Washington, D.C. is a strange place. But one of the strangest things about it is how quickly things can change here. One minute you’re a part of a relatively small team of people, running the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. The next minute, you’re unemployed and can’t get people to return your phone calls or give your résumé a second glance.
The whiplash can really mess with your head — and your heart. Especially if you’ve vested your identity, your sense of worth and value, in what you used to do for a living.
Lots of folks in D.C. go through the soul-exposing experience of unemployment every four years. But with what looks like a global recession hitting, lots of people across the country, and the world, are dealing with what it means to have lost their job, and with it their sense of purpose and identity in the world.
If you’re among the ranks of the unemployed, or have friends that are, I’d like to help. I can’t help you find a new job. But I can help you make the most of your unemployment. If you are a Christian, then you know that just because you’re out of work doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have plans for your life right now. As Paul told the Philippian Christians, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13). Regardless of your employment status, He continues to work in you.
Last week I sat down with my friend Bill. He’s one of those guys who used to work for the government, but now is looking for a job. He’s also a non-staff elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, laboring alongside me in the ministry.
For the past few months he’s been leading a small group for the unemployed/pre-employed in our church. Not only have they tried to help each other find jobs, but they’ve spent time encouraging each other to use unemployment as an opportunity to grow in their faith and to develop as disciples of Jesus Christ. After all, if you’re unemployed God has given you a forced sabbatical. Why not make the most of it? What follows are nine ways you can make the most of your unemployment.
Get to know your heart better
Unemployment tends to create a lot of anxiety in our lives and brings out a lot of our fears. How will I pay my bills next month? Will I ever find a decent job again? What are people going to think of me when they find out? How do I introduce myself to people now that I can’t explain what I do? What if no one thinks I’m worth hiring again?
These fears are quite understandable, especially if others are depending on your earning power. They are also lying to you. You are created in God’s image, and so you have inherent worth whether you’re working or not. And God is faithful to provide for his children, even in a recession. As Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father…. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mat. 10:29-31)!
But though these fears are lying to you, they are useful as windows into our hearts, what we really trust in for our security, what commands our worship. When legitimate concern over the ability to pay our bills becomes unbelieving anxiety, then we can be pretty sure that our trust isn’t in the Lord, but in a paycheck. And when fear of what others will think of us causes us to hide or lie about our unemployment, you can be pretty sure that the fear of man, rather than the fear of God, is ruling our hearts.
So before you go any further, take a moment to do a simple idol check in the rooms of your heart. What do your current fears reveal about where your trust is really placed? And then confess your idolatry, repent of it, and put your hope in the gospel. Then with the psalmist you can declare, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).
Reconsider why you work in the first place
Why do you want to work? What kind of job are you looking for? Unemployment is a great opportunity to reconsider what you’ve been doing and what you’d like to do in the future.
Most of us, I think, spend most of our time simply working for the next paycheck. When the check comes we spend it, more or less wisely, on the immediate necessities of life. Perhaps we save some money for a rainy day, a future mortgage, tuition for the kids or retirement. And then we go back to work for the next check.
Now there’s nothing wrong with working for money. In fact, on the authority of the Apostle Paul, I highly commend it (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8; Tit. 3:14). But money for daily necessities is not the only, or even the main reason for work, according to the Bible.
God created work before the Fall. In fact, God’s acts of creation and salvation are described by Scripture as His work (Gen 2:2; John 5:16-23). And part of what it means that we have been created in his image is that we were created to work like God works. The work God gave Adam was to guard and cultivate the visible expression of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). As Christians, we too have been given kingdom-building work — primarily through the proclamation of the Gospel (Mat. 28:18-20). But we’re also called to work in our secular jobs in such a way that God is glorified, the gospel is advanced, and Christ is honored (Mat. 5:16; 1 Thess. 4:12).
So are you approaching finding a job with merely the short-term goal of a paycheck in mind? Or have you considered the long-term goal of using your work to creatively advance the kingdom of God, rather than simply build your bank account? What short-term risks or challenges might you need to tackle now in order to position yourself for long-term fruitfulness in your local church? What skills could be developed, or networks expanded, not for the sake of a bigger paycheck, but for the sake of the glory of God in your community?
Financial planners are always telling us to invest in the future. They’ve got the right idea, but the wrong goal. The future isn’t your retirement. The future is the Kingdom of God. How can you invest now so that you are fruitfully working toward that future?
Spend time with God
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know how important it is to spend time with God, in His Word, and in prayer, every day. We live in a spiritual battleground, not a playground. Time in God’s Word is where we get our marching orders — the meaning and purpose of life, and the part we’re supposed to play in it.
All day we live in a world that is constantly telling us a story, and giving us a part to play in it. It might be the story of wealth, or pleasure, or individual freedom. But whatever story we’re tempted to use to make sense of our lives, time in God’s Word reminds us that the story the world tells is a lie. The true story of life and our part in it is found in relationship to Jesus Christ and his gospel. It’s there that we find the perspective we need — the storyline that makes sense of our lives and the world we live in. To try to live life according to any other story is only to participate in what is ultimately a senseless tragedy.
But as important as daily time with God is, you also know how hard it is to do. From the press of commuting and carpooling, getting lunch made and the dry-cleaning gathered, and maybe a bit of exercise too, mornings start with a bang and don’t let up. We tell ourselves we’ll have our quiet time at lunch, but then work is so busy we don’t take a lunch, or it’s too hard to resist the invitation to go out with the group from the office. By the time we get home in the evening there’s shopping, cooking, laundry, errands, small group Bible study, work you had to bring home, maybe a date, or that movie you’ve wanted to watch on Netflix. Before you know it it’s way too late, which also ruins any chance you had of getting up earlier tomorrow so you could have a few moments with God. They cycle is vicious, hard to break, and all too common.
But if you’re currently unemployed, God has broken the cycle for you. The extra time you have right now is an opportunity to make up for lost time, and to prepare for busier days in the future. You’re in a position to set your own schedule. You can set it to cater to your desire to sleep in. Or you can begin to develop habits now that, once made, have a good chance of carrying over when you’re employed once again. But it won’t happen automatically. You’ll need to be disciplined. The irony of unemployment is that it’s difficult to use your time well, since you can always tell yourself you’ve got more time later. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Gradually move your QT back to a time slot you know you’ll be able to keep once you’re working again.
- Make a plan for reading through large sections of Scripture, in order to get a better sense of how the Bible as a whole fits together.
- Don’t get in a rut. Your Bible reading plan should have variety, moving you around so you’re not stuck for the next six months in Leviticus!
- Read the passage that’s going to be preached on Sunday every morning the week before. It doesn’t have to be the main focus of your study/meditation, but you’ll be amazed at how much richer the Sunday sermon is as a result.
- Adopt a scripture memorization plan. Bethlehem Baptist’s Fighter Verses is one good option.
- Make a plan for prayer as well. Different days can be devoted to different topics or groups of people.
- Focus on biblical priorities in your prayers. Don Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation will help.
Copyright 2009 Michael Lawrence. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.