This is just a quick note on something which comes up occasionally, that someone in the body of Christ claims to have the gift of discernment and tells a lot of unsubstantiated stories about other people that turn out to be spiritualized slander, superficial impressions, personal preconceptions and prejudices and sometimes retaliatory accusations of the same sins for which that person has been repeatedly been scripturally rebuked. The scripture does not give a basis for a gift of discernment, but of the “discernments of spirits” (I Corinthians 12:10 – Dale’s sight translation). There’s no basis that this gift expresses itself as the Holy Spirit telling someone lots of stuff behind that person’s back – the Holy Spirit isn’t a gossip or tattletale. Ray Stedman took care of this fallacy at length a long time ago in his book Body Life, but sometimes someone still gets away with this spiritualized scam and does a lot of unnecessary damage to the reputations of others. It seems like the true gift of discernment of spirits would function more like Paul’s discernment of the evil spirits behind Elymas Bar Jesus the sorcerer (Acts 13:10) and the fortune telling slave girl (the ‘Pythoness’ – Acts 16:16, 18).
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, first published in 1897
I first heard this poem in an English class long ago. It’s worth it to bring it back to remind ourselves that much of what people aim for nowadays may not really be what satisfies.
During the first quarter of my freshman year at Miami University, in the fall of 1975, I was treated to hear J.J., a sister in Christ, recount a story that she heard Josh McDowell tell during one of his talks on the campus. Josh had had a great dating relationship with a wonderful sister in Christ, and everyone who knew them both, including a number of Christian leaders, told them that if any Christian dating couple should get married, that they should be that couple.
Then God stepped in, and they both simultaneously had the sense of his leading that their getting married was not where he was leading them. They cried together during the breakup, and Josh boarded the airplane for his next destination. He recounted that for the first time in his Christian life he cursed God out of the depths of his disappointment. Then the scripture came back to him, “ . . . no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). He then said how on the basis of scripture he could see that God would have someone even better for him than the one that he renounced out of obedience to the leading of the Spirit of God, and his momentary curse of disappointment turned to praise. And he went on to tell how he met the woman who became his wife.
So many times when believers talk about any kind of disappointment with their circumstances – a situation that did not turn out as expected, someone who acted in a way which they did not expect, someone who made a decision contrary to what they would have expected – it does come down to the kinds of expectations that they heap upon God. Some corrections are in order. Here are the possible reasons for corrections to one’s expectations.
- What I wanted was not really good for me according to the infinite wisdom and goodness of God.
- What I wanted from someone else was not really good for that person according to the infinite wisdom and goodness of God.
- I did not pursue what I wanted with believing prayer.
- I did not pray for what I wanted while living in the will of God (John 15:7).
- I did not pray for what I wanted for the glory of God (John 14:13-14).
- I expected to receive something that I wanted in this life with no effort, struggle or affliction.
- I expected that someone else would fulfill my expectations without a frank and open discussion of my expectations.
- I expected blessing to come by doing the same things that I did in a previous situation in which I thought was successful.
- I thought that the problem with this other person was that he or she was not doing things the way that I would have done them.
- I thought that the problem with this other person was that he or she was not like me.
These are by no means an exhaustive list, but they cover a lot of the reasons why there might be disappointment in our lives with our circumstances and with other people. If you’re harboring any kind of disappointment, try one or more of these on for size.
The following picture was taken about 9:00 PM during our evening break in the cafeteria at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, New York, during the summer of 1982. From left to right, these are three of my colleagues: Arnold, Ralph and Kevin. We had different job titles: Housekeeping Aide or Environmental Services Aide. Our responsibilities were primarily vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, stripping and waxing floors, cleaning stairwells, operating rooms, delivery rooms and the morgue, delivering laundry carts, taking out trash and moving furniture during internal hospital moves. Ralph had pretty much been doing the same work for years; for Arnold, Kevin and myself this job was paying for our expenses as we worked toward other goals in our career path and employment in our future.
At the time, I was attending Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York. There were also several others from both Nyack College and the seminary working in the hospital, and some working also as Environmental Services Aides. Our managers acknowledged that most of us were overqualified for the job as far as our education level, but they were genuinely glad to have us around for the time that we were there. I was probably the first and last Environmental Services Aide in that department that was fluent in ancient Greek and had read through the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original language. Yet I don’t remember any of us complaining about the work being beneath us or being trapped in a dead end job. Most of us were really glad to be able to work with one another, to get to know one another, to joke around some with each other and to be able to earn much of our support for our seminary education. Most of the time we really got along well together and worked in harmony. I know that the managers and supervisors in our department were glad for the clean and shiny floors that we were able to give them on a regular basis.
No one was under the illusion that the job that we were working at back then was going to be our career. No one was under the illusion that that job was all that we would ever do or all that we would ever be qualified to do. For myself, I viewed the job as God’s way to provide for my education and living expenses while I pursued a Master of Divinity degree. I later took up some temporary jobs when I was between pastorates, and I viewed them in the same way: as God’s way to provide for my needs at the time. During those years I could have sought a more lucrative permanent job and a career better suited to someone with a Master’s degree, but my heart was committed to the pastorate at that time, and I kept away from pursuing a permanent job when I could not give a commitment in good faith to an employer that I would do my best to stay with the job and the company for a reasonable amount of time.
Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons that transitional jobs give. I am afraid that someone who wants to go immediately into an illustrious career and a lucrative job may not understand the valuable experience that comes with these kinds of jobs. The summary description of what these jobs provide is: good work habits and marketable, transferable skills.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of consistent attendance and punctuality.
Most of the transitional jobs on which I worked required punching a clock, and paid by the hour. Being late for work meant less take home pay, and could easily lead to a person losing his or her job. It also meant that workers learned to time their lunch breaks and scheduled work breaks carefully. The job required consistent attendance and punctuality, and a person simply learned to live his or her life around the work schedule.
Transitional jobs help to develop the habit of pulling one’s weight within a department.
The quickest way to become unpopular with one’s coworkers was to be someone who could not be relied upon to do his or her work responsibilities. Conversely, a way to become valued was to become known as someone whom others could rely on not only to do his or her share of work but to pitch in and get things done when more was required than in the job description. Work ethic mattered, since the others on the job did not like having to carry any unreliable and inconsistent coworker.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of persistence and time management.
At the beginning of each shift the team reported to the manager, and each team member received his or her assigned task or series of tasks to be completed within the time of that shift. That was your primary responsibility during that time. So, you learned to concentrate on work during work hours to get your work done during that time. Although you could still act like a human being, greet and talk with others, you learned to save major socializing to break times and off work hours. You understood that your responsibility was to complete your assignment by the end of the shift.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of teamwork and leadership.
One of the supervisors noted I could get the guys on the evening shift to work together on a task and get things done quickly and with pretty good spirits. What I did was simply to get enough of us together to get a task done quickly, and then let them go back to their assigned areas.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of working with others of widely varying backgrounds.
The department at the hospital consisted of a number of Haitian immigrants, African Americans, white evangelical seminarians and college students and several others of various backgrounds. It was one of the more diverse workplaces where I had ever worked. We didn’t always understand what another person was saying clearly, and we didn’t get together outside of work much, if at all. But we learned to be considerate and helpful to each other. The Haitians especially did seem to appreciate someone trying to pronounce their names with a French accent and getting to know something about them.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of dealing with difficult situations quickly and effectively.
Some of the cleaning problems that we would encounter from time to time were simply disgusting. A person simply learned to ignore the personal distaste, go forward, and get the task done with as few complaints as possible and without trying to get someone else to do it. Responsibility and initiative usually got the task done, and the sense of disgust usually vanished pretty quickly once it was done.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of presenting ideas for improvement respectfully and professionally.
There was once that several of us received an assignment to strip and wax a series of white tile floors. As we looked at the floors, we saw some grayish areas, and I suggested that we add some bleach to the stripping compound. The others thought about it for a minutes, and then said that we would try it. It did help brighten the floor considerably, but it turned out to be something that we rarely did afterward because of the bleach smell while we were working. Nevertheless, we had a new idea which we could use when we might need it.
Transitional jobs help to develop habits of training others to do the same job quickly and effectively.
I was once assigned to train other summer workers in the summer of 1983. The supervisors were amazed that I could get them up to speed on some tasks quite easily. There was no secret to it: I just followed George Marshall’s old directions on training. Show them what you want done, show them how to do it, have them do it, and check back from time to time on them when they can do it for themselves.
Transitional jobs can teach the value of physical labor in itself.
The work that we performed was work that many people might have considered to be beneath them, but it fulfilled a great need in the hospital, since the infection rate in a hospital is tied to the general cleanliness of the environment. The work was not mentally challenging, since most of us who were there who had other long range career plans were definitely college material, if not already taking college courses or in graduate school. A number of us who were believers in Christ were doing this as a part of fulfilling our responsibility before God to use our gifts and talents for his glory, and most certainly we saw the greater fulfillment would be in our future as we gained our degrees, and we went elsewhere, some to more prestigious and lucrative secular jobs, some to pastorates, and some to the mission field.
For others, though, these jobs were not so much to pay for a transition to another field, but as an entry into the same general industry or profession. Not everyone wants or is suitable for a high paying white collar career; in fact for many, an adequately paying career which does not require the heavy investment of time and money in a university education will be what is more suited to their capabilities and ambitions. Moreover, a career in itself will not ultimately bring satisfaction to anyone, and for some, a high powered career may do incredible damage to their health, family life and walk with Christ. It’s noteworthy that Jesus, Peter and several of the Galilean disciples, and Paul had all worked at physical jobs – carpenter/artisan, fishermen, and tentmaker. Moreover, in these jobs, they would all have had to function as small businessmen as well, to find their own customers, negotiate their own contracts and remuneration, track their own finances, pay their own taxes, and hire and pay any employees themselves – large companies and corporations in the modern sense were practically unknown at that time.
For myself, this experience taught me the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:13 and 5:12: “That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in his toil – this is the gift of God . . . The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much.”
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.