Work, Witness, and the Watchmaker

Before mobile phones most of us relied on wrist watches to tell the time. 20 years ago after accidentally breaking a watchband pin, I managed to find a small kiosk that repaired watches. Through my memory is fuzzy about the precise details, I do clearly remember the small booth in which one man sat, doing nothing else other than repairing watches. It was the smallest of small businesses.

In truth, it should have been a forgettable encounter; after all, getting a new pin in your watchband is hardly a thing memories are made of. Yet this experience    was far from unremarkable, in fact I could go as far as saying that the 10 minute encounter with the ‘watchmaker’ made an indelible impression on my approach to work and the value I placed on it.

What made this encounter so profoundly memorable was simply this, that the man in question repaired my relatively worthless watch with such remarkable passion,  concern, and an uncommon devotion, that I could not help being astounded by the disparity. It was completely disarming, entirely contrary to how  the world of economic self-interest worked.

Though it was ‘just a watch’, I could have been mistaken for thinking that this man was repairing a priceless 500-year-old family heirloom. His contrarian approach to this relatively trivial matter powerfully rocked my economic rationalist mindset, where effort was only directly proportional to economic return. This man treated my ‘relatively’ worthless watch with such dignity and respect, that it made me  feel that ‘I’ was valued and loved. It was as if the watch was no longer the focus, I was!

Consequently, from that day forward, I never underestimated the power of  heartfelt devotion in the most trivial of matters. In fact, the more trivial the matter in which the devotion was rendered, the more remarkable the devotion expressed seems. Indeed, the most trivial of jobs, approached in the right manner, can have the most profound effect on other people’s lives, even if you are unaware of it at the time.

I am not sure of his motivation, but the watchmaker’s approach was entirely consistent with the Christian ethic.

Regrettably, more often than not, Christian people (including myself) follow along with the  ‘value paradigms’ presented to us in society; simply considering work as a necessary evil, or viewing it as something that exists purely to  give ‘me’ satisfaction, significance, and security.

But, I can’t help imagining how much more effective those other Christian endeavors might be, if the people performing them would do so with the uncommon devotion  the watchmaker showed. What if the Christian worker actually viewed their daily (sometimes menial) work, not as a hindrance to ‘evangelism’ or ‘ministry’, but as an effective means to it?

That is to say, if our devotion in menial matters at work expressed such an uncommon love to our colleagues and customers that it challenged the way they viewed their lives, why would Christian’s need to approach evangelism or other connected ministries in such a programmatic manner, as if the Gospel was something you had to sell?

Could it be that the most effective way of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually at our disposal every day, but we fail to notice because we approach work with the same mindset as everyone else with a ‘self-oriented’ approach to life? What would happen if every Christian person readjusted their attitude to work, especially toward the boring, trivial, and mundane dimensions of it?

I believe, the key a truly Christian approach to work actually understands the true purpose of work. Yes, work has material benefits, but the true value of work must transcend the material.

St Paul in viewing work from a divine perspective, wrote: Slaves obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:22-24(NIV)

The key to Paul’s ‘uncommon’ devotion to work was his divine focus. The Christian should work to please God, and as such, the matter of the work should be relatively unimportant. Rather, what matters is not what we make or achieve, but ‘how’ we make or achieve it.

Paul speaks of sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord as key motivators for work. What is important to him it seems, is that a Christian person works ‘with all their heart’, as if we are serving God who pays an eternally valid reward, not for services rendered or goods provided, but for good motives and wholeheartedness.

A ‘truly’ Christian approach to work places value on persons and not objects, and is more concerned about honoring God and loving others, than achieving a material outcome. Moreover,  work approached in this manner, gives the world a glimpse of a value system that transcends this world, it enables a vision of God’s person-oriented kingdom to shine through and opens the door for God’s life-changing truth.

Like that humble watchmaker,  God places an inordinate amount of value on those whom ‘the world’ deems as  valueless; and when this truth is embodied in the daily lives of God’s servants, though heart-felt devotion in menial tasks, it can provide a powerful metaphor for the message: that  Jesus loves you the more than you can possibly imagine, and wants to take your life as broken and as valueless as you might think it is; restore it, repair it, and reinvest it with the dignity that God invested in it before it was devalued and broken by the values of ‘this world’

If you value God’s ‘good news’ and desire to see others know Jesus, why not start by showing an uncommon devotion in trivial matters at your daily work, and be prepared to see what happens. And even if you never see the result, know for certain their is one who does see, and who will richly reward that devotion on the last day!


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