harvard_crestRecently, a friend of mine had the opportunity to fulfill one of his dreams. He had the opportunity to do a short-term postgraduate course at Harvard Business School.

My friend ran a successful company in the construction industry. He had set out to run his company on Christian principles. Many had told him it was unrealistic. But he had stuck to his guns. God had blessed.

I asked him what he had learnt from his time at Harvard? He told me he had learnt many useful things. He said that most of it, he had kinda figured out on his own already. But the course helped him to articulate and apply his ideas better.

Then he turned to me and said that though the management ideas were very useful, it had not swayed him from one basic realization—He wouldn”t have made it without the gracious care and faithful provision of God.

I know this man and his company. I knew it was no pious rhetoric.

My friend was a top scholar. He had a Masters in engineering from Notre Dame. He had worked very hard. It would be silly to believe that God’s blessings had come upon an incompetent and lazy individual.

But I knew a little of the history of his company. I knew that at critical junctures of the life of the company, key projects had come his way that were totally unexpected, totally outside of human control.

His “success story” reminded me yet again of the link between Divine care and human responsibility.

Take David’s encounter with Goliath (1 Samuel 17). David as able to take down an opponent many times his size. Now this was not the first time that David had wielded a sling. His hand and his aim had been honed in many encounters with wild predators that had threatened his flock (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

Yet it is also clear that David’s victory came about because of his complete trust in God and his complete passion for God’s honour. God had come through and used the faith of David to do something miraculous.

I have no doubts that God could have used a 98-pound weakling who had never touched a sling in his life, if He had wanted to. But still, David’s story, and the story of my engineering friend, teaches us what should be the norm.

The norm is this—we need to work hard. We need to develop our potential. We need to labour. But we live by faith, trusting in a loving Father who knows our needs even before we utter them in prayer (Matthew 6:8).

This was true of our forefathers as well. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had to work the garden. But it was God who provided Eden and sustained it.

Active faith coupled with active labour.

We need to remember this because we live in very uncertain times in the world of work.

As a recent Newsweek article reminds us, globalization is fundamentally Darwinian in nature. In their article, “A Heavier Burden”, Rana Foroohar and Tony Emerson write:

“There is a growing camp of economists who believe today’s brutally tough labour market is not a temporary American oddity. Falling wages, reduced benefits and rising job insecurity seem to be increasingly entrenched features of the job scene across most of Western Europe, the United States and other parts of the developed world.” (Newsweek, International Edition, August 23, 2004, 40)

If “faster, cheaper and better” are the operative values of the new global economy, than surely companies will want to keep their workforce lean while squeezing as much as they can out of their employees.

For many of us then, it is a time of much upheaval in our working life. Some of us will lose our jobs. Those of us who are employed will be living in constant uncertainty. And those of us who are employed will be working harder and working longer hours. (There will of course be the few who will get richer.)

I do not know what are the long-term social implications of these trends. It will probably get worse before it gets better.

However as Gordon T. Smith reminds us, times of crisis are also times of opportunity, times to grow, times to relearn our basic spiritual convictions. Smith says in his book, COURAGE and CALLING:

“We will thrive in the new economy only when we accept this reality—the turbulence and change—and then embrace it as an opportunity rather than a threat.” (17)

One of the lessons we need to relearn in these turbulent times is this: We need to labour responsibly. But we also need to trust that God will be there with us and for us.

Active faith coupled with active labour.

This has always been true. For example I am not sure that the job market was any easier for folks in Roman times. Especially when the barbarian hordes were knocking at the door.

Fact is, life in a fallen world has never been easy job wise. One of the consequences off the Fall is that work will never be easy (Genesis 3: 8-19). Full redemption in the area of work, like everything else, will have to await the eschaton. In the meantime we live in this world.

I pray that those of us who are in positions to influence policy will continue to fight for economic systems and workplaces that are gracious and human, as they are productive and viable. Paul reminds us that none day we will have to answer to the ultimate boss (Ephesians 6:9)

For the rest of us, well we need no extra exhortation to work hard. But many of us need a fresh reminder that we have a loving heavenly Father who is looking out for us.

We may have to relearn what my construction engineer friend learned from Harvard, that yes we need to work hard, but at the end of the day, it is knowing that God is there and that He will come through for us.

These are tough times in the world of work. But when the going gets tough, the tough know that it is time for a more robust faith. No matter what Goliaths we are facing.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan