Reversing the Dilbert Principle

reversing-dilbertGod is more intent on changing our minds than our circumstances.

| by Mark Buchanan

There’s a man in my church—let’s call him Dilbert—who almost every week asks me to pray for him about his job. He loathes it, top to bottom: the pay, the hours, the working conditions, the staff relations. Mostly, he loathes his boss. She, according to him, is mean and cheap and never once satisfied.

The first few times Dilbert asked, I prayed mild, vague prayers. Basically, I asked God to change his circumstances. Give him a new job, or at least a new boss.

But now I’ve stopped those prayers. And I’ve started asking Dilbert to change his mind, with God’s help.

Partly, this was a theological move. Biblically, God is more intent on changing our minds than our circumstances. We are transformed, according to Romans 12:2, by the renewal of our minds, not the altering of our circumstances—except, of course, in the ultimate senses that in Christ we have been transferred from death to life.

But partly, this was a practical move. I sensed that Dilbert had a near bottomless capacity to be unhappy in any job. In fact, the more I got to know him, the more I realized he had an aversion to work bordering on pathology. He dreamed of endless leisure. His ideal world involved a lot of late mornings, a lot of late nights, a lot of movies and not much else.

The most basic thing about God is that He’s a worker. The most basic thing about us being made in God’s image is that we, too, are workers. Adam was put in the garden to “work it and take care of it.” And Eve was brought along, not first as Adam’s conversation or sexual partner, but as his helper. There was a lot of work needing doing, and these two resembled God the most when they were about it. Digging, pruning, reaping, naming, they moved seamlessly in rhythm with the good creation.

I wrote a book on Sabbath-keeping a few years ago and tried to convince readers how important rest is. But I began with a chapter about how important work is. Rest is God’s gift to workers. Rest only derives value from a world bent on doing its job. In a world bent on maximizing leisure, on retiring at 30, on outsourcing everything, the Bible has another word: you don’t work, you don’t eat.

So the Bible has more to say about our working than our resting. Mindless busyness is roundly condemned in Scripture (think: Martha), but even more so is laziness (think: Proverbs, or many of Jesus’ Kingdom parables).

One of my favourite stories in the Bible about the value of work is the day Jesus calls Peter, John and James to follow Him. The boys, fishermen all, have been up all night working, with nothing to show for it. They’re tired and discouraged. When Jesus asks them to try again, Peter loudly complains, but concedes just because “you say so.” They get out on the water, and the nets fill to bursting.

Then Jesus does a curious thing. He asks them to leave it all—the fish, the nets, the boats. The work. He asks them to leave all that and come follow Him. He has another kind of work for them. “From now on you will fish for men.”

I used to read that and think that Jesus was dismissing the value of the work of their hands. He’s offering them real jobs now, important things to do. Now they get to work for the church!

But something else is going on here. If Jesus wanted to dismiss the value of their work, He wouldn’t have filled the nets for them. He would have made His “come, follow me” speech at the lakeshore to three men deeply discouraged, who needed no real prompting to quit. To three men more than ready to take this job and shove it.

Instead, Jesus gives them their best day on the job ever. He gives them a taste of how work is when it’s fun and time flies, when there’s no inter-office friction and payday is a jackpot. And then He asks them to leave it all. I think Jesus does this to force a real choice: do I leave a job I love for this trip into the wild? Do I quit this work that now works, just because “you say so?”

Jesus won’t invite you to do anything else until you change your mind and actually learn to love the work you’re already doing. Then, whether He gives you another job or not, you win either way.

Mark Buchanan is an author and pastor living on Vancouver Island. He is the author of five bestselling books including The Rest of God.

The article above was featured in the September 2010 issue of SEVEN magazine.