"Choosing to Cheat" part 2 (based on the book by Andy Stanley):
When Work and Family Collide
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 7, 2007

 

Main Passage: Daniel 1:1-17 (NLT)

 

Last Sunday morning, we spent some time talking about the two major aspects of our lives. We began by talking about our work, and we saw that our work—whatever kind of work it is—on average takes up about one third of our waking hours. Our work is important to us. We have career goals, we have responsibilities, and we saw that God actually wants us to work hard. Often, we think of work as being a bad thing… a result of the Fall. We might be under the delusion that before sin entered the world there was no such thing as work. But we learned last week that work is something that God actually created—it’s not the result of sin—and He created it before the Fall of man. When He created Adam, He immediately gave Adam work to do. So work is a good thing, and we should work hard. It’s a major aspect of our lives.

And then we saw that a second major aspect of our lives is Family… either pursuing a family or maintaining a family. Family is a wonderful thing… it’s a gift from God. And if work takes up one third of our waking hours, then family takes up a good percentage of the other two thirds.

Problem is, these two good things are often in conflict. There’s a tension between the demands of our work and the demands of our family. Both of them require and deserve our attention. So which one wins? When work and family collide, which one comes out on top?

All too often, I believe the answer is work. I know I’ve been there myself. We pour ourselves into our work to the detriment of our family. Hey, our family’s going to be there for us anyway, right? But our work… if we want to keep our work, and if we want to be successful, and if we want more income, if we want that promotion, and if we want to get our egos stroked… then we feel that’s where we need to be. And the problem is, that often happens at the expense of our family. We cheat our family in favour of work.

Now Derek… poor Derek… Derek helped us out last week by demonstrating what happens when we cheat our family in favour of our work. I brought with me a 30 pound bag of potatoes, and I asked Derek to help me by holding it. He didn’t know why he was doing it, but I asked him to trust me and I told him it was important for him to hold it. And so while I spoke last week, Derek stood over here to the side holding that thirty pound bag of potatoes.

Oh, every once in a while, I looked over at him and promised that I’d get to the point soon. And I’d be there to help him hold it. But more and more time went by, and after twelve or thirteen minutes, Derek was just about ready to drop it. I wasn’t that he didn’t want to hold it any longer… and it wasn’t that he didn’t trust me (although he may never trust me again)… but he just wasn’t able to hold it much longer.

And so we applied that to how we treat our work and our family. And we saw that when we cheat our family in favour of our work, we’re basically telling our family, “Trust me. I have something else to do right now. You’re going to have to get along without me for a while. But I’ll be there soon. Really. I just have other more important things that I need to do first.” And when we do that, we leave our family… we leave our spouse… holding the bag.

Oh, they trust us. They believe in us. They love us. They want us to succeed. They know our work is important. And they want to help out any way they can. And so they agree to hold that bag. Problem is, they can only hold it so long before the weight of it becomes too great. It’s not that they don’t want to hold it any longer; they just can’t.

[And so Derek… sit, I’m not going to do that to you two weeks in a row.]

Okay, so we’ve got our work and our family… two major aspects of our lives which are both important but which are often in conflict. And when we have to choose, too often we choose to cheat our family in favour of our work. But the operative word there is “choose” because that’s what we do. We choose. It’s a choice we make to cheat our family. It doesn’t just happen. We choose it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. God does value a good work ethic, yes, but He also values family. In fact, the Bible tells us that we should do our work as unto the Lord and we must love our family. Not the other way around.

Now let me show you something else…

Here on the screen you see a simple example of the cash flow for a fictitious bank account. You know what the goal of a bank account is, don’t you? The goal is to always have more deposits than withdrawals. And here in this example, you see this. The deposits always total more than the withdrawals. And when that happens, you’re on your way to financial health.

But what happens when you turn that around? What happens when the withdrawals surpass the deposits? Then you end up with an increasingly negative balance, and you’re on your way to what? Financial disaster.

Now imagine that each of those dollar amounts represents the emotional and relational deposits and withdrawals you make with your family. When you’re making more withdrawals than deposits, where are you headed? You’re headed for disaster.

Now, none of that is news for you. We all know that our families need to come first. We agree… at least intellectually… to that concept. I mean, no one has ever said on their deathbed, “If only I have spent more time at the office.” No one has ever said that. We at least give a nod to the idea that our families are important.

But still, we can find ourselves in the position where we’re cheating our families because of the demands of our work. And what you need to understand is that no matter how much you give, work will always demand more. There’s always more you could do. And so it’s up to you to determine the boundary. It’s up to you to say, “This far and no farther.”

