It’s been rumored the devil works in the fashion industry… and wears Prada. I’ve been known to screen the film The Devil Wears Prada in my organizational behavior class. The movie centers on a recent college graduate named Andy, who fumbles her way into a role at Runway magazine, and her diabolical boss, Miranda Priestly. During the initial onboarding stage at Runway, Andy is quite critical of the industry’s superficiality and refuses to embrace it. The film chronicles her subsequent cognitive transformation as she becomes further socialized into accepting the practices of the industry.
However, the acceptance of the work values is not without its costs.
Andy comes to appreciate in time that she has acted in ways hypocritical of her own values and has alienated some of her closest friends and loved ones. In the end, she finds the very essence of her character is being transformed by the institutions she once had considerable disdain for. Although the film is largely fictitious, it focuses attention on a real phenomenon that happens in the business world, namely the character transformation of company stakeholders.
Character development is at the heart of spiritual formation.
Dallas Willard more precisely indicated spiritual formation is concerned with the taking-on of Jesus’ character. Yet many of us may not spend much time considering how the work we do influences this process in ourselves and others. In their book Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae suggest work curates the development of various virtues and vices in the believer. They suggest work oftentimes fosters initiative, perseverance, diligence, and discipline. At the same time, many career-minded individuals suffer from overwork and over-identification with work. The hyper competitive nature of modern work leaves minimal space for patience, charity, temperance, and certain other traditional Christian virtues to flourish. We would do well to consider how our environments are shaping us, and those around us, in both positive and negative ways.
Scripture makes clear that humans sow to either please their flesh or to please the spirit and reap accordingly (Galatians 6:7-8). Jesus’ followers are warned against the many dangers in the field that may limit the germination of the seed and spoil the harvest (Matthew 13: 1-23). As the Lord’s stewards, we are called to tend to His field and the seed that He has scattered, remembering that we will be held to account for our actions (e.g., Luke 19: 11-27). One may reflectively ask what spirit-led sowing looks like in the marketplace. Conveniently, we may examine the word sow and consider it as an acronym, referring to serving, observing, and witnessing.
Works provides us a primary opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ command to love one another by serving our customers and coworkers. It is by serving those around us that we come to know and be known. Self-sacrificial service requires us to purge the sloth dwelling deep within us and to take on the role of a humble servant, often doing things that we might otherwise consider menial and undignified of our previous prideful state. Yet it is service rendered through our work that we become keenly aware of others’ challenges. Service helps forge the bonds between persons. It is through repeated acts of service that charity becomes habitual and the stranger becomes an acquaintance, an acquaintance a beloved neighbor.
We are called to be in the world of not of it. Unfortunately, even some of the most devote Christians can become infected by the insidious vices celebrated in corporate work life, the chief of these being pride and greed. To get ahead in professional life, workers oftentimes feel compelled to devote themselves to work even on the day(s) not being obligated to do such. For some individuals, it has less to do with pride and greed but instead originates from the fear associated with job insecurity. Yet we often fail to recognize God’s providence through our overwork and misplaced identities and fears. We tell ourselves that our trust remains in the Lord but our actions testify otherwise. The Sabbath provides an opportunity for us to quarantine and seek treatment for our spiritual ailments. It is through our regular observance of the Sabbath that our focus is restored, our trust is strengthened, and we are nourished through the Lord’s life-giving word. The Sabbath helps us to reflect on what God has already done in the world and continues to do. It brings to remembrance that our work should not define us or free us from our dependence on God. He calls us to celebrate with him on the Sabbath and to grow in our relationship with Him.
It’s long been considered bad manners to discuss politics and religion when in the company of others. There is a particular apprehension today with discussing religion at work for a variety of reasons, including litigation, privacy, and congeniality concerns. The secularization of modern society and the decline in Christianity have been well-documented, and yet so too have the alarming trends in anxiety, loneliness, and apathy. God has placed us in our positions of influence in the workplace to provide spiritual care for others that are in desperate need of hope and eternal salvation that can only be achieved through exposure to the Gospel. We need only look carefully at organizational practices in the marketplace to realize this exposure can come in a variety of forms, from Clemson University’s football prayer rituals and bible studies, to In-N-Out Burger’s inclusion of Bible verses on its cups and food wrappers, to Dayspring’s (division of Hallmark Cards) worship services for its employees. It can be the one-off conversation with a colleague about the cross necklace we wear or about the church we attend. While the form may vary, the mission is the same – to help others in their personal relationships with the Lamb of God and to bring about the formation that only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can provide.
Spiritual sowing is about co-laboring with the Holy Spirit and building up the relationships existing between God, self, and others. This sacred responsibility compels us to continuously strengthen (1) our relationships with others through mutual self-sacrificial service, (2) our personal relationship with Jesus through regular Sabbath observation, and (3) others’ relationships with Christ through exposure to the Gospel. As we sow, we would do well to reflect on St. Paul’s admonishment:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously…now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.2 Corinthians 9: 6, 10
Let us be deemed worthy of being called good and faithful stewards of the seed provided to us to sow with a gentle and grateful heart.UMHB is the university of choice for Christian higher education in the Southwest. If you are looking for a place to receive an education for life and an experience of a lifetime, UMHB would be a great fit for you! Check out our website for more information, or stop by any time for a campus visit to learn more!