phone call. This person says, "Hey, there's a hedge fund in town, and they're looking for a head of investor relations. Would you be interested?" I'm like, "Sure. Everyone I know has wanted to work there. I'll come talk to you."
So I'm sitting down in front of the guy who's hiring, and he says to me, "Why should we hire you? What can you do for us?" I just said, "Let me tell you what I can't do for you. I don't know anything about hedge funds. The truth is you could expose that in two questions, but what I have loved doing is building things. I love building organizations. If you want me to help you build the organization and you focus on investing, I could do that."
Three months later, I'm working at the hedge fund. Now I'm surrounded by guys who are making tens of millions of dollars a year, all of whom are not happy. I mean, they're happy in the present moment, but they're always looking for what's next. There is a verse. It's in Ecclesiastes 5:10. It says, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income."
At the hedge fund I was at, I worked with great guys. I love those guys, I respect those guys, but surrounding us were guys who were saying, "Hey, you know what? It's the money that's going to give us success, significance, and happiness." All I will tell you is you can chase that dream as far as you want, and you will never get to a spot where it gives you what you want. You know what's the worst thing? The worst thing is if you waste your life chasing the American dream, you end up at the end of your life and look back and go, "I chased something that didn't exist. That seemed like good advice. It landed me in a dead end."
There is a story in the Bible about just such a guy. It comes out of Luke, chapter 12. It's the parable of the rich fool. Interestingly, Jesus tells this story in connection with money. There's a guy who says, "Hey, Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." He's concerned about money. In response to that, Jesus tells him this story. Here's the story.
"And he told them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops." Then he said, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'" But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"'"
This guy in Luke 12 was pursuing the American dream from 2,000 years ago. He was saying, "If I just have enough, then I'll be happy. Then I'll be fulfilled." God says, "I hope you realize a lot sooner than the end of your life that that will not fulfill you. Don't be this guy, because that will end tragically." So the bad advice when you think about your job is the American dream is the path to success and fulfillment.
It's not enough that you realize that just once, because we live in a society where that is rampant through the culture. I've described this as like being in a river that is pushing you down-current at about 10 miles an hour, and if you are not careful you will get swept away. What you have to do is go, "Not only is there a current, but I have to get out of that river," and you constantly have to remind yourself, "That is not the path to life. It is a dead end."
Jesus says the path to life is not to pursue building your own kingdom. It's to pursue his kingdom. Jesus says that the best advice is you need to die to yourself, you need to follow Christ, and build his kingdom, and then you will find success and fulfillment and eternal significance. He says that makes all the difference.
In Luke 9:23-24, he's talking to his disciples. His disciples have a radically different picture of who Jesus is going to be and what he's supposed to do, and Jesus is talking about dying. "Then he said to them all…" All of the people who were following him. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."
God says if you spend your whole life trying to save your life, trying to gain things, thinking the American dream is going to fulfill you, in the end you will lose your life. If, on the other hand, you lose your life now… You say, "It's not about me. It is about God. God, what do you want me to do? I'm going to show up at my job. I'm going to be your representative. I'm going to listen to you, and I'm going to follow you." That, Jesus says, is losing your life to save it. That is going to get you what you want.
So good advice and bad advice. We live in a world that says, "Follow your passion," and by that they mean, "You should be happy in your job, and if you are not, something is wrong." God says, "Hey, you know what? When you face hardships at work, which you will, you ought to use them to grow closer to me." Then we live in a world that says, "You know what? Don't mix your faith and your work, whatever you do."
God says, "You can't help but mix them. In fact, not only should you mix them, but you have a new job. You're working for me. You are my representative wherever I have you. Be faithful." Then the last piece of advice. If you're looking to be fulfilled and happy and significant, the path is not the American dream. The path is to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus, and that will take you where you want.
Good advice and bad advice. Sometimes the bad advice seems obvious but doesn't end well. The good advice is counterintuitive but leads to life. This weekend, faith in work. God wants us to love our jobs, find our jobs, and be significant in our jobs. Would you pray with me?
Father, thank you so much just for a chance this morning to look at advice. Lord, we live in a country that wants to give us advice at every turn about how to be happy, how to be successful, about how to make a difference in our lives.
Lord, we pray that you would show each person in this room how we can find true happiness and success and fulfillment and meaning, that it's through a relationship with you, Lord, that you would use us where you've placed us to make a difference in our worlds, and, God, that you might transform peoples' hearts and minds forever. We love you and we thank you, amen.
We live in a culture that says your identity and significance sometimes is defined by what you do, and God says, "Your significance is defined by who you are. You are a child of mine. I love you, and that's where you find your significance." I noticed this morning some people… A lot of us have jobs. We may or may not like them, but some of us don't have jobs.
If you are in that category, we have a ministry. It's called Careers in Motion. It meets Tuesday mornings here at the church on the third floor of the Tower, and it's designed to help people network and stay connected and find a place where God can use you. For all of us, where you are is not a mistake. God has you there, and as long as you're there, let him use you there. Have a great week of worship.