Risky Work: Punch the Gas, Not the Clock

My life changed in 2005. Why? Was it a major epiphany? Did someone give me a massive sum of money? Did I go on an overseas trip?

No. It was a then-unknown show called The Office, and its razor-sharp, low-key-but-hilarious writing, that changed my life.

The show had so many strengths. It was, in my limited experience, the first comedy since The Cosby Show that portrayed real people. It wasn’t based on zany events (at least in its first three seasons, which I prefer), but on the ordinary stuff of real life. Everyday existence has plenty of drama, plenty of quiet turbulence, and The Office got that. It had a great love story, with Jim and Pam, but instead of some steamy sexual romp, the show (building off of the British version) allowed the halting relationship between noble Jim and double-minded Pam to pick up momentum over time.


One thing I do think The Office, a show about work, got largely wrong was this, though: work. As the show portrayed it, work is something to endure. Get through. Pass. Not really enjoy. Those devoted to their jobs, like Dwight, are weird. The rest of the cast punches the clock, chips away at their duties, cuts some corners, and generally mopes through the day.

Let’s be perfectly honest: from a Christian perspective, work can be tough, long, and even dreary. Sin affects work, both in our hearts and as a result of unfairness. We all taste the curse of daily labor due to Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17-19).

But while work is subject to the curse, it’s also given to us by God. Adam did work before he disobeyed God and brought death to us all (see Gen. 2). It certainly looks as though we will be active in the new heaven and the new earth after this world passes away. The apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to “not be slothful in zeal” but “fervent in spirit” in order to “serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).

Sure, I’ll Work, But . . .

Many Christians, seeing these familiar texts, would agree with me so far. You might say, “Yes. I’m going to work. I’ll make money because I need it for other stuff, including my church.” This is a commendable start to understanding and practicing the Bible’s bold approach to our daily labor.

But I think there’s a great deal more in Scripture to transform our understanding of work.

Many of us, I think, view our faith and our work as largely separate. We go to church and participate in the spiritual work of God; we go to work to make money. The two might overlap—such as when we share the gospel—but are fairly separate.

My generation—20-somethings and 30-somethings—has been seriously affected by this mindset. The problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t want to work. It’s that we don’t want to really invest in a vocation. We’re tempted to be lazy about building a career and finding a calling. Many of us are drawn to less serious things: video games, hangout sessions, shopping, or sports. What does this lifestyle end up doing to us? It makes us approach work lackadaisically. If we’re not careful, we can end up trapped in a permanent winter break with little to do, slightly annoyed parents, and a feeling of aimlessness.

Or, alternately, some of us are tempted to make our jobs an idol, which is an equally harmful pitfall. We were made to work, but we were not made only for work.

Diverse Challenges

Having a healthy perspective on your vocation can be particularly difficult for believers facing one of three circumstances.

1. You’re in college or just out of it, and you don’t know what to do with your life.

2. You’ve been working for awhile but don’t know what your career strategy should be.

3. You’re struggling to find work in a time that still features a relatively weak economy.

These different situations call for unique individual responses. But I want you to see a principle that can help in these instances and many others: God wants you to build a career. He wants you to risk your comfort and ease and boredom and low vocational expectations. He offers you a better, bigger life in his gospel, one that will put every particle of your being to use for his kingdom. The Lord wants you to work for his glory because he’s saved you for just that purpose.

You’re not a brute; you’re not an automaton; you’re not a clump of cells. You have the privilege of knowing that God made you intelligent.

Christians are sometimes seen as being anti-creativity. We’re all about execution and undisturbed order, not the imagination. We like rules, not creativity. But if we’re following the example of our Lord, nothing could be less true! We have the best foundation for entrepreneurship, art, ingenuity, innovation, and the imagination. We know we didn’t come from nothing. We’re not cosmic accidents who happen to have ended up as thinking beings.

We are the choicest creation of divine intelligence. God has commissioned us, in other words, to build and create.

Gospel Entrepreneurs

We are, if you will, gospel entrepreneurs. Instead of operating in a beaten-down, scared-to-risk, sitting-on-our-hands mentality in which we passively wait for the world to act upon us, we can build godly vocations and careers for God’s glory. This kind of existence is driven by and dedicated to the gospel.

