Reflections on Mary and Martha

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I am currently reading through the book of John.  A few days ago, I read the familiar story of Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  In John, chapter 11, the initial focus is on Lazarus.  This gives the Apostle John a perfect opportunity to present another of his many “I AM” statements.  Here, Jesus boldly proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

However, what caught my attention in this morning as I began to read chapter 12, was some details about Lazarus’ sisters that I had not been aware of before.  It was one of those “Aha!” moments that I want to capture on paper and share with others who may not have seen these things before either.

The same one who poured perfume on the Lord

When we are first introduced to these siblings from Bethany in John 11:1, we quickly get a bit of foreshadowing.  John writes, “This Mary . . . was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair” (v. 2).  I asked myself, “Who?  “What?  “When?”  “Where?”

Now, there are several Marys in the New Testament.  Obviously, Mary, Jesus’ mother was not this Mary.  I always thought that it was Mary Magdalene who did that.  Perhaps I was wrong.

We do not have to look far to find the story.  In John 12, we read that six days before the Passover, Jesus went back to Bethany for a dinner given in His honor (Jn. 12:2).  Martha is mentioned first, then Lazarus, and last, Mary.  John briefly describes the scene for his readers: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Thankfully, in my margin notes, two parallel passages were listed.  This event is also recorded in Matt. 26:6-7 and Mark 14:3.  These two Synoptic Gospel writers (notice who is missing) give us one detail that John does not.  They both report the name of the host, Simon the Leper.  However, the name of the woman in this story (who we know is Mary from John’s Gospel), is not given.

So, nothing earth-shattering here.  I offer just a simple observation that John’s perspective and the slightly different one of Matthew and Mark collectively served the author’s purposes.  John did not need to tell us who hosted the dinner party, but he did need to mention Mary’s role in it.  Matthew and Mark chose to tell us that Simon the Leper gave the party for Jesus, but did not feel the need to mention the siblings that Jesus loved in John’s Gospel.  All accounts are equally reliable and true.

Martha serving and Mary seeking

Next, let me share some interesting observations about the sisters found in John and elsewhere.

When we read John’s account of these close siblings in John 11, we do see some small distinctions in how they greeted Jesus when He arrived after their brother had died.  Martha greeted Jesus first in John 11:20-27.  She expressed what initially appears to be disappointment, exclaiming that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn. 11:21).  But then, she expresses her faith in Jesus, declaring, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (Jn. 11:22).  They exchanged a few more words and she departs to tell her sister Jesus wanted to see her (v. 28).

Mary goes out to meet Jesus in Jn. 11:29-32.  She says virtually the same thing as Martha had first said to Jesus.  She was obviously very emotional, as John mentions that Jesus saw her weeping (v. 33).  Jesus asks where Lazarus was laid, and the crowd that followed her led Jesus to the tomb.

This is interesting to me; it seems to put Martha in a better light than another passage that does not.

Where have we seen Martha and Mary before?  It is not in John’s account in chapters 11 and 12.  It is not in Matthew’s or Mark’s Gospel either, which may be why they did not mention her name in their account of the woman pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.  It is in Luke’s Gospel we need to go.

In Luke 10:39-42, we read the only account in the four Gospels where Martha’s and Mary’s priorities seem to be contrasted.  This supposed rivalry has been the subject of many sermons.  We notice that the village of Bethany is not even mentioned by Luke, and neither is Lazarus.  We learn that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.  Martha, on the other hand, was taking care of all the details that needed to be done in order to be hospitable to her important guests.

When I compared the actions of each of the sisters with Jesus near Lazarus’ tomb in John 11, at the dinner party in John 12, and at this occasion in Luke 10, I observed some similarities worth noting.

