The year was 1932, and my mother could no longer continue in college. Besieged by the Great Depression, the financial toll on her family was just too great. For this same reason, none of her siblings had gone to college, either. In the absence of a healthy economy and a father (who died when Mother was three years old), financial hardship necessitated that the older children work to help support the family.

Mother felt so guilty about being in college that, without telling any of the family, she dropped out and returned to Idabel, Oklahoma, to look for work. But people just weren’t hiring.

When Aunt Swann wrote from Shreveport to suggest that there might be work there, Mother eagerly moved in with her sister, who arranged a job interview with Louisiana’s largest law firm. A woman was going on maternity leave, and the firm needed a temporary employee. With so many out of work, though, Mother knew the competition would be fierce. “Walking in for my job interview, I was so scared, I was trembling,” she told me many years later.

Afterward, as Mother was leaving, the lawyer said, “We will call you if we need you.” My Aunt Swann, who had accompanied her to the interview, shot back. “Oh, she’ll be here at 8 a.m. tomorrow, whether you need her or not.”

“I was so surprised when she said that, I was speechless,” Mother told me. “But, sure enough, I was there that next morning, right on time.”

Guess who got the job?

In the process, Mother got something else of unparalleled value – a life-lesson on the critical role of initiative when it comes to finding and keeping a job. Countless times throughout my life, I remember her saying, “Always do a little bit more than what is expected of you.”

As an employer, myself, at Hope For The Heart for over 25 years, I’ve had an opportunity to identify, firsthand, the hallmarks of great employees. While they all possess remarkable initiative and work ethic, my employees also have a number of other indispensable qualities that make them truly extraordinary among the ordinary. Here are just a few:

  • Teachable attitude. Do you accept on-the-job correction without arguing … with humility and even appreciation, all the while being eager to learn from your mistakes? Are you continuously learning and improving your skills without complaining? Are you open to new and better ways of doing things … even if it means changing old habits? Philippians 2:14-15 exhorts us to “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.
  • Ethical edge. Do you rationalize when an unethical choice could benefit you? Are you more interested in what you can get away with than in doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching? Do you take from your employer what’s not yours – time, supplies, or money?

It’s been said, “Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

The point is that there are no insignificant ethical issues. I believe with all of my heart that, to succeed on the job, you must earn a reputation as a trustworthy employee with uncompromising business practices – a person known for doing the right thing and encouraging others to do likewise. Proverbs 11:3 makes it plain: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

  • Spiritual motivation. Do you think full-time ministry work is more important in God’s sight than secular work? Do you compartmentalize your work life from your spiritual life? If so, you may be lacking spiritual motivation for work and missing out on many blessings God has designed for you to discover through employment.

As Christians, we are “ambassadors for Christ” with His very life on the inside. Since our heart is His home, it’s impossible to take Him along with us only on Sundays but leave Him behind the rest of the week. Surrendered to Him, working as an accountant is just as spiritual as being the Chief Servant Officer (my job title) of an international Christian ministry. The fact is, all of our work should always be performed as ministry, serving others because Christ is in us, seeking expression through us.

  • Organizational skills. Are you able to arrange your work in an orderly, systematic, functional way to get the most out of your work day? Do you have efficient work habits?

Employers want and need versatile team players who are able to operate effectively in a dynamic workplace … employees of excellence who can build relational bridges that contribute to team success … employees who manage their time and personal work environment for maximum productivity. As an employee, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Of course, there are many other traits that make for an extraordinary employee. And in this day of near-historic levels of unemployment, I am also well aware that even the most outstanding employees may sometimes lose their jobs for reasons completely beyond their control. If you are among the millions of unemployed searching for work, my heart goes out to you, my friend. To make the most of this challenging time, I encourage you to:

  • Pray that God will lead you in His will for your life.
    “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10).
  • Analyze your skills.
    – Identify the gifts and abilities God has given you.
    – Identify your past achievements.
    – Identify the source of your personal satisfaction.
    – Identify what motivates you.
    “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out” (Proverbs 18:15).
  • Be realistic about your career choices.
    “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” (Proverbs 14:8).
  • Knock on all doors of opportunity.
    “Ask [and keep on asking] and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
  • Ask God to shut the wrong doors.
    “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
  • Refuse negative thoughts about your self-worth.
    “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

 

In closing, my prayer for you is that you would see your work, more than ever before, as a high calling and a ministry for the Lord … that you would use your job to make an eternal difference in the lives of your coworkers and employer, and that you would “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. I pray that you will find daily strength and encouragement in Christ, acknowledging Him as your Source, while viewing everything else – your job included – as simply a resource.