God is delighted when you work unto him and find pleasure in your vocation. You are merely doing what he does, after all—working and laboring and creating. This doesn’t apply only to entrepreneurs or artists, though; it applies to anyone solving assembly line problems, fixing plumbing issues, untangling math calculations, teaching children new words, cutting hair a new style, figuring out a better base-stealing method, and too many other work responsibilities to count.

As you think and analyze and make things better, you’re showing who you are: a being made in the very image of almighty God.

Let’s return to my love for The Office. Its early seasons are often rich, funny, and even insightful about life in a fallen world. It’s true that work can be long and taxing and even frustrating. You know this; I know this. We all have different duties to perform in our vocations that aren’t our personal favorites. I certainly do.

Let’s not kid ourselves: it will always be that way, because work is hard. But if we will adopt a biblical vision of work, we can punch the gas, not the clock. We can build something invigorating. We can dream big, make bold plans, and aggressively pursue a vision for our lives that makes maximal use of our God-given gifts and passions.

God has given us the opportunity to work not for temporal, fading things, but for the advancement of the gospel of his kingdom.

Editors’ Note: This excerpt is taken from Owen Strachan’s Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome (Thomas Nelson), which releases today. You can check out the book’s website and watch a trailer here

  • Joey K

    My question is why is ‘building a career’ equal to ‘making maximal use of our God-given gifts and passions’?

    As a college student, my desire is very much to make maximal use of my gifts and passions for God’s glory in this short and fleeting life; my fear however is that choosing to build a career will actually defeat this.

    As I’m soon to graduate (God willing) this is a question which occupies my mind a lot at the moment. Responses appreciated.

  • charles woodward

    Joey, I think that fear you are expressing is the exact thing he’s addressing. The idea that pursuing a vocation would put you at odds with Gods will for your life assumes that vocations are somehow substandard in the kingdom. It also assumes a divide between “ministry” and “job” that the bible doesn’t make.

  • Walt

    Great points. Work is important, as is working well and honoring God in our work.

    One critical comment, though: “Christians are sometimes seen as being anti-creativity. We’re all about execution and undisturbed order, not the imagination. We like rules, not creativity.”

    You’re thinking perhaps of…dare I say…Calvinists here, right? Not all Christian sub-groups are “anti-creativity”.

  • Timothy Stewart

    As a bi-vocational pastor, it is hard to “punch the gas” at my State job. I want to “punch the gas” at the church, but I spend 50 hours working & commuting to provide for my family good medical benefits and supplemental income.

    The nature of the job (administrative support for attorneys) is at times draining. Fortunately, I can listen to audio books, podcasts and think/pray alot as I’m doing administrative tasks. This is my only sanity. I have passed on upward mobility opportunities because I do not want to consume my time with this particular vocation, because the church-plant is growing and hopefully, in the near future, I can punch the gas in that vocation.

    How do you “punch the gas” as a bi-vocational pastor, when you know that God has called you to the church? That is my daily dilemma.

    • http://chrispoblete.net Chris Poblete

      Bi-vocational pastors are my heroes. Many kudos and much appreciation for you, Timothy! Praying for you, brother.

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  • Tim L.

    Wait – hold it! The Office “had a great love story, with Jim and Pam…”?

    Seriously? They produced a child out of wedlock!

    • Jerry A.

      Thanks, Angela.

  • Sandy Scrufari

    My husband and I have been working toward full time ministry for 20 years. We thought his secular job was keeping us out of ministry…sparing all the long details…what we have found is quite exciting! Though we did not go to college and jump right into ministry we had the blessing of being ministers of the Gospel in our secular work and influences. The command Jesus gives before he leaves in Mt 28 is for everyone at every time in their lives – because all authority has been given to Jesus – I’m so thankful that we are ministers of the Gospel from the point of salvation and not the point of formal ministry. Do not assume that where you spend your 40 hours is not your formal ministry at that time – God is sovereign and has provided the delight of your heart when you delight in His!…it took us over 20 years to understand that…we will God-willing be going to Colombia this summer to teach BMW in the midst of a reformation! Our God is creative and designs us to do His work creatively!