Based on her actions, perhaps Martha might have the spiritual gift of serving (Rom. 12:7), helping, or administration (1 Cor. 12:28).  She was busy making a meal for her Lord in Luke 10.  She had a detailed conversation with Jesus in John 11.  She was seen serving dinner again in John 12.  Mary, on the other hand, did not have these same spiritual gifts.  Her acts of reverential worship that were motivated by deep emotions lead me to speculate that her spiritual gifts were more along the lines of encouragement or mercy (Rom. 12:8).  Mary expectantly sat at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10.  She was too overcome with emotion to carry on a deep conversation with Jesus in John 11, and she expressed her adoration of Jesus most beautifully in John 12.

I love finding patterns scattered throughout Scripture and tying the details together. It makes me want to be like Mary and sit, learn, and worship at Jesus’ feet, which He said was a good thing.  It also makes me want to be like Martha, serving meals for His glory, and blessing those who visit.  It is a good thing to serve the Lord with our spiritual gifts, whichever ones we have been given.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 2)

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(Note: I wrote this article below in September of last year.  It was a follow-up to a reflection on my spiritual journey as I applied for a new job at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which is 30 miles from where our son lives.  I encourage you to read my first article before you read this one.)

Remember the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?  They were unique, creative, and fun.  At the end of the chapter, you came to a decision point.  You had to make a choice for the main character.  Did he take the left fork or the right?  Did he steal the car or not?  Did he punch that jerk in the face or walk away?  Depending on which choice you made, you skipped ahead to the page where the story continued from there.  I am going to attempt to use a similar format here.

Allow me to begin with my first possible scenario where I announce I was offered the job that I had applied for in August.  At this point, I will let the reader choose – Do I accept the job or not?

In the second possible scenario, I will announce that I did not get the job.  I will lay out two choices for the reader to decide – Do I acknowledge the closed door and stay at my current job until retirement, or do I continue to apply for other jobs at the same location?  In both scenarios, I will offer a biblical perspective to flesh out the ramifications of each of those decisions.

Are you ready? Buckle your seat belt!  It may be a bumpy ride!

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Possible Scenario 1: I was offered the job

I got the phone call I was hoping for.  It was from the Civilian Personnel Assistance Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  They congratulated me and said that they were offering me the job.  I was overjoyed!  They asked me what date I could start, and I told them.

What should my response be?  I am going to let the reader decide.

If you think I should accept the job for all the reasons I articulated in my previous article, continue reading the next section below.  However, if you think I should not take the position because it is a huge risk moving into something new when I already have a job I am perfectly comfortable with, then skip over the next section and go to the one immediately following.

Choice #1 – Take the job

Once again, this was a no brainer!  I had been praying about this job from the minute I first learned of the position.  I was prayerful as I updated my resume, answered the questionnaire online, and submitted my application.  I was prayerful as I waited to hear from them for two weeks.  When I was called on a Friday morning to set a time for the phone interview, I continued to pray.  I asked family members to pray.  I wisely prepared for the interview.  I conducted it with confidence as I sat in my car in the post exchange parking lot.  While waiting, I prayed for them to make a good decision.  When I was offered the job, I knew what I had to do.  I took it!

My biblically-informed mind knew several things long before this process started.  I knew that God was in control.  I knew that He was good.  I knew that He had called, led, and equipped me to every job I had ever held.  I knew He would open and close doors in His time.  I knew that God would provide the wisdom and courage needed to make the right decision.  Even if this decision led to a difficult situation down the road, I did not have to have any regrets, because I knew that all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.

Choice #2 – Turn down the job

This ended up being one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.  Part of me wanted to jump in with both feet, but something said to not be hasty.  I remembered when I spontaneously pushed to get my Army recruiting assignment changed from Kansas City, Missouri to Fort Collins, Colorado.  It was a disaster.  “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”  Although there were some really solid reasons for accepting the job, I just could not do it.  I was going to lose too much by leaving my comfort zone.  It was a risk I was not willing to take.

The biblical perspective that I would offer here is that the Bible tells God’s people in many times and situations, “Fear not!” Frankly, fear seems to be the driving force in any decision to stick with what is comfortable and not take this new job.  Perhaps I should have respected my spouse more and followed-through on the decision we had made together to seek out opportunities to be closer to family.  However, even though it may not have been the wisest decision, it does not mean that I would have to settle for “Plan B” the rest of my life.  God would continue to use me at my current location.  It might be a while, but perhaps I would see another job open up.

