01 Oct Living as Light – Our Identity and Impact
In His sermon on the mountain side, Jesus used two metaphors to describe what His disciples should be like – salt and light. Salt in the right amount would bring taste and flavor to food; it can also be used to clean wounds or as a scouring agent; as a preservative it can prevent spoilage. If it loses its saltiness, it becomes useless and only fit to be thrown away. Light is meant to be visible to others – just as a city built on a hill is visible from afar. In fact, we are adjured to let our “light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” The challenge for every Christian believer is to reflect this character of light wherever he or she may be; since the bulk of our waking hours are spent at our workplaces, we would need to display good deeds in abundance in our respective “market places.”
To begin with, it is critical to have the right biblical perspective about our work and life in our workspaces. In the account of creation set out in Genesis 1, we read of how God handed over the world to the care of the first human couple, asking them to be fruitful, increase in number, fill the world, subdue it and rule over all creation as His image-bearers and representatives. Very strong and intense activities are to be undertaken. Being fruitful requires the active and cooperative endeavor of both husband and wife. To increase and fill the earth would require human occupation of spaces with proportionate reduction of areas for plants and other animals! The words, to subdue, dominate, or bring under control of, seen in a positive manner, would require a thorough understanding of the laws of nature that would enable us to make equipments that can defy gravity – flying an aircraft or pumping water to a height. Antibiotics can promote healing and prolong life. Modern telecommunication enables us to almost instantaneously see and talk to people thousands of miles away. By doing these, we, in a sense, subdue or dominate the created universe as its rulers.
Unfortunately, sin has resulted in the creation of boundaries and restrictions between human beings and excessive exploitation of most other species of plants and animals and their habitats. But as God’s redeemed community, we are not to live or rule with disregard or contempt for others, as the “rulers of the gentiles and their high officials” do. Jesus talked to His disciples about a model of leadership where rulers would be the servants of those over whom they have authority. He demonstrated this so clearly when He washed the feet of His disciples and in giving up His life as a sacrifice for all humanity. In ruling over the earth, human beings, as God’s image bearers are to reflect His character and moral attributes in the way we exercise authority over creation. That is what being light would mean for a Christian believer – revealing God through our attitudes, speech, conduct and work in our occupations.
Since the world is tainted by sin, very unconsciously, in our spirituality, we often demonstrate the attitude of not being a part of it; for fear that it may contaminate us. The biblical truth is that the world is God’s even if it seems that Satan and evil dominate it at present. This includes the seas, the mountains, the plants, the cattle and all of humankind . We cannot forget this truth. Redemption, apart from its personal implications for each of us in terms of our relationship to God, is also about reclaiming the world and all its spaces for Him. The second implication is that God expects our deep and intense engagement with His world. Our vocations are to be voyages of discovering and understanding God’s world, better and better. Our chosen areas of work – agriculture, livestock rearing, medicine,engineering, teaching, preaching, trade and commerce are part of the mandate to engage with God’s world and be useful and productive parts of it.
In doing so, there are two aspects that we need to consider – our identity and impact at the workplace, in other words, what we are and what we do. Many of us identify very closely with the work that we do and the titles and honorifics used. For instance most medical practitioners use “Dr” as a prefix to their names; though this is most appropriate for those with a Ph. D! So much so that homeopaths, naturopaths and practitioners of Ayurveda also tend to use this title. Not to be left behind, engineers, architects, lawyers, chartered accountants and now even company secretaries have started using similar titles to denote their professions. Pastors and preachers are not far behind in their insistence on using titles like “Reverend” to address themselves.
While passion for the work we do is creditworthy, foolish pride in our professions is certainly not reflective of God’s glory. Moses, though privileged to have been adopted by the royal family of Egypt, spurned that identity in favour of a seemingly lower position – a worshipper of Jehovah, the God of the slaves. By faith he “refused to be known as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated with the people of God. . . He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.” It is important that at the first opportunity in our jobs we should assert this identity – it would clarify matters for people around us, they would expect a certain standard of behaviour from us and not be surprised by our adherence to God’s values rather than those of the industry or people around us. This can be very costly; sometimes the consequences may even be detrimental to our future progress at work. But we cannot compromise on our identity! In my very first job my manager asked me to inform a client who called on the phone that he was not in the office – a small lie. I had to retort that in case the client calls again I will be forced to say that “he says he is not here”; I suggested, at the risk of seeming naïve, that we should tell the truth – his inability to take the call then, but assure theclient that we would call back later. In small things and in big matters – we need to be always conscious of What we need to closely bring to our workplaces, though, is a strong Christian identity for everyone around to visibly observe and identify. We are to be the voice of God in our chosen occupations, those who bring God’s standards to bear.
our identity and the fact that we represent Christ at the workplace. A second aspect that we need to be conscious about is to adopt God’s standards and be sensitive to His concerns. While we cannot actin a manner calculated to make a certain degree of impact, what we can do is “do what is right” in every situation. When his enemies tried to find fault with Daniel in his conduct of government affairs “they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him because he was trustworthy, and neither corrupt nor negligent.” Not being corrupt we can understand very well, but how many of us can claim that we have never been negligent? That is God’s standard for our work; that would make such an impact! Each of the kings that Daniel worked for gave glory to God – the God of the captive and the vanquished, quite unprecedented. Our impact should be such that God is given the glory as a result of our work.
One of our graduates in Pune working in a company specializing in making automobile airconditioners (A/Cs) pioneered the development of low-cost A/ Cs for truck cabins. For the first time in the country, there was someone concerned about working conditions for poor truck drivers! Right at the outset, the very selection of our vocation should reflect God’s concerns rather than the world’s considerations. As Paul reminded the Christians at Philippi – “do everything without complaining or arguing, so thatyou may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” . May that wish be fulfilled in and through each of the constituent members of UESI; that each of us would make an impact and help usher in change and transformation of our world.
The author is a graduate member of UESI Delhi and is CEO, IDFC Foundation. He lives in Delhi with his wife Jamila. They have two daughters, both pursuing their post-graduate studies outside Delhi.