I’ve always tried to do excellent work whether as a volunteer or a paid employee. I believe God desires for us to do our best at all times, as a reflection of His presence in our lives. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:23-24—“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’
We’re also told to obey earthly authorities (1 Peter 2:13). But what do we do when these two Godly commandments conflict with one another?
Several times in the course of my life I’ve come up against. circumstances where I was under the authority of someone who told me, “Don’t think—just do it my way.” And each time, their way wasn’t very good.
In one case, doing it their way meant that important student records would be lost, significantly hurting both the students and the organization I was volunteering with. I tried to comply but I struggled, becoming more and more stressed about the harm I perceived I was inflicting.
In another case, obeying my immediate superior meant taking work I’d already done, work that I had received a lot of positive feedback on, and reworking it to make it (in my opinion) worse. Much worse. The description that comes to mind is “shoddy.” And then I was to present that shoddy work in public as representing my best efforts—the organization’s best efforts—to people who might have hired us to do similar work, but probably wouldn’t, after seeing this presentation.
I sat down at my computer to implement the changes, and I just couldn’t do it. Whether it was pride in my abilities, or a desire to please God (I hope it was the latter!), I just could not ruin something I’d put so much effort into.
Every time I come up against this sort of scenario, I wrestle with my response. Should I comply with authority? Should I go over their heads? Should I just do what I see as right?
I’m not comfortable with any of these answers. While we should comply with authority, I don’t want to hurt either myself or anyone else. (How many people have used “I was just following orders” as an excuse for wrong-doing?) Going up the ladder could make relationships even more difficult since I expect to still be working with my immediate supervisor after the issue is resolved. And just following my own dictates seems like insubordination.
There is the question of pride. Was I upset just because I thought I could do better? Was God telling me I had a pride problem? Blind spots are called blind spots because we truly can’t see what’s there. We need someone else to point it out to us.
After way too much angst, I’m finally learning that there is only one appropriate response to all of this: prayer. Of course—we always need to pray, but in cases like these sometimes prayer is all we are called to do. I am discovering that God wants to fight these battles for me.
In both of the above cases, God answered my prayers by raising up someone else to deal with the situation—I didn’t have to do anything. Someone else went to bat for me, explaining the problem to the person in charge of the whole department. Each time, word came down the line to correct the issue. I was allowed—ordered!—to proceed with my work in the way I had wanted to all along. Plus, my relationship with my immediate superior was preserved.
Note that I didn’t get the credit for having a better idea, or for doing a better job than my supervisor. Maybe that was God’s way of making sure my pride wouldn’t be an issue! But it’s really okay. What matters is that the work was done well, and God gets my heartfelt thanks.
It’s good to stand up for oneself, but all too often our emotional investment keeps us from seeing the situation objectively. We can come across as boastful, arrogant, or even threatening. We become focused on our rights and what’s best for us, forgetting that we’re to love the other person too.
God is the only one who sees all sides of an issue, including our hearts. It’s hard to have the humility to admit a problem might be ours, but God won’t hesitate in pointing that out to us. If the issue does lie with the other person, He’s the only one who can change their attitude.
All throughout the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites how to fight their enemies. Over and over He stresses that the battle belongs to the Lord. Sometimes the battle plan included their taking up arms; often they merely had to wait and let God do all the work. The only time they lost was when they tried to rely on their own strength.
It’s the same today as it was then.