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Possible Scenario 2: I was not selected for the job

I did not get the phone call that I was hoping for.  Instead, I got the dreaded email from USA Jobs coldly informing me that I was not selected for the job I had interviewed for in late August.

What should my response be?  If you think I should choose to remain where I am until retirement, go to the next section.  If you think I should keep applying for other positions at Fort Leavenworth, skip the next section and go to the one beyond that.

Choice #1 – Choose to remain

I was devastated.  The whole process was a roller coaster of emotions.  I did not want to put myself out there again and get rejected over and over.  I took the hint and decided to figure out a way to bloom where I was planted and consider an early retirement in a few years when ready.

Making a decision to apply for a job is not a moral decision (like deciding to rob a bank).  We have freedom in Christ to seek other opportunities to serve Christ elsewhere, as the Lord wills.  Paul made all kinds of decisions in the book of Acts as to where he wanted to go next to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  Remain or look; it is not going to change your eternal destiny.

Choice #2 – Continue to apply

I have to admit, I truly thought I had the job.  My wife and I felt like the timing was right.  The job description seemed like it was going to be a good fit.  I was disappointed I did not get it, but I did find peace and rest in the Lord.  I knew that He was present with me in my search for a new job closer to my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.  We both had a sense of hope that if this was not the right job, then another better opportunity would open up for me in the near future.

The story of the persistent widow comes to mind.  Jesus clearly commends persistent prayer.  Just because we get a “No” from the Lord does not mean that we should stop pursuing our dream.  Joseph did not forget his dreams.  They just took some time.  If we keep knocking and the door does not open, perhaps we pray that God will adjust our desires.  If they remain, then we keep on sowing, knowing that we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  As I shared throughout my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, seeking a job is always going to be a spiritual journey.  It will be a faith-building season from start to finish.  Don’t give up!

What actually happened?

I am not going to tell you. (You’re kidding, right?)  Yes, I am kidding.  Sorry.  (And?)

The Friday after Labor Day, I got an email indicating that I was not selected for the job. My wife and I were both disappointed, but knew that God is still in control.  It was not His time.  I will apply for others I qualify for until I get an offer or I hit age 65, whichever comes first.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something.  Two weeks after I applied for the second job there was another position that opened up at Fort Leavenworth for a Plans Officer!  I applied for it right away.  I was also referred for this job.   I am still waiting to be contacted for an interview.

Epilogue

I was given an interview on 9/11, but was notified two days later that I was not selected.

Job, after a serious of major losses much bigger than my disappointment, responded in faith: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

To be continued . . .

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Being Open to New Possibilities (Part 1)

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(Note: I wrote the article below, as well as Part 2 in September of 2019. However, I did not feel that the time was right to post it. Now that nearly a year has passed, I believe the timing is better.)

I am continually amazed at what God brings to me after I have prayed sincerely for Him to help me put into practice my theology of work that I have written about. I am always looking for opportunities to practice His presence at work, to better submit to my employer, to be an answer to someone’s prayers by meeting their needs through my work, or to see a trial through eyes of faith. Just as I find myself in a place of sweet contentment and satisfaction in the Lord at my current job, God made me aware of a job possibility elsewhere that caught my attention.

This is not the first time this has happened. I reflected on two similar occasions in my blog. In an article posted in July 2016, I shared my experiences in considering a radically new direction career-wise for the very first time.

More than a year later, in August 2017, I wrote and posted another article after I was made aware of a job opportunity in Colorado. I found it fascinating that I was able to go through this process twice while I was writing my book. This allowed me to add a personal dimension of putting biblical principles of seeking God when searching for work into practice in my own life.

