Reprinted from Workship.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having unprecedented impacts on our lives, with apparently worse to come. Setting aside the health effects, our working is being impacted in many ways: the context (working from home where possible), the amount of work (casuals losing shifts, work suspended for months, being made redundant) and the culture of work (from positive to crisis) are among the changes. Below are eleven outcomes and some biblical responses.
I have to work from home
This is the new reality for many people who are able to continue their work from home. “Business continuity plans” have been activated, which shifts the focus from production to survival. Working from home brings a whole new reality, and for many the biggest thing is that it simply doesn’t feel like work anymore. That is because we define work as something we get paid to do, or a job we commute to. For those who go to work, staying home seems like a sick day or a holiday. However, work in the Bible is anything we do with intent or purpose. We are made in the image of a God who works, and who commissions us to work (Genesis 1:26–28).
Idea: the context for work doesn’t change the fact that it is still work; work that should be done for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31) and in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17).
I miss working relationships
One of the downsides of working from home, is realizing how significant the relationships in the workplace are. Human beings are made for relationship. God wants relationship with us (John 3:16), and we were made for relationship with each other (Genesis 2:18). Working is a social activity.
Idea: we can look for ways to stay connected. Some create a morning Zoom/Skype tea break, where people can join in and chat for half an hour.
I can’t switch off from work
Working from home may make it harder to switch off from work. You are physically at work 24/7.
Idea: at the end of the day, walk outside your front door and around the block, and change your clothes to signify the end of the working day. Another reason for not being able to switch off is anxiety, which we will look at in #7.
I feel less important now
Once you are out of the normal work environment you may begin to realize how much of your identity and self-esteem has been caught up in your work. This is an ever-present temptation. Working from home gives us an opportunity to rethink the place of work in our lives. Has love for our job replaced love for God as the central motivation of our thoughts and actions?
Idea: ultimately, we have one boss: the Lord (Colossians 3:23–24).
I’m having to pivot from work I love
One of the distressing aspects of Coronavirus and its impact on our economy is that many jobs have changed suddenly and possibly irrevocably. For creatives, the entertainment industry has shut down. For event planners and florists and photographer, gatherings of more than 100 have stopped and work has dried up. Some small businesses will need to close overnight, while others sweat it out. Teachers and lecturers who love personal interaction are having to adjust to an online environment. Everyone has had to pivot from working for productivity, to working to survive.
Idea: work is useful for income (II Thessalonians 3:12), as well as being an opportunity to do good work (Genesis 1:31). There are times when we need to do diligent work to get by, and other times when we will find joy from the work. A mindset of working for God and others will help us see the joy more easily.
I have less work than I need to feel busy
Many people are having shifts reduced, contracts cancelled, or business operations interrupted. There is a danger here. Our work is not just what we are paid to do. Not having enough work is not an excuse for idleness (II Thessalonians 3:11).
Idea: we can use the extra time to serve others (II Thessalonians 3:13): shop for the elderly, phone or write to those who are housebound, connect in with your neighbors.
I am always anxious when working
The current climate is breeding anxiety: for our health, for our workplaces, for our ability to pay our rent or mortgages. These are real and grave fears, and it may be easy for them to overwhelm our thinking, leading to panic attacks.
Idea: at such times it is good to pray through a psalm (Psalm 91 is a good place to start). It can also be helpful to separate out each worry and package it up for God to take care of, as he has instructed us (1 Peter 5:7, Philippians 4:6–7).
I no longer know the purpose of my work
During these times of rapid change, the purpose of work may become confused. This may reveal a false idol in our hearts. It may be that we were caught up in the temptation of those in Babel, who built a tower to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). The true purpose of work is to use it as a means of worshiping God and serving others. The Hebrew root for work is the same for that as worship and serve. This is an opportunity to examine our motivation for work and see if it aligns with God’s heart.
Idea: We need to look at our work differently: it is a place where we can learn to be holy, which we can saturate in prayer, where we can reveal God’s truth, where we can show people what Jesus is like, where we can demonstrate justice and we can reveal the Spirit’s power.
I’m a leader and my work just seems negative now
It is particularly tough being a leader during a crisis. Rather than the fun work of building a team, creating an opportunity to flourish and celebrating the wins, it becomes a time of making unpopular decisions, of conveying bad news and sometimes of wrapping things up because of the losses.
Idea: the primary biblical image of a leader was a shepherd, which might be a helpful image at this time, when the people we lead may feel as vulnerable as sheep. Our example is Jesus who describes himself as the Good Shepherd who cares, loves, protects and knows the sheep (John 10:11–18).
I was just made redundant
Sadly, many businesses have collapsed, and many more will in the coming weeks. This is a very difficult time for many people, for whom this is a shock. As well as the financial and social impacts, there are existential impacts from such a change. The reality is that much of our identity, self-esteem and security are caught up in our work.
Idea: God wants our identity to be rooted in Christ. Read Ephesians 1 and notice how many times Paul reinforces our identity as being “in Christ.” Our sense of value should be embedded in the fact that we are made in the image of God, and that he loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for us, and we are a beloved child of God (Romans 8:38–39).
I am on the frontline and have never been busier
Some people may be working in areas which are very busy, whether ensuring essential supplies through supermarkets, or building ventilators, or caring for the elderly. Then there are the health professionals and support staff (including cleaners) working under immense pressure.
Idea: this busy work is for a season and will not define your priorities and relationships forever. After this you will need a season of rest, reflection and recovery, so plan for a Sabbath (Matthew 12:12, Hebrews 4:9–10). You may also need to make some difficult ethical decisions, in tight time frames. It is important to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5), recognizing that godly wisdom is marked by peace, gentleness, reason, mercy, flourishing, impartiality and sincerity (James 3:17).
I have found great comfort in Proverbs 16:9: that, while I might seek to plan the way, it is God who “establishes my steps.” However, often the way we have been guided only becomes obvious when we look behind us.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.