But how do you go about that? I mean, you’d be pretty stupid to go into your boss’ office and start making demands. You’re liable to wind up with a lot more hours to spend with your family than you really want. So what’s a good, reasonable way to go about setting the boundaries? How do you stop cheating family in favour of work? How do you reprioritize family over work?

Well, I don’t know that there is a fool-proof method. For the rest of our time, we’re going to look at the example of Daniel, but that’s all it is. It’s an example. It’s what Daniel did, and it worked for him. But I also think it makes sense.

And by the way, if I can do a little commercial, most of what we talked about last week and what we’re talking about this morning can be found in this little book by Andy Stanley, “Choosing to Cheat.” I’d love to go through this with the Men’s LIFE Group sometime, chapter by chapter. But if you want to read a bit more about what we’re talking about, then you can pick this up for yourself. Plus, Andy shares some personal examples from his own life and the people he knows.

All right, let’s talk about Daniel and how he resolved the conflict when two opposing sides demanded his loyalty.

Now, in Daniel’s case, the conflict was not between work and family. That wasn’t the problem he faced. But he did face a serious conflict, and how he handled it can be a pattern for us in our work-family conflicts.

So what was the conflict that Daniel faced? Well, let’s set the stage and see what it was.

About 605 B.C., a new empire was developing in the area of Southwest Asia. It was the Babylonian Empire, and at the time we’re talking about this morning, it was under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. Well, the Babylonians swept across the land, eventually arriving at Israel. At this point in their history, most of the Israelites had turned their backs on God and had thus rejected His protection. So the Babylonians were quickly able to conquer them. And then, the Babylonians took many of the Israelites captive and led them back to Babylon. Here… let me show it to you on a map.

[PowerPoint] The Babylonian Empire was centralized around here, and Israel is over here. The army swept across the land to Israel, conquered it, and then took many of the Israelites back to Babylon into captivity. Today, this area is just a small country that goes by the name Iraq. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Among these captives was a young man named Daniel. And Daniel, as it turns out, was a faithful follower of God and was also a very gifted young man. So gifted, in fact, that he was chosen by King Nebuchadnezzar as one of the elite Israelites to be trained for service in the king’s palace. So Daniel actually got to move into the palace to receive all kinds of training.

And one of the perks was that he was even given the best food… food straight from the king’s table. Yes, that’s right… it was food fit for a king, which sounds pretty good to me. But there was a problem. The food that Daniel and the others would have been offered would have been previously offered to idols. And thus the conflict.

Daniel had determined to be loyal to his God, but if he accepted the food that had been offered to the Babylonian gods, he would be accepting the authority of those gods.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you and me. I mean, come on, Daniel. If you don’t want to eat the food then don’t eat the food. Just order some take-out or grab a sandwich at the nearest Tim Hortons.

That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But keep in mind that Daniel was a captive. He had been given a special privilege to live in the palace, but he was still a captive. And the king himself had ordered this food to be the food given to him. He really was in no position to refuse. If he did, he’d be defying the king. So what did he do? How did he handle this conflict? Well, the Bible says…

Daniel 1:8a (NLT)
But Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king.

So for you and me… when it comes to handling the conflict between work and family… the first thing you need to do is…

 

How to Reprioritize Family over Work:

1. Make Up Your Mind

In that verse, you can underline the words “Daniel made up his mind”.

Daniel made up his mind. He just wasn’t going to eat the food. And he was specific about it. He didn’t say, “Well, I’m going to try to do better. I’ll only eat enough that it won’t cause any waves. I’ll eat it but I won’t enjoy it. I’ll eat it for now, but someday… someday I’ll be in a position that I don’t have to.” No, Daniel was specific and he was decisive. He wasn’t going to eat any of it. He had made up his mind. And it didn’t matter what the eventual outcome might be; he simply wasn’t going to compromise. He began with a decision.

And for you and me, choosing not to cheat at home begins with a decision. A decision to stop cheating. And it’s a decision that can’t have a bunch of conditions attached to it… like “when I’m more financially secure” or “if I get this promotion”. Because once you start slapping conditions on your decision, it shows that your family’s not your priority after all.

And you know what really helps? When you’re specific. Daniel was specific – he wasn’t going to eat any of the food. How specific can you be? How about, “I’m only going to work 45 hours a week, no more.” Or, “I’m going to be home every evening for supper.” Or, “I will not work on my day off.” Or, “I’m going to limit my business travel to 10 days per year.” Or, “I’ll be at every baseball game my kid plays.” However you need to structure it, be specific in your decision. The more specific your decision is, the easier it is to say “no” to other things.

