Establish | Working with Excellence: Why, How and What it’s Not
We work because it is financially necessary and often because we have aspirations, gifts and passions that we want to put to good use. But, more than that, we work as worship to God and because we were created with work to do. So what does it mean to be the best employees we can be? To wholeheartedly worship God through work? And what is ‘excellence’ at work in God’s eyes?
It is not wrong to want to have success at work, or to try and give 100%. In fact the Bible is full of commands to give our all in this way. Jesus commands us to honour our earthly leaders, which includes our employers. In Colossians 3:23 Paul reminds us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. Proverbs 18:9 encourages us to keep being dedicated in our work: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” And in Psalm 33:3 we read: “Sing to him a new song; play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” We have opportunities to work to the best of our ability – to ‘play skilfully’- through our relationships with colleagues; our approach to challenges; and our daily decisions. But what does ‘excellence’ in these areas look like?
The world of work can often present us with a contradictory and sometimes immoral picture of an excellent and brilliant worker, which might include self-promotion and over-achieving; poor work-life balance; and a cut-throat approach to work relationships. This is not the case in all workplaces, but in whatever context you are working, know that this is an impossible and wrong image of ‘excellence’, which we do not need to and should not try to meet. Rather, our desire to do well and to work hard can be best channelled by trying to be righteous employees, and Psalm 101 can help us understand what this would look like.
I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life — when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. (Psalm 101:1-3a)
Here we have an image of work which is focused on fighting for good, which is humble and which could be counter-cultural. Ultimately, verse 2 shows us that we should seek God’s presence in our work.
Note, trying to live a righteous life for God at work does not mean that we never make mistakes – playing an instrument skilfully is not the same as playing it perfectly. Nor should we be working hard to try and gain God’s, or anyone else’s, approval. Our identity is as daughters of the King - it does not come from our performance or title in the workplace. God already loves us and we are freed by grace, not by our efforts at work. Nor are we meant to be able to work in this righteous way through our own strength. We can only work to the best of our abilities and in a way that glorifies God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whilst this Psalm focuses on our heart and attitude, working hard to produce good outcomes is also part of ‘excellence’ at work and this brings glory to God – he is after all a productive and creative God. I firmly believe that when achieved for and through God, improved KPIs, decreased costs and board room decisions can all bring God glory. So can silently making cups of tea; effectively improving organisational systems; and caringly asking about a colleague’s family. Genesis tells us that we are responsible for caring for this world, so by working hard to further our employer’s mission, we are contributing to a sector or service which is needed for the good of our world.
As Christian women we have a huge potential to do good in this world through our work. We just need to remember to seek ‘excellence’ for God, rather than for ourselves, and to work hard knowing that we are not earning God’s favour or any increased status in this world, but because we have the freedom to worship God through every area of our lives – including our work.
Originally from Milton Keynes, Amy studied at Leicester and Warwick before moving to Cambridge, where she worked in International Development for a few years. Now living in rural Nottinghamshire with her husband Ant, Amy is training to be a French and Spanish teacher. Together they are part of a church planting team following God’s call to find fresh and accessible ways of introducing people to Jesus in the countryside (Amy is particularly excited about the potential for fairy lights in farm barns). Amy is passionate about equipping people in their 20s and 30s to live wholeheartedly for God in their workplaces, homes and social lives, and is hugely excited to be a small part of the wonderful work of More Precious.