In these troubled times, job security could well be an oxymoron. A permanent job is often more tenuous than a long term temporary position. In some cases, since the temp doesn’t get benefits, there’s less benefit to laying off that person than there would be if the person were a permanent employee, with benefits, even when the pay wasn’t equal. However, when there isn’t work, there isn’t work.
I am presently unemployed. Okay, I am self-employed without any active contracts. The unemployment office denies any claim, thus I am removed from both the employed and unemployed criteria. I am a nobody. It helps the unemployment rate. That rate is the people collecting unemployment divided by the number of employable people. People who are ‘nobody’ are magically ‘employed’. (Actually, since this writing, I am officially retired, but if you have a small job…)
They say that working for the government is secure, but that may only apply to civil servants. Contractors are expendable when the budget cuts start. Funny, most civil servants push pencils while the contractors work. (If you get offended, I said ‘most’.) The first time I got laid off was when the NASA site, guaranteed by a 20+ year contract, was shut down, all, but a few people to tidy things up, were laid off. Less than two years later, I was working on a government contract in Washington state. Budget cuts meant that one contract would be dropped, and we had the low bid. The hope of job security was dashed when our company was axed with no explanation. We knew the reason. Our company followed the law, but the civil servants wanted us to bend the rules. The higher bidding contractor was willing to do anything and had proven to do so the previous year.
When I went to work for an engineering company, I did not want to go. I had spent sixteen months out of work over the previous two years. An engineering company hires in good times, and they lay off in bad times. Another layoff would mean bankruptcy. I was hired during an upswing and proved useful. During the first downswing after I was hired, the company got rid of two out of every three people, but I was one of the ones left. I survived countless layoffs over the next 19 years. When I was finally laid off, there were less than ten people left who were there when I was hired. It’s a tough business, and they keep pay rates low to stay competitive. That means the good workers can find better jobs elsewhere, if jobs are available. My skills were unique. Not many jobs were available in the field, and my employer had a soft spot for the tradition of the company that I represented. The new owners, however, did not like old traditions. So, I was gone with the first layoffs under the new ownership.
Through most of the 19 years of working for a company that lays off people, I looked at the bank statements. If I got laid off, we’d be looking for a box under a bridge within a month or two. That changed when both of my parents passed away in the same year. The inherited money did not get us out of debt. (Remember the 16 months out of work.) But the money got us close, manageable. I would pray, “Lord, let me survive the next lay off. You are sovereign, and You can see to it that I keep my job.” So, I prayed that prayer, but was I relying upon God or the job? Now, I don’t have the job, and I’m too old for most companies to consider hiring me. I know, “We are an equal opportunity company.” But if you are old and overweight, you won’t be turned down for that. You’ll be over qualified. “We’re looking in a different direction.” My most recent rejection: “You would be great at the corporate level, but we didn’t think you’d relate to the workers at the floor level.” Thus, I am doing temporary work, working with construction guys that aren’t allowed to use the same toilet facilities as ‘the floor level’ people, when I can find work at all.
My wife has had my kind of recent rejection for the entire time that we’ve lived in Pennsylvania. The worst was trying to get a job at the company where I worked. The company was hiring a receptionist. They were going to offer $11 per hour as a starting wage. She had not had any experience, but since the company had sales internationally, the receptionist had to answer the phone and try to forward the calls correctly, regardless of what language was being spoken on the other end of the line. I once received a call from the receptionist from a Mexican fellow. My broken Spanish and his broken English resulted in an immediate sale of services, which led to a $5 million capital project a few years later. My broken Spanish established a relationship. But the receptionist was about to give up when she asked me to help. (“You do so well talking to customers. There’s one on the line that I can’t understand. Please hold…” After a pause, a different voice speaking Spanish rapidly… ) My wife spoke several languages and could piece things together in even more. The job was sitting down, important due to her health issues. Since she was my wife, they were already paying for her health care, so the benefit cost to the company would be a lot less. And we wouldn’t even work on the same floor, but we could carpool together. She was rejected, “You are over qualified.” She got a job as a dental assistant (not qualified at all, but she learned as she went) for $6 per hour. She had to stand for eight hours and pay for her parking. I had to wait at the office for almost two hours each day for her shift to end. With her uniforms, the parking, the added miles on the car, and eating out more often, the job cost was more than she was getting paid. She stuck it out since she was promised a pay raise that never came. (She was promised a pay raise when she was proficient, but she was denied because she became proficient “too fast”.) Then, she was told she’d have to start working exclusively at night. This was about the time when she started having difficulty seeing at night. She had to quit. In the next fifteen years, she got only two more temporary jobs. Her employer, in each case, used her to organize the office and then turn it over to the people that they wanted to do the work permanently, letting my wife go.
My wife’s last employer fired her. The woman that the boss wanted to keep permanently finished her training under my wife’s tutelage. The new woman learned that the medical records were very important, and she learned that one particular record was referenced by the boss almost daily. So, she hid it. The boss fired my wife for not maintaining control of the records. My wife explained that she couldn’t control everything when every employee came and went from the records room every day. My wife didn’t trust the new employee and ensured that she never left the records room with any records. That didn’t stop her from slipping one record inside another record’s jacket. Of course, the new employee got a raise when she ‘found’ the important record. This type of thing happens all the time. The people who think ‘all is fair…’ will do whatever it takes to make the good employee look bad. That sets the bar of expectation very low for their performance, but still better than the other person. By the way, the company that fired my wife wasn’t in business a year later. This was hollow succor for my wife, but an example of how bad employees can take an entire company down.