It is two years later. This time it is different. This new job I was made aware of is located at the Army post where my wife and I had recently decided we would like to go “someday”. On the flip side of this blessing, it wrecks me to consider the things that must take place if offered this position. It could mark the end of a thirty-three year chapter with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps.

Biblical perspective

When faced with a major decision on whether or not to pursue a new job opportunity, Christians must have a biblical perspective. Let me present a couple of ideas about changing jobs from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

In Part II, I help my readers apply the foundational concepts I carefully unpacked in Part I. In chapter 9, I shared some general principles with respect to seeking first the kingdom of God and in finding a calling or vocation. In chapter 10, I presented several additional biblical principles as well as some of my own experiences in pursuing and finding a job or career that leads to flourishing.

One of the most powerful things we need to remember in making career decisions is this: God is in control. In His covenant lovingkindness (hesed, in Hebrew), God wisely places His children where they need to be at the right place and time for His glory. Knowing this should take our anxiety about the whole process of “how to find our calling” away, replacing it with His peace.

I also shared this kernel of truth with respect to considering a new job: God may be preparing you to begin another chapter in your life. If you decide to go, God will be with you wherever it is. He will give you wisdom to make the best decision in His time. He will provide for you and your family.

Finding a new job in your same field or making a radical change into something new is always a spiritual journey. You may need to boldly step out in faith. God may change the circumstances, or He may change you. Either way, He is working on your behalf because He is a worker, He is present in your work, and He has called you to be a coworker with Him.

How the journey progressed

Let me give you a brief snapshot on how this came about, what I did, and how it was resolved.

This new job popped in my work email in early June as a result of weekly job alerts through the USA Jobs website. There was a vacancy for a GS-13 position with the Army University in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The job title was the same as the one I had held for the past eleven years at the US Army Chemical School: Operations Officer. I knew very little about the organization, but it fell under the same umbrella of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. One thing caught my attention – this job would qualify for reimbursement of relocation expenses.

Over the next couple of days, I updated my resume to highlight my skills and experiences that matched the new position. I also filled out a questionnaire to indicate whether or not I had done some of the things that I would be responsible to do in the new position. I then took an online assessment of my reading comprehension, problem solving skills, and intellectual abilities.

Two weeks later, I was notified that I was eligible for the position and was referred to the hiring manager! I was on actually on a list of candidates for the job. I was truly shocked! Ironically, this was on the 101st anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, on the very last day of our week-long celebration that I was intimately involved in planning, preparing, and executing.

My wife and I discussed the pros and cons of taking this job. Here were some of the advantages:

  • My wife and I deeply desire to be closer to our children and see our grandchildren grow up; this post is about 30 minutes from where our eldest son and his family live
  • If something were to happen to us, it makes it easier if we were closer to family
  • I will eventually have to leave this job; it will happen in one of three ways: on my own, by the will of someone else, or by death; the first choice sounds better than the others

Here were some of the obvious disadvantages:

  • I am very competent, confident, and yet still growing in my skills at my current job; I love what I do, enjoy the people I work with, and am making a difference
  • I provide necessary continuity to the school headquarters, which is much-needed during this summer of high transition in the school’s leadership
  • I would have to completely start over with a new organization, leaving my place in the Chemical Corps where I have served continuously for the last 33 years

The results

Over the next several weeks, I waited patiently for a phone call to set up an interview or notification that the job had closed. I heard nothing.

On 1 August, I received an email about another position at Fort Leavenworth. This job was for a Planning Specialist. Been there; done that. It was a no-brainer. I applied that day.

Eventually, I found out I did not get the first job. Now, we are waiting on God to see how this plays out with the second one. We rest in this: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15).

(Click here if you want to read Part 2.)

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Who Protects Those Who Protect Us?

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(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

As we celebrate Memorial Day in a couple of weeks, I am proud to have served in the U.S. Army, especially now.

Lately, I have been impressed by the actions of our military leaders on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  This installation where I work is in the business of training and educating Soldiers.  I want to share how God has used military leaders as they have responded aggressively to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect the force.