  • http://www.entiregospel.com Emily

    Great article! A very small thing: the Cosby show did not portray real people. A doctor husband and lawyer wife in New York City, who have incredibly successful careers, a wonderful marriage and six endearing children, no hired help for the kids, cooking or cleaning, and never ever sacrificed either family or career for the other? It was a heart-warming but inaccurate portrayal of balancing real life, telling Americans, you really can have it all. In contrast, The Office was great because it was completely accurate in this way, particularly toward the end as it focused on Jim and Pam’s struggle to figure out work, marriage and children. And they worked at a paper company.

  • http://www.lifeschooled.com/ Daniel

    I agree with Pr. Timothy Stewart’s comment. How difficult it is to sit at a desk job when my mind and heart are at the pulpit!

    I am helping a church plant of 18ish people, and I am so blessed to watch them grow in grace. Quite desperately I desire to spend all week planning series, preparing material and digging down deeper in the Word. But Paul’s counsel rings true: “obey your earthly masters…as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart”.

    Pulpit ministry is not only work I do which pleases the Lord. Desk-job, cubicle routines can also glorify my Savior.

  • Steve

    re: “punch the gas” – is there not an extravagance to God’s call both in Creation and Redemption, “Fill the world!” I suppose we may respond to that calling with a burdened sense of duty (as if the outcome is uncertain), but I believe it’s much better for us as image bearers participating in the mission of God to respond with freedom and exuberance at the limitless possibilities stretched out before us. Even when we feel stuck and cornered by limited options and abilities, we are a part of something immense and grand that God has set in motion at Creation and confirmed in Christ. In uniting us to Christ, he has grafted us into his mission that will not fail.

    The call of God in Creation (Gen 1-2) and Redemption (Mt 28, Mk 16) is of course to “us” and not to “me” — thus, I need to repent and de-Westernize the popular notion that calling is all about me. The call of God is not only a call to every square inch of geography, but it is also a call to every nook and cranny of culture. How then do we take the gospel to every part of Creation (geographically and culturally)? It is through our continuing faithfulness to the call of God in Creation — it is through our work.

  • Alien & Stranger

    Bear in mind that although Paul was an apostle, he was also a tent-maker, the latter being quite a humdrum (albeit skilled) occupation. So he was also “bi-vocational”, until his arrest and imprisonment for his faith.
    I’ve noticed many Christians expressing discontent with their work and their work-place, as well as criticising the people who work there. They ignore the injunction to “work as unto the Lord”, to “love their neighbour” (which I admit can be a toughie) and fail to see that they are the Lord’s ambassadors in the workplace, which can be their mission-field, not by beating people over the head with the Bible, but to shine the light of the Lord in such a way that people are attracted to Christ in them so the soil of their hearts can be be softened and ploughed, ready to receive the Good News. Sometimes, the Christian in the workplace may be the only “Bible” the non-believers get to read. Unless the Lord clearly calls one to move on, we are to be content, as Paul stated in Philippians 4:11-12, also 1 Timothy 6:6-7 (which goes on to deal with the love of riches).
    In my devotional Bible with notes by Selwyn Hughes, he makes this observation on Isaiah 58:11a, which the Lord high-lighted to me many years ago, when we were considering emigrating (it turned out that emigrating was not the Lord’s will for us – it was a big learning-curve for me):
    “If we are not God-led, we shall probably be mob-led. We will react, rather than act. If we are not led by God, then we become led by circumstances, things or people – or perhaps ourselves.”
    (Ironically, it was Christians who thought we should emigrate, while non-believers reckoned we should stay! So the Christian “counsel” I received was actually not in line with the Lord’s will).

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  • Joey

    I agree that work is honouring to God and indeed a command.

    However, I think going from this biblical truth to saying that “building a career” is equal to “making maximal use of our God-given gifts and passions”, is a huge leap to make that requires biblical justification.

    “Building a career”, I would argue, is very different from the wider principle of “don’t work, don’t eat”.

    Is it not true that perhaps we have yet again turned the bible into an image of ourselves, a contemporary middle-class capitalist book, rather than God’s word?

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