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Confession of an Angry Professional

Anger is one of those respectable, often hideable sins. We shake our heads at those few colleagues who occasionally lose their temper. How can these people be so unprofessional? we wonder.

Yet, anger is expressed in many ways: bitterness, complaints, excessive criticism, or even silence. For the Christian, none of these more acceptable forms of anger are in any way acceptable!

  • “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31).

BUT–you might exclaim–what about when we are merely reacting to the injustices around us, like the foolish things our bosses waste our time on, or the ways those we serve do not value us as they should? Isn’t there such a thing as righteous anger?

There sure is! Jesus expressed it frequently. But fallen people rarely have that Jesus-type anger. We’re not often angry about how the injustice goes against God’s Kingdom–when it gets down to it, we’re just mad because it goes against us! The rarity of good anger is why the Bible repeatedly says things like:

  • “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20).
  •  “Men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Tim. 2:8).
  •  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31).

So: I confess that, even though I rarely lose my cool at my workplace, I often do possess anger. Whether its expressed or suppressed, it’s not good.

In his article “Killing Anger,” John Piper gives some great tips for… well, killing anger:

First, ponder the rights of Christ to be angry, but then how He endured the cross, as an example of long-suffering: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Second, ponder how much you have been forgiven and how much mercy you have been shown. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32)

Third, ponder your own sinfulness and take the beam out of your own eye: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3–5).

Fourth, think about how you do not want to give place to the Devil, because harbored anger is the one thing the Bible explicitly says opens a door and invites him in: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26–27).

Fifth, ponder the folly of your own self-immolation, that is, numerous detrimental effects of anger to the one who is angry — some spiritual, some mental, some physical, and some relational: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Prov. 3:7–8)

Sixth, confess your sin of anger to some trusted friend, as well as to the offender, if possible. This is a great healing act: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Seventh, let your anger be the key to unlock the dungeons of pride and self-pity in your heart and replace them with love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).

Eighth, remember that God is going to work it all for your good as you trust in His future grace. Your offender is even doing you good, if you will respond with love: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).

Ninth, remember that God will vindicate your just cause and settle all accounts better than you could. Either your offender will pay in hell or Christ has paid for him. Your payback would be double jeopardy or an offence to the cross: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting his cause to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Finally, let me recommend a book: Uprooting Anger. Any good idea in this article that wasn’t John Piper’s was probably from that book!

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Series: How to Stay in our jobs with God — Treating our Work Relationships as Gifts

In this final installment of notes on John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life ideas for integrating faith and work, we’ll be looking at

#6. “We make much of Christ in our secular work by treating the web of relationships it creates as a gift of God to be loved by practical deeds of help and sharing the Gospel” (p. 151).

To begin this section of the book, Piper explains his rational for putting this item last: “…not because it is least important but because some who put it first never say anything else about the importance of secular work” (p. 151). Thankfully, Piper does not diminish the Christian calling to a secular workplace as solely a vehicle for personal evangelism. However, if Jesus wasn’t lying when he talked about what he had come to do, and if it’s true that he died as a substitute for any who will let him, then the importance of sharing this “good news” can’t be diminished, either. As Piper says, “speaking the good news of Christ is part of why God put you in your job” (p. 151, emphasis mine).

God has given us our secular jobs for many reasons–to excel in them through creativity and industry, to create useful products, to promote human flourishing through the products we make or services we render, to provide for our needs, to provide for the needs of others, to enjoy with Him–and one of them is to be messengers of the good news. All the other ways to bring God to work combine together to make our context-conscious speaking of the Gospel attractive. And, if what Jesus Christ said is true, that knowing God is the the only life there is (John 17:3) and that he is the way to God (John 14:6) and that he didn’t come to give us advice on how to live (religion) but rather to give us life itself–well, then we don’t really love our jobs or the people we work with if we’re not willing to share that with them. And we can’t look at that last statement as a guilt trip, because guilt trips don’t motivate over the long term. It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a reality check.

May this series of reflections be used by the Holy Spirit to break down the idea that faith and work are separate things; may it reconnect us with the reality of what we set out to do when we get out of bed each morning to go to work.

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs with God — Earning Money with which to Help Others

Continuing with John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life pointers for integrating faith and work, next on the list is:

#5. “We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God” (p. 150).

Now, keep in mind that, prior to this, Piper advised that we work to earn enough money to avoid becoming a burden on others. He’s not saying, “You have to give all of your money away, even though you have a mortgage and a family.” But he is saying, “As [you] work, [you] should dream of how to use [your] excess money to make others glad in God” (p. 150). The portion of our money that Piper is talking about here is that which we earn in excess of what we need (“and we need far less than we think”). The way to glorify God in our earning this portion of money is to meet the needs of others with it, in the name of Jesus.

