“Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Bob Dylan
A small Los Angeles firm hired me in 1990 after I passed the California Bar Exam. With a growing family to support, I was eager to prove myself, succeed, and generate enough income to buy a house and the stuff of life accompanying it. The firm’s three partners were a good twenty years ahead of me in terms of career and family, each grounded in the Christian faith. I appreciate how extraordinary it was to have these men mentor me looking back after three decades.
They paid me a low salary compared to what I would have earned from the large national firm offered me coming out of law school. But they incentivized me by paying production-based bonuses. The more revenue I generated the more I was paid. Two years into the practice, I was billing significant hours, settling contingency fee cases and developing my own clients. The reward? A generous car allowance, multiple raises, big bonuses, a firm loan for a down payment on our first home, and partnership in three years.
I worked longer and later hours, sometimes spending Saturday at the office, and discovered the law of diminishing returns. My productivity dropped like a rock falling off a cliff after working fifty plus hours a week. I turned counter-productive, losing creativity and the peace of mind to plan and strategize.
The effect on my wife and kids was the worst part. When I’d get home late, long after my wife and kids finished dinner, the house felt empty. It was difficult to reintegrate into family life and I went days and days spending no meaningful time with them.
But God had mercy on me by having the senior guys keep their eyes on me.
One afternoon, two of them cornered me in my office, shut the door and laid down the expectation. “Don’t hang around late because you think you’re impressing anyone. You’re not. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. There are exceptions, but we expect you to finish your work, organize for the next day and go home and take care of your family.”
I took their advice to heart.
I had friends who worked in large firms who lived at the other end of the spectrum, billing 2,200 to 2,500 hours a year. Late nights and weekends in the office. Extensive travel. Something gives. There’s always a cost. A marriage. Relationships with kids. Health….
Jesus taught, For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure. The eyes of your spirit allow revelation-light to enter your being. If your heart is unclouded, the light floods in. But if your eyes are focused on money, the light cannot penetrate and darkness takes its place. How profound will be the darkness within you if the light of truth cannot enter! (Matthew 6:21-24, The Passion Translation)
Do me a favor. Get alone, somewhere you can think and pray. Spend a moment and ask yourself: Are money, power, and reputation my core motivators? Ask your wife, a trusted friend the same. If the answer is yes, your direction and motivation oppose the momentum of the Kingdom of God. Worse, you are practicing idolatry and engaged in syncretism. “How can you worship two gods at the same time? Hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t worship the true God while enslaved to the god of money!” (Matthew 25:23, NKJ)
Success and personal achievement can be marvelous blessings, the sign of God’s favor, and the fruit of hard work and integrity. But unless the love of Christ compels our performance, work is idolatry. I strive to work at the Lord’s pleasure. I want one thing. I want to hear Him say, Well done good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things…(Matthew 8:36, The Passion Translation). I am not always successful, but I am improving year by year.
If you are not driven by a single-minded, wholehearted devotion to serving God at work, it’s time to change direction and repent. Ask God to forgive you for letting him slip into second or third place. Dump the idols of selfish ambition, greed, and pride on the cross and leave them there. Confess to a trusted friend or pastor and ask them to hold you accountable. Reorder your priorities and realign your heart to the people and matters you know matter. You might need to set limits at work or recreational activities distracting you from time with God, family, and committed friends. You might have to change your job or career. For what use is it to gain all the wealth and power of this world…at the cost of your own life?
I’ve spent years struggling in the gray zone, living with mixed motives, my attention away from God, my wife and kids. We suffered. But the Lord gave me grace to repent and make things right. Not an easy process, but worth it in eternity.