I have been immersed in this experience of serving Christ through business for thirty years, first as an experiment but then, as a conviction and call. And during that time, I have made just about every mistake that can be made and watched others make the ones that I hadn't thought of. But along that bumpy road, I've learned a thing or two and I am blessed to share it with you here.
Among the most important lessons I've learned is this: the marketplace presents the single greatest opportunity in this world to share Christ and advance the Kingdom of God around the world. However, to participate in that transformation, we Christians need to circumvent the two biggest traps into which I fell over the course of my business career. I offer them to you here as signposts of the major hazards we must avoid to do God's will in the marketplace.
Believing "The Big Lie"
As I reflect on my "faith at work" struggles and on the struggles I have observed in my Christian brothers and sisters, it seems that one pernicious lie has hamstrung Christians' ability to advance the Kingdom through business. Satan has planted in our minds and in the culture that you can't mix religion and business. Have you ever heard that? Of course you have - not only directly, but in innumerable, more subtle forms. It is devastating!
Think about it. If it's true that we can't mix our faith with business, the implications are unlimited. For instance, what we call "sin" at church and at home may not be sin in business. There is no absolute standard - no absolute right and wrong - for how we treat people in business. We can do whatever we please with corporate money, confident of immunity from God's judgment. And on it goes.
The truth, of course, is just the opposite: we cannot separate these dimensions of our lives without being a "hypocrite." When we as Christians use a different set of values in our work from those values we promote in our church, we deserve the ugly label. Bottom line: God has only one set of criteria that apply everywhere. He doesn't alter His standards in the name of profit.
Manipulating People for Personal Gain
I have regularly struggled with the temptation to manipulate people to gain selfish profit of some kind - not just money or success, but acceptance and recognition as well. In fact, using people for personal gain was my standard way of operating for thirty-five years. How contrary to the gospel can one be? I manipulated, but Jesus served. As I've now taught for decades, personal advancement through sinful exploitation is sin, not profit, regardless of the material outcome. My role is to serve others and to allow Jesus Christ to live His life through me - as me - to them. "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" is the way Paul put it (Galatians 2:20).
Let me candidly rewind the tape, highlighting for you the major signposts. Often in business I have been tempted to lie or to shade the truth to gain what would appear to be a business advantage. Jesus wouldn't do that. Often I have been tempted to take advantage of my position to "lord it over" another. Jesus wouldn't do that. Often I have been tempted to compare myself to others, holding in subtle contempt those who have less and those who have accomplished less than I have. Jesus wouldn't do that. I still tend to look first at the temporal bottom line and only later to consider the eternal significance of what I have done. Jesus wouldn't do that. And I sometimes place importance on my job title and think that my value is demonstrated by it. Jesus wouldn't do that, either. What He would do instead is embody God's love and standards every moment of every day, regardless the cost.
Friend, since Jesus is not here in the flesh, we are His ambassadors. In fact, the central reason we are here is to represent Him and to demonstrate His ways to the lost. Prideful pursuit of personal gain at the expense of others is the antithesis of this call, marring our witness more than anything else. Real success - God's view of success - will not be measured in net worth or in worldly reputation or achievement, but in our obedience in living out our roles in the context He chooses.
How to Minimize the Mistakes
It entails first getting to know God through His Word. It is impossible to live a successful life in the marketplace apart from God's written revelation of His Truth. This means intentional study with intentional application. For many, the first thing in the morning is truly the best time for it. Spending the first part of the day with God just gets the day off on the right foot.
Relatedly, use this morning time for genuine, uninterrupted prayer. I can personally attest to the power of this practice. Seventeen years ago a trusted friend said to me: "I don't see how a man can say that God is first in his life and not give Him the first part of his day." I don't know if that's true for everyone, but I knew that it was for me. So on that day, I committed to spend the first hour of every day with my Father, and I have very seldom missed our appointment. I talk to God about every area of my life, listening for direction as I do. Moreover, I journal and keep record of what I ask Him and what I think He tells me.
Since that day, my morning time with God has been the platform on which every good thing in my life has been built. On countless mornings, God has shown me areas of my life and specific actions that were either sinful or would lead to compromise. And at least as often He has given me wonderful direction, counsel that I doubt would have ever occurred to me apart from this discipline.
Beyond this relational, devotional time, it's important to practice the discipline of accountability (this is part of the reason I created The C12 Group). I know, I know. It's almost trite to say that accountability is essential, but guess what: accountability is essential, both with friends and with God. And I'm not referring to some superficial accountability, but to intimate, meaningful accountability. Our thoughts, not just our actions, need to be brought into the light and evaluated by both wise, mature Christian friends and by God Himself. And while the former is valuable, the latter is indispensable. Keep short accounts with God, asking Him each night to show you your sin. Then confess it to make it right. Better still is to live in the awareness of is review every moment of your life, experiencing His cleansing and empowerment continually.
So to sum it up, if I've learned nothing else in three decades of devoting my work life to God, I've learned this: the real secret to business "success" is intimate relationship with God. No one achieves true success as a Christian without building on the solid foundation of divine relationship. Further, I believe that in the frantic pace of the twenty-first century, scheduling non-negotiable time with God each day is the only way that any of us will make the relationship a reality.
A last caution and an invitation, if you'll indulge me. Our enemy is too clever and too strong to take lightly. The very idea that we would think that we can beat him on our own proves that he has already deceived us! Brothers and sisters, fellow laborers in the marketplace ministry of God's Kingdom, rise up!
Join the growing number of us who see the marketplace as the last great mission field. Look beyond the mundane and see the eternal purpose of your role. Build relationship with God and avoid the common mistakes I and others have made, faithfully pressing forward to God's will for your career.