SINGAPOREANS ARE GENERALLY a hardworking people. The 42-hour work week is often exceeded without much fanfare or protest. The phrase “24/7” is synonymous with the call for us to be ready to work 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
On the flip side, there are more entertainment options and opportunities available to enable us to relax and “chill out” after work. We are admonished by our political leaders to strive for a better work-life balance, and once a year employers are reminded to encourage their staff to go home to have dinner with their family.
So it is not surprising that people can get somewhat confused as to what attitude we should adopt when it comes to work. Before I go any further, I should mention that I am not referring to those who work, unpaid and often unrecognised, in the home. They may be doing the cooking and cleaning and many will also be minding the children or elderly parents. Such labour can amount to a rather tidy sum if it was to be paid for. But for now, bear with me as I focus on paid employment outside of the home.
There was a time when some of us remembered that work was a precious gift. The ability to land a job ensured that the worker could pay the bills and put food on the table. In the 1950s right to the 1970s, jobs were not easy to come by and even if they were, the conditions accompanying them were often non-negotiable. By the 1980s and 1990s, except for a few brief periods of economic downturn, employees were in demand and wages began to rise. Still, the attitude towards work was not so much that it was an option but a necessity. The thought of most graduating students was to get a job quickly and a good-paying one at that.
The mid-90s onwards began to see people’s expectations and aspirations rise significantly. Job-seekers were now looking for careers, not merely employment. With periods of full employment, employees added these to their growing list of expectations: guarantees for advancement, job satisfaction and more frequent salary adjustments to match what they saw as their worth to the company.
The expectation of employers saw some changes too. “Meeting expectations” was replaced by “exceeding expectations”. We were told that hard work just does not “cut the mustard”; we had to work smart. Working smart includes not just being more productive but also to have greater visibility in our work.
Because work takes a big chunk of our time, energy and lives, what should a Christian’s attitude be towards work?
Thankfully, the Word of God has lots to say. We are told, for example, of the value and necessity of working hard (Proverbs 12:11, 2 Thess 3:10-12). However, I want to draw your attention to Colossians 3: 22-24 which encourages us to work “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
The attitude recommended towards work is to do it with diligence and not to be grudging or complaining about it. This is indeed a tall order. It is especially so if we are toiling for bosses who are harsh, unappreciative and treat us unfairly. But the verse reminds us that our true boss is the Lord Himself. And if He is the one whom we seek to please, we have the assurance that we will receive our reward, be it in this life or the next.
These verses further remind us that we need not be in fear of displeasing our bosses because our earthly boss is not the person whom we ultimately work for. So we need not approach the Annual Appraisal at work with dread like a condemned prisoner awaiting sentencing.
However, just because we have a loving and compassionate Master, does not mean that there is any room for slacking. All the more we strive to work diligently, not out of fear of displeasing Him and then being punished, but enthusiastically out of our devotion to God.
Finally, if we have the attitude as outlined in the letter to the Colossians, no labour or station at work is too insignificant or lowly. So if you are a technician in a production line, a teacher at school or a manager in an office, all labour can serve as an offering to God. When this happens, the mundane becomes meaningful.
By Benny Bong