Rising to the challenge

Our commanding general has stated often that her number one mission now is to protect the force, which includes thousands of Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines (both permanent party and trainees), family members, civilians, and retirees.  Under her compassionate and decisive leadership, her main focus has been on the health, welfare, safety, and readiness of everyone who lives and works on this installation.  By establishing and enforcing protective measures designed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus on post, Army readiness has been sustained, which is enabling our units to continue their mission to train Soldiers.

What have our military leaders done over the last two months?  Here is a sample:

They eliminated large public gathering (i.e., graduations, chapel services, social events, ceremonies), cancelled courses, enforced social distancing and wearing masks, mandated telework for most of the civilian workforce, restricted personnel to a sixty mile radius, tested 100% of those who arrive from outside this area, declared a public health emergency, enforced quarantine and isolation procedures, used distance learning for courses, cancelled unnecessary travel, put on weekly Facebook livestream Town Hall meetings, incorporated virtual online platforms to conduct meetings, provided curbside pharmacy services, and have worked closely with the local community, state government, and federal agencies.

The Army doing what it does best

In my 34 years serving in and with the U.S. Army, I know that it is uniquely prepared to handle emergencies, counter threats, and carry out very difficult missions effectively.

Specifically, what has been working well here?  We are led by experienced senior leaders who listen to the advice of subject matter experts and rapidly adapt as conditions change.  Engaged junior leaders are taking care of Soldiers and their families.  There is a unified focus on the mission.  I see professionalism and discipline.  Drill sergeants train new Soldiers while enforcing social distancing standards.  I see everyone being flexible and positive.  I see teams of teams working together to find creative solutions to problems.  I see communication being passed down to the lowest level.  I see God at work through them all.

What are the results of these efforts?  The curve is flattening and we are still in business.

God protects the wall-builders

At this point, I must share one of the best examples in Scripture of how God worked in and through the leaders He called and equipped to protect His people during an all-out assault.  It ties in directly with what I have described above, as God has been protecting those who are building a wall of trained and ready Soldiers who are equipped to defend this Nation.

The book of Nehemiah illustrates how the Israelites relied on God for protection as they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem when they returned from exile.  This is a great example of Immanuel labor – the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  Yahweh provided protection directly and indirectly through the work of His people.  (I invite you to read more about this story in an article I wrote and posted on my blog.)

Read the narrative.  You will see in Neh. 2:12 that God put a burden on Nehemiah’s heart to lead the effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.  Nehemiah recalls that God’s gracious hand of protection was already upon him (Neh. 2:18).  He relied on Yahweh to give him success (Neh. 2:20).

When they encountered opposition, they prayed for God’s protection and posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:9).  This is another illustration of how God’s presence is connected to human work.  After God supernaturally frustrated the plot of their enemies, the Israelites continued to work diligently.  Half the men did the work while the others defended the team with weapons, shields, and armor (Neh. 4:16).  As each one did their part by working and protecting the force, they acknowledged that their God was fighting for them (Neh. 4:20).

Elsewhere, we see this connection between God’s partnership with human coworkers in protecting His chosen people.  King Solomon writes, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).  The point is fairly obvious.  Soldiers (and their horses) definitely needed to be trained and ready in order to win the battle.  (Drill sergeants do this faithfully every single day at Fort Leonard Wood.)  However, without the Lord’s blessing and protection, there would be no victory.

Let me leave you with a final word of encouragement.  I have clearly seen God’s protection, manifested in and through the dedicated work of leaders and those who turn civilians into Soldiers.  These men and women will go forth from here, assigned to units around the world, so that they will be ready to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  I thank God for their work.

May we remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom this Memorial Day.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How are we to Love the Incompetent Colleague?

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(Note: This article was published in the Made to Flourish blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

William Morris, in his delightful book, Love thy Colleague observes, “There is nothing quite like incompetence at work.”

