But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 ESV
Worldly promotions and divine promotions are often night and day to each other. If we don’t understand the differences between the two as believers, we can end up trying to apply divine principles on worldly terms. It’s the equivalent of trying to apply the laws of your country as a foreigner in a different country.
So how do they stack up against each other?
Positioned by man vs. Positioned by God
Human wisdom will insist that the only way to get ahead in the corporate world is to position yourself to be seen and picked by others. It’s not enough to do the work – you need to make a show of it. You must make your presence known to the people who matter. And the only people who matter are the ones who can get you ahead.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12 NIV
But God’s wisdom? God’s wisdom is the epitome of foolishness in the eyes of the world.
David was in the fields tending his father’s sheep and minding his business when Samuel came calling. Samuel, a powerful prophet in his own right, thought for sure one of David’s elder brothers, who were present in their home and far more presentable, would be the future king he was supposed to anoint.
God wasn’t having it. When no one else did, He remembered David. When no one else did, He saw David. Not just as a little shepherd boy but as a formidable king whose lineage would eventually birth the Messiah. No one, not even David, would have thought to position him for that.
If you strive to position yourself/have other’s position you, you will have to continue striving to keep that position and to get a new one. If you allow God to position you on His terms, He will sustain you against all odds and steadily move you up the ranks per time and season.
Heart Check: Are you struggling to position yourself for the bread crumbs the corporate world has to offer? Will you allow God to position you for your eternal destiny?
Justifying your worth vs. Resting in your worth
The world requires you to prove why you deserve a promotion, then prove over and over again why you got it, and eventually prove all the more why you should get another. All while fighting off everyone who will stop at nothing to get your seat. It’s an endless loop of justifying your worth.
Your worth is never in question in the Kingdom of God. God created you. Before you even took your first breath, you were valuable to Him. Regardless of what you may or may not have done thus far in your life, you remain valuable to Him. Your worth is never in question in His eyes.
Wherever God’s love finds you, it will not leave you there. He will continually push you to fully live the life He created you for, one that may look nothing like what the world thinks it should. But is everything beautiful He desires you to have.
There are two extremes we need to consider as believers. One is trying to earn our worth in the eyes of the God. If you were raised in an environment (home, school, even church) where you were expected to prove your worth, you may be subconsciously doing life with God in the same way. This leaves you constantly trying to demonstrate to God why you should get a particular position or why you deserve to have an opportunity He’s given you.
The other extreme is where believers who start off understanding how grace works get caught up in the realm of works without realizing. A subtle expectation creeps in where we feel we deserve certain things because of what we’ve done for God and He “owes” us. Rather than standing on the righteousness of God, they begin to stand on the righteousness of self.
Heart Check: If your greatest achievements to date are taken off the table, do you still think highly of yourself? What does your worth stand on? God’s love or your abilities and achievements?
Impressing man vs. Pleasing God
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16: 7 NIV
Human beings are wowed by what they see on the surface. That’s why CVs, resumes, portfolios, reels, etc are all the rage. That’s also why we’re constantly told to fake it until we make it.
God, on the other hand, not so much. He cares more about what’s in your heart. This means that even if you do the right thing but for the wrong reason, He’ll call you out on it. In any given moment, the state of your heart matters more to Him than how impressive you look.
Because a fundamental part of our lives is spent on the earthly realm, we can end up ignorant or forgetful of the existence of the spiritual realm.
The spiritual realm is not as fickle as the earthly realm. A demon will not take off running just because you yelled the name of Jesus a few times and managed to sound somewhat convincing. This realm recognizes principles and operates on them.
The divine standard of promotion as seen in the Parable of the Talents is based on ability (what God has put in your hand) and stewardship (multiplication grace given to you by God). Just like the servants in these parable, no two individuals can be fairly judged on the exact same qualifiers because they are not given the same talents or multiplication grace to start with.
Yes, by this account, many of the corporate models of vetting for promotions, even those of some Christian businesses, are completely off. The way things typically work, the servant with five talents would be considered better than the one with two and be the only one praised. Yet they were both given their reward because in the Master’s eyes they had each attained the standard He set for them. That’s what Kingdom looks like.
Heart Check: What has God put in your hand? What level of multiplication is He expecting from you based on the grace He’s given to you this season?
Sacrifice vs. Obedience
Worldly promotions demand sacrifice. Of everything from sleep to sanity. It’s no wonder that many of them stand on the ruins of health (mental, emotional and physical), relationships, marriages, families, friendships. It’s ironic, then, how we glorify levels of sacrifice that are honestly inhumane. A culture of 16-18-hour work days, 5-6 days a week, all year round is nothing to be proud of.
I’m thankful for a season when I benefitted from a leader who believed that if you’re in the office when everyone arrives and still there when everyone leaves, you’re either not a good steward of time or there’s a problem with work management in the department.
Kingdom promotions demand obedience. Obedience means you’re willing to exalt God’s heart and mind above your own desires. It can also be considered a form of sacrifice but the difference here is the outcome for all.
Anything God calls you to do comes with the requisite grace and wisdom to do it in a way that will be beneficial to you, those in your life and those around you. If we get the call wrong, then we end up struggling to achieve that which God never intended us to, that which no grace exists for us to. If we get the call right, but the how wrong, we also end up struggling because we’ve positioning ourselves outside of the parameters of grace.
In obeying God, we need to get the what and the how right. Yes, we’re called to be living sacrifices that glorify God. But we’re not called to do so foolishly.
Heart Check: Are there any areas of your work life where your obedience is lacking? Are you working within the parameters of grace and wisdom God has given you?
Less work vs. More responsibility
One of the fallacies, even in the world, is that being promoted means less work. There’s a utopian picture painted for many of us growing up that getting to a certain level of success means you get to coast through the rest of your life.
Yet, if you’ve spent any amount of time with managers and CEOs then you know that couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re typically up way before the crack of dawn and often have to work late into the night just to keep track of the demands placed on them.
Divine promotions aka blessings have also not escaped utopian myths. They’ve popularly been presented as the end of all suffering where everything in your life just works out fine.
Here’s a much needed reality check. A divine promotion = more responsibility = more challenges to tackle. As you are faithful with the little entrusted to you, you are given more to steward (re: Parable of the Talents). All the while, God continually prunes you to ensure maximum fruitfulness.
If you’re not a fan of hard work and taking on more responsibility, then I wish you luck dodging every form of divine promotion you can.
Grace doesn’t disqualify us from work. It doesn’t mean that we sit in our offices and do nothing but praise Jesus. Excellence is a hallmark of the Divine. Laziness and shoddiness is not.
We must put in the work. And as we do, remember: we work to glorify God not to qualify ourselves.
Heart Check: Are you willing to embrace the additional demands of stewardship that come with divine promotion?
Man’s reward vs. God’s reward
Some years back, I came to the realization that there were seasons in my work life where I would not be fairly compensated for the work I was doing. At the onset of one particular job, what I was being offered was a joke (and my prospective employer knew it), but God told me to take the job and not negotiate for a penny more. I wasn’t happy about it but I obeyed.
Out of anguish, I began to cry out to God to give me what no human being could give me. My limited options provoked me to unknowingly (at the time) seek a treasure worth far more than what everyone around me was chasing after. It turned out to be way better than what a few extra coins would have gotten me.
There are grand things that fellow human beings can give you – better jobs, better pay, cars, opportunities, etc. But there are things that only God can bring your way – health, joy, contentment, peace, divine wisdom, divine favour etc. Sure, people may argue that money can get you some semblance of these things. But that’s just it. It’s a semblance – an imitation – of the real deal. Once you’ve had a taste of what’s real in God, you’ll be hard pressed to settle for anything less.
It’s unfortunate when believers walk in the reward of the Lord but are so caught up by their desire for man’s reward they don’t even realize their lives are overflowing with eternal treasure. Yet when the cost of having the world is losing your soul, you quickly realize that the world may not be all it’s cracked up to be in value. You could be at the top of the world but painfully crumbling within. Is it really worth it?
Heart Check: Do you feel “cheated” by some aspect of your current work life? What does the Lord’s reward for you in this season look like? What does it look like for you to pursue His reward and not man’s?
Corner offices vs. Kingdom authority
Worldly promotions tend to thrust one into some form of visibility – whether in one’s company, industry or even in the nation(s) – depending on one’s role. While there are a few who will shy away from the spotlight for their own personal reasons, a vast majority will seek to amplify their time in the spotlight for personal validation and whatever profit they can get out of it.
The proverbial corner office is one of the symbols used in the workplace to show that someone has “arrived” in their career. It represents dominion in the corporate world.
Dominion in the Kingdom of God isn’t as blatantly obvious to our physical eyes. Like I mentioned in last month’s Leaders’ Foundry post, a janitor can have more spiritual authority than the CEO of the company they work for.
It takes discernment to perceive the level of spiritual authority a person carries in the workplace as well as what spirit (whether of God or of the devil) that authority carries. Not every show of power is from God. But the power of Jesus trumps every other out there.
Divine promotions, like earthly ones, come with an increase in divine power and authority. Sometimes this will manifest in the earthly realm through some form of recognition. But sometimes it may be a subtle shift that only the spiritually astute take note of.
Heart Check: Does your expectation of promotion include being acknowledged and validated by others? Are you willing to embrace the dominion God wants to give you regardless of whether it comes with a spotlight?
Personal gain vs. Kingdom gain
The bottom line in worldly promotions is personal gain. Sure, you’re likely being promoted because of the benefit you can give your company. But the reason a person will take or reject a promotion usually comes down to the benefits they receive as an individual.
Promotions in the Kingdom come down to Kingdom gain. The beauty of how God works is that He can bless an individual and a multitude in one go.
Consider what it means to be part of Body of Christ as we are as Christians. It wouldn’t make sense to grab hold of poison in your hand that may not be harmful to your skin but will be detrimental to your whole body if you put it in your mouth and swallow it.
Accepting or rejecting a promotion should therefore boil down to where God would have you positioned in a particular season in light of your role in the Body of Christ. This will mean sometimes passing by a promotion that looks like the opportunity of a lifetime or even accepting a role that seems like a demotion.
Kingdom gain may delay personal gain if the situation calls for it. It may even deny you of what you thought your personal gain should be. But it will never rob you of God’s intended reward for you. If anything, it will only serve to multiply it a hundredfold.
It’s easy to call ourselves Christians and sing how surrendered our lives are to God every Sunday. But when push comes to shove, are we truly willing to pay the price of what it means to follow Jesus?
Heart Check: Are the promotions you are seeking for personal gain or for kingdom gain? What adjustment do you need to make in your pursuit?
Exiles in the Corporate World
Much like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, we are exiles in the modern corporate world. We are called to be in it but we are certainly not of it. Our mandate is to transform this world and not conform to it.
Living on God’s terms in the corporate world will mean that your life will often not make sense to those around you. Neither will you. They may ignore you, pass you over or even ridicule you. But you need to decide whether your reputation matters more to you than your relationship with God.
One of the outstanding purposes time serves is to vindicate truth. In the end, it didn’t matter that Joseph and Daniel were slaves in their land of function. The work of God in them and through them not only exalted them as individuals but brought nations to the Lord.
That’s what is truly at stake.
Will you allow God to use you as He did them?
Will you trust Him not to lead you astray no matter how uncertain the path ahead of you may seem?
Will you pay the price for His glory to be made manifest through you?
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)