It was April 21, 1519. Hernando Cortez landed his ships along the Mexican coast and prepared to go ashore to conquer the Aztec Empire. Quite a bold goal… trying to conquer an empire with less than 400 soldiers.

But that’s exactly what he was there to do. He had made up his mind. And so his first order? Burn the ships. If he was going to conquer the Aztecs, then retreat could not be an option. The focus needed to be on going forward, not going backward. And so he had his own ships burned. And so with that option eliminated, Cortez was successful in conquering an empire.

Here’s a little language lesson. The Latin root word for the word “Decide” (decidere) literally means “to cut off”. So when you decide something, you’re not just selecting one option. You’re eliminating the other options. You’re cutting them off.

So when you decide to stop cheating your family, you need to cut off the other options. You need to make up your mind… “I’m not going to cheat my family any longer.”


Daniel had made up his mind. He wasn’t going to eat the food that had been offered to pagan gods. But then what? I mean, he could have just made up his mind and boldly announced, “I’m not eating this food. I don’t care what you do to me; I’m not eating it.” And I guess it could have worked… he would have never eaten the food because he’d be dead.

No, Daniel was a little smarter than that. He tempered his decision with diplomacy. He was dogmatic about his convictions, but not so dogmatic in his approach. Instead, we’re told…

Daniel 1:8b (NLT)
He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

Circle the word “Asked”. Daniel asked permission. He didn’t demand, he asked. So that’s number two…

 

2. Ask, don’t Demand

Now, depending on your work situation, you may have no one to ask. So this may not be that applicable for you. But if you do have someone you need to ask, then don’t avoid doing this. I know it can be intimidating… you might think you already know what they’re going to say… but make “the ask” anyway.

Do you realize what Daniel was doing by asking? He was acknowledging the authority that the chief of staff had. If he had gone into the office demanding his way and presenting ultimatums, he would have been challenging that authority. And I think the response would have been very different. But because he asked, he was showing respect for the position and inviting the chief of staff to be part of the process of finding a solution. It wasn’t a threat, it was an invitation.

But Daniel could have demanded his own way, and that wouldn’t have turned out very well. What else could he have done? He could have kept the chief of staff out of the loop. He could have deceived him. And that wouldn’t have been very good either. I mean, he could have assumed that the chief would have rejected his request anyway, and so Daniel could have tried to do something underhandedly or secretly. He could have snuck his meat into his napkin – I don’t know what he could have done. But I’m sure he could have found some way to subvert the authority of the chief of staff.

But you know what? The chief would have found out. Sooner or later, he would have found out. And I can assure you, if that happened, the chief would not be all that favourable toward Daniel then.

In other words, if you choose that you’re not going to cheat family, then don’t decide that you’re just going to sneak out of work early, hoping the boss doesn’t notice. Because he or she will notice, and then you will wish you had made the ask.

Daniel respected the chief’s position, and so he did make the ask. He didn’t make demands, he didn’t deceive… he made the ask. Then what did he do? He listened.

 

3. Listen and Offer Solutions

Daniel listened. So what did the chief say? Verse 10…

Daniel 1:10 (NLT)
But [the chief of staff] responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.”

“So let’s not lose our heads.”

So by listening to what the chief of staff had to say, what did Daniel learn? He learned that the chief wasn’t really all that concerned about what Daniel ate; he was concerned that Daniel might become pale and thin. He was concerned with how Daniel looked and performed. And he didn’t want Daniel’s performance to suffer, because then the king would make sure he suffered, too.

And by the way, that’s your employer’s concern, too. They’re not nearly as concerned about how much overtime you put in as they are about your productivity.

Now, you might think you already know what your boss’ reaction would be. But you know what happens when you assume, right? Sometimes you’re wrong. So listen. Listen for what their real concerns are. Don’t argue with them; listen. Ask questions, clarify the concerns… sure… but listen.

And after you’ve listened, you can say something like, “I understand those are some serious concerns and I certainly don’t want to complicate things for you. Let me think about it a bit more and see if I can come up with a solution that will address those concerns.”

When you do that, what have you done? You’ve left the door open. You’ve given yourself some time to come up with a solution. And you’ve given your boss time to think about it, too, and maybe they’ll even change their mind. As long as you don’t attack them and put them on the defensive, there’s a good chance they’re going to work with you to find a solution.