Throughout this book, Morris explores the topic (quite competently, I might add) of “what it means to be a Christian colleague in the workplace.”  In each chapter, he focuses on a different neighbor who may be hard for us to love.  He exhorts us to be like the Good Samaritan to each of them.  In chapter three, he provides a biblical perspective on how to deal with the incompetent worker.

Incompetence at work is a relevant topic that somehow I have overlooked in my blog and my book, so I am excited to explore it further.  I think it is especially important during these trying times.  There are a vast number of workers who were unexpectedly thrust into a technically challenging telework environment or even worse, unemployment, which may have added to perceptions of incompetence from others or themselves.

In what follows, I will share some of Morris’ thoughts then add a few of my own.  I will share biblical principles to help Christian workers show sacrificial love to their incompetent neighbors in biblical and practical ways that will glorify God.

What does it look like?

Morris paints a bleak picture of what incompetence eventually produces. He states,

Like ripple in a pond – or, perhaps, a bad odour – the effects of incompetence seem to spread out in every direction.  Fellow workers have to do the work not done, or clear up the mess by redoing the work done badly the first time.  The client or customer often suffers through shoddy goods or services – and a reduced trust and confidence in that business.

We have all seen it from every angle.  As a customer, we’ve seen it in those who are supposed to take care of us, but are not.  We have seen it in our bosses, in our co-workers, and in our employees.  If we are totally honest, we have seen it in ourselves.  How is a Christian supposed to respond?

How do workers become incompetent?

Before we get to the answer, Morris helps us to understand the causes of incompetence.  He deftly explains that not all incompetence is the same.  He lists three major causes, and I quote:

  • Incompetence can be caused by simple inexperience.
  • Incompetence can also arise in situations where those skills or rules have been incorrectly or imperfectly learned.
  • Finally, incompetence can sometimes arise because of circumstances unrelated to our level of knowledge, skill and application (or lack thereof).  It can arise, for example, from simple overload.

In my three decades of serving in and with the Army, I have seen each of these causes illustrated.

A newly commissioned second lieutenant or a private that has just graduated from basic training will certainly start out as incompetent, due to their lack of experience.  I have also seen many Soldiers who for whatever reason were never trained properly.  They may have several years of experience, but they are rough around the edges, unjustifiably overconfident in their abilities because previous leaders did not mentor them well.  Lastly, there have been many positions where I have been barely keeping my head above water.  I may have appeared to be failing due to too many unrealistic expectations.  I knew what I was doing; I just could not do it all fast enough.

Responding to incompetence with mercy and grace

The best response to how we are to deal with others is that we need to extend the same mercy and grace God extended to us.  Paul exhorts the church, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Jesus demonstrated this in His response to an incompetent employee he had.  How did Jesus deal with Peter’s one-time, yet incredible moment of incompetence after he denied Jesus three times?

In John 21:15-19, we read of Jesus’ private conversation with Peter on the beach by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus asks Peter three times if he truly loved him.  Each time, Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.”  In so doing, Jesus reinstated Peter.  This was confirmed on the Day of Pentecost where Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, preached a sermon where 3,000 people came to Christ.  (See Acts 2:14-41.)

Loving our incompetent neighbors by giving them tools

Certainly, whether we are supervisors or peers, we can make every effort to provide tools to help our weak and inexperienced neighbors at work by methodically coaching, teaching, and mentoring them.  We can share with them some of the valuable lessons we have learned along the way.  Personal mentoring is more difficult while teleworking, but it can happen if done with intentionality.

If they continue to struggle with developing critical skills to be successful on the job, we need to commit to speaking the truth in love.  (See Eph. 4:15.)  Worst case, if you assess that the job just is not a good fit for them (i.e., they are a square peg in a round hole or it goes against their design), this may involve making the hard decision to give them a chance to succeed somewhere else.

Hear these compassionate words of Morris: “Doing a job where you always seem to be messing up is incredibly stressful. You feel you are hanging on by your fingertips. . . The mercy in this case would be to get the colleague out of that job and into one which they can handle, or even excel at.”

I trust this reflection will cause you to see your incompetent colleagues in a new light.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.