Job security is one thing that is sought by every man. You go to a party, and the typical ice-breaking question for the men is, “What do you do for a living?” When I was first laid off, my friends would see me at the grocery store and turn their carts around and hurry to the next aisle, as if saying hello to the unemployed guy might cause you to become unemployed. It could be contagious, you know.
Since the First Draft
I modified this very slightly. I am retired, but I would be willing to work on small contracts, nothing extensive. The job market is starting to improve, but not booming. My friends in the engineering companies are still hurting. Their customers are uncertain that the economic improvements will last, and capital funds are still tight.
We need to look toward God instead of the balance sheet and want ads.
Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
In this section, we’ll look at three of Jesus’ parables. While they have more to say about the kingdom of God, salvation, and faith than they do about job security, they talk about the concept of keeping our riches in heaven. In the story of the rich fool, the rich man had all kinds of plans for himself. It was a combination of putting his faith in his possessions and his ability to grow wealth by his hard work. Yet, God had other plans. If we don’t have our eyes on God’s plans, our plans are meaningless, regardless whether they are successful or not.
Luke 19:20-24 (NIV)
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
“Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
The parable of the talents (Matthew) of Minas (Luke) talk about the third servant. The first two took what they had and multiplied it. The third servant hid what he had and the master took it from him. This parable haunts me. I can sing and read tenor. Does that mean I have to be in the choir? I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I try to read every day. Does that mean I have to impart my ‘wisdom’? If I see a lost soul on the side of the road, do I have to witness to every one of them? These nightmares run through my head. I count the number of sins of omission and find myself lacking every day. But Jesus is trying to tell us to be fruitful here. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are not to rest. There is no complete retirement to those who love Jesus. Our work is necessary. We are to do according to the fruits of the Spirit that God has granted us. If God so chooses that we have a job at the time, we should use that as a platform. In so many workplaces today, it is against the rules to talk of God (specifically Jesus) due to political correctness. In the guise of the Christian thing to do (that is to not offend anyone), we have lost our Christianity. This statement may sound harsh, but in Jesus’ own words (Matthew 10:32-33) “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Okay, this refers to comparing those who have been working toward the kingdom of God all their lives versus those who have death-bed confessions. But what does it say about job security? Some of us will have a long work life, and others will get work when they can get it. The key is whether we have faith in God letting us keep our job or having faith that God will provide. Do you see the difference?
Matthew 6:11 (NIV) Give us today our daily bread.
The final word on red letters associated with job security comes from the Sermon on the Mount and specifically the Lord’s Prayer. We are not to ask God for great riches. We are not to ask God for a job at one company for forty years, ending in a pension that we can rely upon until we die. We are to rely on God each day to provide. Some of us have the faith that sees God’s provision in that life long career. Others of us must bounce around from job to job and have gaps in employment to realize that God is in control and we are not. Blessed are you when you have job security, but only if you see God in it. Blessed are you even more when you have no job security and you fall on your knees each day, knowing that God will answer that prayer, today. Tomorrow will begin with more prayer.
Can you give examples of God’s grace at work in your job? Have there been hard times that you survived?
Have you had one job all of you career? If so, have you realized how God has been at work to preserve that job?
Have you had a number of jobs? How did you feel when you changed jobs? Were you afraid? Did you rely on God and feel His presence with regard to those fears?
When you did a job search, did you rely on God to choose or did you have the job in mind and nothing was going to stop you from taking it? In either case, how did that work out?
Have you ever prayed after you had made a decision, now God, it’s your turn to bless it? How did that job turn out?
Did you ever get the job of your dreams and it turned into a nightmare?
Have you ever had misgivings about a job and even though you took the job and weren’t successful in getting promotions, your job stability was the best of your career? My point being that I did not want to work for an engineering company nor did I want to work in the Pittsburgh area, yet I stayed there for half of my working life, at the job level that I started with. No promotions, constant fear of layoffs with pay cuts for all personnel surviving the layoffs, but yet a steady job. Is it better to move on, in hopes of a better life, or is it good to bloom where God planted you?
Is it a sin to pack up and move on, constantly looking for something better? Are we running away from where God planted you? Are we pulling a Jonah? Okay, the book of Jonah in a nutshell (maybe seashell? Sorry, couldn’t resist.): Jonah has a calling to preach in Ninevah. He don’t wanna. Flees by ship, swallowed by ‘fish’, preaches in Ninevah anyway, gets mad at God when they repent, sits on a hill and sulks, gets mad at a plant for wilting. When we want to move on to something better, we must ask ourselves whether this is God’s plan or are we chasing the almighty dollar or escaping God’s calling.
Have you ever really prayed the Lord’s Prayer when you really meant ‘daily bread’? Did you really mean, ‘give me job security, so I don’t have to keep coming back to You for my daily bread’?
While we’re talking about job security, does the Bible say anything about retirement? Yes, in Numbers 8:25 it sets the retirement age of the Levites to 50 years of age, but in verse 26, it suggests that the retired Levites should assist, just not do the back breaking work of carrying the tent poles, erecting the tabernacle, etc. In other translations, Numbers 8:26 suggests ‘supervision’. All of us have a job to do. I know that my wife, on her death bed, will be making the nurses laugh. She’ll share her Joy until her last breath. What is your ‘true’ job?
I’m not suggesting everyone quit their job and start a blog, but my life is filled with more Joy than ever before. Of course, I was laid off, but let’s not mince words. If you were left with so little in savings that your pension and social security income barely covered expenses with no room for any contingencies, would you gladly quit in order to do God’s work? In other words, do you have the faith that God will provide when those inevitable contingencies happen?