So, to summarize what we’ve covered thus far: as we go to work each day, 1) consciously enjoying being with and depending God as we go about our tasks, 2) striving bring creative excellence to all that we do, 3) using our job to “adorn” our spoken Gospel, 4) seeking to earn enough money to avoid burdening others while seeking to be helpful more than profitable, 5) we can also daydream about how to bless those in need with our extra money.

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs with God — Making Enough and Focusing on Helpfulness

4. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning enough money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work rather than the financial rewards.

I like how Piper shows a tension here: we both need to make enough money to keep us from being a burden on others, but we also need to prioritize helpfulness over profit.

First, we need to not feel bad about making an honest living: “Work with your hands… so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess 4:11-12). When we earn a living, we honor God and we “clear the way for non-Christians to see Christ for who he really is. Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 147). When a moral non-Christian who values good work ethic sees Christians who use God as an excuse for not working hard, they use it as evidence that our God is not worthy to follow. Using God as a reason for not working hard is falsely communicating about a productive, creative, purposeful, working God.

Second, though it’s paradoxical, we honor God by making a living when we are focused not on our profit but on the benefit our product or service brings to society. This sort of thinking smacks of heresy, but listen: “Yes, we should earn enough money to meet our needs… but, no, we should not make that the primary focus of why we work” (Piper, p. 147). Jesus strikes us with his words each time we read, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Piper helps demystify this concept: “Work with an eye not mainly to your money, but to your usefulness. Work with a view to benefiting people with what you make or do…. Stop thinking mainly of profitability, and think mainly of how helpful your product or service can become” (p. 148).

Romans 9: Why John Piper Became a Pastor and What Thinkers Can Glean from It

“Romans 9,” John Piper once wrote on a blue book exam in seminary, “is like a tiger going about devouring free-willers like me” (“The Absolute Sovereignty…”).

A friend pointed me towards this John Piper sermon recently when I shared with him how my wife and I had recently read and discussed Romans 9 together in our ongoing study of Romans. The chapter had left us both with the sole application that our Father’s ways are beyond us, and that there is an infinite intelligence gap between us, his creatures, and Him, our creator.

In his sermon “The Absolute Sovereignty of God: What is Romans Nine About?”, Piper explains his own path to understanding just how in control God is. Piper actually took a sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College to address questions his students often had about Romans 9; he intended to give eight months to the study of the chapter for the purpose of writing a book that would “stand the test of time.” However, by the end of this sabbatical, Piper had resigned from his college and entered pastoral ministry. His description of this sabbatical is below:

Then, about ten years later, came the fall of 1979. I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9.

But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected—at least by me. My aim was to analyze God’s words so closely and construe them so carefully that I could write a book that would be compelling and stand the test of time. What I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor.

In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor. The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years…

I love those lines, and, as a thinker, I need to remind myself of them often when I am losing sight of the purpose of all thinking that is done about God:

I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored.

I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed.

My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded.

It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.

May these words convict us and keep our minds pointed at the joy that is our adoption into the family of God.

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs “with God” — Confirming the Spoken Gospel

So far, we have looked at staying in our secular jobs “with God” by:

  1. Enjoying Fellowship with Him
  2. Pursuing Creative Productivity for a Purpose
    1. Consciously Relying on Him

These insights have been reflections and notes from “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5,” a chapter in John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life.

The third way that Piper lists for staying at work with God is:

3. We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken Gospel.

It can be easy when talking about faith and work to overemphasize the work and forget about the gospel. As Piper says,

“There is no point in overstating the case for the value of secular work. It is not the Gospel. By itself, it does not save anyone. In fact, with no spoken words about Jesus Christ, our secular work will not awaken wonder for the glory of Christ” (Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 142)

The core of this teaching is that the way we do our secular work “will increase or decrease the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess before unbelievers” (p. 143). When I as someone who seeks to be a Gospel-centered teacher engage with my colleagues and students and community members with respect and humility, I am allowing any mention of Jesus from my lips to be met with attention and consideration rather than scorn and dismissiveness.

Of course, the great assumption is that they know we are Christians. Yet, if they don’t, if there is no Good News of a saving, sacrificing God for our work to adorn, our work falls painfully short of its calling (Titus 2:9-10). It is like a good commercial that never mentions the product. “People may be impressed but won’t know what to buy” (p. 143).

On the flip-side, our work can remove stumbling blocks. Everyone has had the unfortunate experience of hearing the Gospel from someone who is well-known for their laziness, or their dishonesty, or their gossip. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Stephanie Crawford is a self-proclaimed Christian woman, yet she is equally famous for her nosiness. As Christians, if we content ourselves with doing slipshod work, we put a stain on the gospel rather than adorn it.

John Piper on Unemployment

“To be sure, we should help each other find and keep work. We should care about the larger problem of unemployment. It is not first an economic problem, though it is that. It is first a theological problem. Human beings are created in the image of God and are endowed with traits of their Creator that fit them for creative, useful, joyful, God-exalting work. Therefore, extensive idleness (when you have the ability to work) brings down the oppression of guilt and futility.”

–John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 142