Sunday, January 25, 2009

Developing a Christian work ethic

I have just completed a very busy week at the hospital. One colleague went on leave, and then another colleague fell sick, and was admitted, and so, I ended up doing a lot more work than usual.

This afternoon I got some time to breathe and looked back over the past week. I calculated that I have been working 137 hours out of the 168 hours in the past week. Whew!

That got me thinking.

I'm sure it is not right that I work so hard, because a lot of other things suffer in the process, like time with family, time for Bible reading, prayer and quiet reflection, time for relaxation and leisure, time for friends, etc.

I'm also sure there is probably some law about the amount of work that can be expected from a worker. I know that in the UK, a doctor can be sued if he works more than 56 hours a week, because it is understood that he will not be able to provide optimum care to a patient.

56 hours! Wow!

The problem is that medicine is considered to be some sort of holy profession. Certainly, there is something special about being a doctor. Some even call it a vocation. We routinely talk about 'serving' patients. It is expected that we work with 'dedication', since we are 'helping suffering human beings'. We are also expected to consistently sacrifice our family lives and personal lives for patients in need. We have all read admiringly stories about the doctor toiling in some small mission hospital, often as the only doctor, without a break, who cancels, literally at the last minute, the much-planned and anticipated family vacation because an emergency landed up at the hospital.

The pressure to work with 'dedication' is even more when you work in a Christian institution. It is almost a sin to hope that you can take a break when there is so much of work to be done. I question, however, whether practising medicine itself has any intrinsic spiritual value. Does the fact that you are a doctor, meeting myriad human needs, justify ignoring your own spiritual life and family? If I work hard, at great sacrifice, ruining my health and destroying my own family, giving everything selflessly in the service of the poorest, but have not accomplished God's purposes for my life by entering into a deeper fellowship with Him and with my brothers and sisters around me, live in a way that does not reflect the Transformation that God wants to perform in me, and have not found the specific ministry that God has for me, it profits me nothing. 1 Cor 13:3 (paraphrased).

I am trying to develop my own Biblical Theology of work ethics, and would welcome any thoughts on this.

Some verses that come to mind are:
'Don't wear yourself out trying to get rich; restrain yourself!' Proverbs 23:4 from the Message Bible. Obviously the desire to earn more money than we need is not sufficient justification for working so hard.

'Slaves, obey your masters according to the flesh in all things; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men; knowing that from the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ.' Col 3:22-24. Obviously the desire to keep the boss happy is not a good enough reason for working hard. I need to work fearing God, working heartily as unto the Lord. Part of my God-given responsibility is towards my family and church and friends. I cannot imagine I am working as unto the Lord when I do not even have time to read my Bible or pray.

Obviously also the first statement 'Obey your masters in all things' is balanced by the second 'you serve the Lord Christ'. I cannot blindly obey my employer when he asks me to do something wrong.

Seeking that God be glorified through my work appears to be a good motive. 'Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.' 1 Cor 10:31. I have thought till now that this means 'Work so hard that your boss and colleagues are impressed, and use that as a means to witness to them about God'. Now I wonder whether it is possible that God may be most glorified in my work when I display that I am not work-driven like my colleagues around me, and am not crazy for the boss' approval, money, position, or reputation. 'Godliness with contentment is great gain', said Paul (1 Tim 6:6). If my life reflects my contentment and the fact that I am satisfied in God, would that not be glorifying to Him?

There will always be needy people about me. I need to consider Jesus, however, who seems to have sometimes left needy crowds in order to go away to pray, or do something else that was more important (Mark 1:34-38), gone incognito into the large pool of Bethesda to heal one man, and left a large multitude unhealed (John 5) and completely ignored a lame man who sat at the temple every day as he entered (Acts 3). Obviously, merely responding to needs around me is not enough.

I pray I may find the grace to walk the fine line between being a lazy worker, and being a hard working (yet balanced) Christian worker. May I glorify God in everything I do, not just at work, but also in relationships, in the family, and in a personal walk with God that is contrary to anything this world has seen. Countertrend.

1 comment:

  1. You got it Pradeep !!
    In this whole question of "mission hospital debate " where do the staff come in ?
    What of the personal lives of the foot soldiers of the kingdom ?
    Having spent the first 12 years of my medical career in the various mission hospitals , I have ( sadly !!) come to the following conclusions.
    1) We are in a battle ( I am sure no one would disagree) .
    2) Frontier of this battle is our mind.
    3) But there are also certain geographic locations where the battle is fierce ( eg North India) .
    4) We need foot soldiers in those locations to fight.
    5) THE CHURCH need to support those foot soldiers to fight .
    6) THE CHURCH need to nurse the injured soldiers back to strength thereby sending a clear message to other soldiers and potential soldiers for future .
    7) Part of this nursing involves protected family time , protected educational time, protected holidays etc
    So far from what I have seen in 3 reputable Christian "mission organisations" in India the last part ( 7) is neglected & even frowned upon .
    The accepted norm is work till you die prematurely , to mess up your kids lives( or outsource raising kids to boarding schools) , being married to the hospital rather than your wife etc.
    No army can survive without soldiers .
    Soldiers simply will not sign up if ex-soldiers are not taken care of well.

    Will the Lord do HIS work without "mission hospitals" ?
    "Yes of course" HE will. HE can use stones , donkeys ,spit , non Christians - just about anything .