Unlimited: Finding Success in Our Limitations
“Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him…”
We all want to succeed at our jobs. It’s part of our makeup as human beings. We are passionate about growing and excelling. We want to make a difference in life, and that includes the way we make a living. So, it can be incredibly frustrating to realize our particular gifts and talents, or the amount of time we have, or our life circumstance, or a wacko supervisor, or our astrological karma, may combine to limit us—to create a ceiling beyond which we simply cannot reach. We don’t become a star. We don’t make the front page of the Wall Street Journal. We don’t even make a footnote in the office memo.
Before I took my first full-time gig as a pastor, I worked about 20 jobs. I painted streets for the city of Kokomo, Indiana. I drove a bus for a day camp. I worked several construction jobs, labored in a Christmas decoration factory, stayed up all night as a security guard, waited tables, tended bar, served food in a cafeteria, and pumped gas.
The gas station was on the corner of Live Oak and Swiss Avenue in Dallas, Texas, and the station manager was a young guy named Dave who knew I didn’t know anything about cars. But, he liked me, so he hired me, and put me in charge of the pumps. One evening a Corvette drove up and the wealthy driver instructed me to fill it with premium. Instead, I accidentally filled it with regular. Needless to say the guy wanted to kill me because I screwed up his ‘Vette. Dave got in trouble with the owner and, of course, I didn’t work there a whole lot longer.
As a waiter, I dropped seven shrimp dinners, complete with cocktail sauce and fries. On one of the construction jobs, I put vinyl siding on the front of a house so wrong it all had to be torn off. At the day camp I forgot to check the oil on the bus I drove so that one day, on a trip with 40 screaming, excited kids, the engine froze and the trip was over.
It hasn’t all been a struggle. As a pastor of one church, the congregation grew from 200 to around 2,000 people, and we baptized hundreds of people over the course of 14 years.
But the next church? The church I’m at now?
I really love this church—this group of human beings and the tough, wounded neighborhood of Detroit where we serve. But it won’t grow numerically. We struggle financially and, by all modern standards of church success, we aren’t and I’m not.
Unless, of course, I think about the individual people who have been embraced, encouraged and loved. What if our value in the workplace isn’t about conventional standards of success or even our limitations…but about the people we are privileged to care about, to touch and to love?
By the way, remember Dave from the gas station? He emailed me a few years back—some 30 years since I last saw him. Dave said his life had been a mess up until the point of our connection. He said the six months we spent together, messing with gas and cars and talking about Jesus, changed his life. I emailed him back and thanked him for his words. I jokingly reminisced about the time I put premium in the rich guy’s Corvette.
Dave said he honestly couldn’t remember.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you see…really see…the people at your job? Or do you just see the job? Our work colleagues are real human beings who come to the job every day with trauma, wounds and fears. What inhibits you from feeling and expressing compassion towards them in appropriate ways? In the grand scheme of things, is it more important for you to be recognized on the job as employee of the month? Or to be known by your work mates as someone who deeply cares about others?
PRAYER: Kind Father, please help us to put our successes and failures on the job in proper perspective. Help us to see the incredible opportunity we have to love, touch, and even help to heal your most precious creation—the human beings we work with every day. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: Kevin Butcher is the Senior Pastor of Hope Community Church in Detroit, Michigan. He is passionate about helping believers live in authentic community—across racial, socioeconomic and all lines of division—learning to truly love one another in the chaos of real relationships, learning to celebrate our differences, learning to stay together even when we don’t like one another… so that the world will see a living picture of Jesus Christ. Kevin is married to his best friend, Carla, and they are the parents of three adult daughters. Connect with Kevin at his website, or listen to his sermon podcasts at hopedetroit.org.
Coming to Terms With Our Limitations
This article is part of a series at The High Calling on Coming to Terms with Our Limitations. Not a super-fun topic, I suppose, but certainly a reality that all of us must face sooner or later in our lives: the lack of living up to our dreams; the struggle to accept our not-so-glamorous circumstances; redefining of our perception of success. Are you dealing with this in your professional life? Do you know someone who is frustrated and could use a reassuring Christian perspective? Why not share some encouragement with those folks by sending these articles around via email or social media?
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.