Just because you're out of work doesn't mean that God doesn't have plans for your life right now.
Part 1: Making the Most of Your Unemployment »
Work for free
When we're employed, our boss owns most of our available time during the week. The good news is we get paid for that time. The bad news is that there's precious little time left over for a lot of other good things we could be doing. Here's a chance to redress that imbalance.
When my friend Bill worked for the government, he didn't have a lot of extra time to give to his work as an elder in our church. Everyone goes through seasons of being crazy busy, but thankfully we're not all busy at the same time. That's one reason we have a plurality of elders. Others could step in and pick up the slack for Bill.
But now that Bill's the one who's not juggling a thousand demands on his time, he's putting some of his extra time into being an elder, picking up the slack for others. When a need has come up (like a hospital visit, or an airport run for visiting missionaries, or research on church planting issues) Bill has been one of the first to step up and volunteer. He knows he won't be able to keep this pace up when he returns to the work force. But for now, time is something he has more of than others. SO rather than spend it selfishly on himself, he's spending it in service of others.
Paul told the Corinthians, "At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need" (2 Cor. 8:14). The abundance of the one is meant by God to meet the need of the other. So how can you put your abundance of time to work to meet the needs of others? Is there a ministry in your church that could use some more volunteer help, especially during the day when everyone else is busy? Is there an overworked mom in your church or neighborhood that could use your help around the house or with the kids? Is there a nursing home, or homeless shelter, or crisis pregnancy center that could put not only your skills, but your time, to good use as a volunteer?
Don't fritter away your days between job interviews and résumé drops, and don't spend your abundance of time selfishly. Put it to work for the good of others.
Invest in your family
The latest study confirms what most of us already knew. When we're employed, most of us work a lot, and that seems to be especially true for men. And when time is crunched, the people who pay first tend to be our families. There are lots of reasons for this, some understandable and some not. But regardless of the reasons we neglected them, unemployment is an opportunity to repair the damage, invest in the future, and establish some better habits and commitments.
My friend, Bill, has set aside time for regular "Daddy dates" with his daughter, as well taking his infant son so that mom can have a bit of break. He's also taking advantage of the extra time he can spend with his wife, focusing not just on accomplishing tasks, but building the emotional and spiritual intimacy of their marriage.
If you're married and/or a parent, unemployment is a great time to realize that there are more ways to "provide" for your family than a paycheck. Time, emotional engagement and support, and spiritual nurture are all things that you can still give.
And this isn't just a priority for the married. If you're single, perhaps you have more time to engage with your parents, siblings, or other extended family. This may even be a God-given opportunity to repair relationships in your family that have been broken, or simply neglected. Relationships, even in a family, need to be cultivated and maintained. Spend time fertilizing those relationships now, and when you resume your work life, they are more likely to continue to grow and thrive.
Don't just attend church
Church isn't a building. It's not a set of programs. It's not even a meeting. If you're a Christian, the local church is your spiritual family. Peter describes you as a brick in the spiritual household (1 Pet. 2:5). Paul calls you a member of the body (1 Cor. 12). Jesus describes you as one sheep in a flock (John 10). If you haven't joined the church you're attending, now's a great time to do so. And then once you've joined, invest in relationships with the other Christians there.
I think too often we approach church like consumers: What can I get out of this? What are they offering that I need? But the Bible's understanding of the church is that we should be producers, not consumers, spending ourselves for the good of the others there. So if unemployment gives you time to build the relationships in your biological family, as I mentioned above, it also give you the opportunity to build healthy relationships in your spiritual family. If you want to read more about this, let me highly recommend the resources over at 9Marks.
One other thought on this topic. No one needs to encourage you to build relationships with people like you. You're going to do that regardless. So given the extra flexibility in your schedule, now would be a great time to demonstrate the truth of what Paul taught in 1 Cor. 12 — in a body, the hand needs the eye, and the eye needs the foot. No part can say, "I don't belong" or "I don't need you" because you're not the same.
So if you're a young single person, reach out to older and married members in your church. If you're white, reach out to members of a different ethnicity. Crossing cultural and socio-economic boundaries doesn't come naturally to most of us. It takes time and effort, which is what you have at the moment. But because it's not natural, when we build gospel-centered relationships that the world can't explain, we give a wonderful testimony to the truth and power of the gospel.
Talk about the hope within you
It's easy to feel hopeless when you're unemployed. But if you're a Christian, you've got incredible, irrepressible hope within you. That's because what it means to be a Christian is someone who's turned from their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is be someone who's been rescued from God's just wrath through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.
And that's not all. Not only have you been forgiven and reconciled with God, in Christ, you've been made an heir to the Kingdom of God. Though your present circumstances may be hard, they are "light and momentary" in comparison to the "eternal glory" that is ours in Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17).
Friend, being joyful and hopeful in your unemployment gives you an incredible opportunity to be a walking, talking, pop-up ad for Jesus! People will be sympathetic, but not that interested, in your gloom and anxiety over being unemployed. But hopeful and joyful? That's going to prompt some questions.
So take some of that extra time you have and put it into building relationships with non-Christian friends. Start with your natural interests. Join a running or cycling club. Get involved in your local neighborhood association. Volunteer at the animal shelter. Join a rec league team.
It really doesn't matter what you do. But build relationships and take your absolutely inexplicable hope and joy with you. And then get ready to start explaining where that hope comes from, so that others who don't know Jesus might come to know him and share in your joy too.
Reach out to your fellow unemployed
It's easy to feel sorry for ourselves, to curl up in self-pity and expect others to minister to us. But being a Christian means that in Christ, we've found a sufficiency for every need, including the need of unemployment. That means you don't have to find a job before you can be of help to other job-seekers. You can begin right now to share with them the comfort you yourself have received in the gospel (2 Cor. 1:4).
So take a cue from my friend Bill, and pull together the unemployed in your church for regular times of prayer, accountability and encouragement. More than others, you'll be aware of the particular temptations that arise in unemployment. Not only can you share job leads with each other, you can also spur one another on in holiness and good deeds, in faith and love.
One other opportunity here is to fold some of your fellow unemployed into your life. Build a real relationship with another unemployed church member, and you'll find that after you've both returned to work, that relationship endures and you are both the richer for having been without a job.
Start an exercise program
I admit this isn't as spiritually focused as the previous seven recommendations, but I still think it's important. Paul says that training the body is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8). Its value pales in comparison to spiritual training, but as someone who is now solidly into his fifth decade of life, I can attest that physical health and fitness pays spiritual dividends. In the press of a hectic schedule, it can be almost impossible to start a new, healthy habit.
Here's a chance to make regular exercise a habitual part of your life, so that when work resumes, the good habit comes along for the ride.
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I have no doubt this list could be lengthened with other good ways to make the most of your unemployment. That might even be a good exercise for you to do with a friend. Given your circumstances, what you add in order to be a good steward of the unusual opportunity in front of you.
What I hope you see though, is that just like employment, unemployment is also a providential gift of God to you, if you're a Christian. For someone who doesn't know Jesus, the lack of work is a crisis of identity and a source of fear. For the Christian, who can say with Paul, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21), unemployment is just another opportunity to display the joyful exaltation of Christ in our lives. Make the most of the opportunity.
Copyright 2009 Michael Lawrence. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.