Now, Daniel came up with his own solution and he presented it as a test… he presented a test for himself and for three of his friends who shared his convictions. Daniel said…

Daniel 1:12-13 (NLT)
“Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.”

What a great idea. He offered a trial period. Still no ultimatum… still didn’t threaten the chief’s authority… just suggested a trial period. Surely there wouldn’t be any irreversible damage in just ten days. And so that’s just what they did.

And maybe that’s what you would need to do with your boss. Offer a trial. “Let’s try this for a month and see what happens.”

For me, I’ve shifted some of my schedule around so that I’m working when Shera’s working. And that means that I have more free time when she’s not working. I started doing that a few months ago, and I’m noticing a difference.

You need to figure out a solution that works for you… rearranging your hours, working more strategically, delegating more effectively, whatever.

Look, our jobs are important. We have to work and we should work hard. But the tendency for many of us is to overdo it. And our families are cheated because of it. So figure out a solution. And you might discover that it really is possible to stop cheating family in favour of work, and you can turn that around. And something that’s important to remember is this… Andy Stanley points out…

“… Cheating at work isn’t really cheating at all. It’s merely testing to see how well the requirements of your job can be met under a different arrangement.”
~ Andy Stanley, Choosing to Cheat p. 112

And if all the concerns your boss has can be addressed in a respectful and practical way, then you’ve found the solution.


Now, there is one extremely important component in all this. And it’s this…

 

4. Watch for God to Intervene

There are a couple of key verses in Daniel chapter 1 that we haven’t looked at yet. One of them is verse nine. Right after Daniel made “the ask” to the chief of staff, we’re told…

Daniel 1:9 (NLT)
Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel.

Circle the words “Now God”. It was a “Now God” moment. Daniel was committed to his values and convictions, he was faithful to His God, he responded humbly and obediently, and because of all that he experienced a “Now God” moment.

Think about this: If Daniel has already concluded that there was no way the Chief of Staff would listen to him so he wasn’t even going to ask, what would have happened? He would have missed out on this “Now God” moment.

Makes me wonder, how many times do you and I miss out on “Now God” moments because of our fears and preconceptions? Just a thought.

Daniel acted according to his God-given values… which seemed to be completely out of place in the Babylonian palace… but because he acted anyway, God had the opportunity to intervene. “Now God…”

The other verse I want to point out is after the test has been carried out… Daniel and his friends have come through the test with flying colours and so from then on they were going to be fed food that fit with their convictions… and then we read this…

Daniel 1:17 (NLT)
God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.

Do you see what happened here? These four young men… Daniel in particular… had been obedient God, had upheld their integrity, and stuck to their convictions… and because of all that, God blessed them.

“God honours those who honour Him. Honour Him at home and experience His blessing there. Honour Him in the marketplace and look for Him to show up there as well… He is as capable of intervening in your office on Monday afternoon as He is in your church on Sunday morning.”
~ Andy Stanley, Choosing to Cheat, p. 115

Well, it’d be really easy to stop right there. Honour God, and He’ll work everything out. I believe that is true, but I don’t think it means you’ll necessarily stay in the same job. What if your boss isn’t cooperative? What if your boss places demands on you that require you to keep cheating your family? Well, then there may come a time when you need to walk.

 

5. Be Prepared to Walk Away

Now, what you don’t want to do is throw a tantrum. You’re acting on your own convictions, and your boss has no obligation to go along with them. Chances are they will, but they don’t have to. So you can still respect their authority and work out an exit strategy. If your work is cheating your family, then it’s going to lead to disaster. So your options are to find a solution or get out.

Now, Daniel didn’t actually get to this point, so it’s hard to say exactly what he would have done. But we do know that he was determined not to defile himself by eating food that had been offered to pagan gods. And I don’t believe that he would have compromised on that. Hey, five chapters later he found himself thrown into a den of hungry lions because he refused to compromise his values.

But maybe you’d argue, “But Daniel lived at a different time. Things are different now.” You’re right, they are. You probably won’t be executed if you have to leave your job. You should be glad things are different now. They’re easier. And so if your work continues to demand that you cheat family, and if there’s no flexibility there, then it may be necessary for you to walk away.

I mean, what are the arguments for staying? You need to save up for retirement? You need to pay off the mortgage? You need to provide for your family? But none of that will matter because you won’t have a family anymore. You’ll be saving up to pay lawyers and trying to figure out who gets the house, not how to pay the mortgage on the house.

And if you’re still worried about it, remember that making your family your priority is not just a good idea, it’s a God idea. The New Testament clearly establishes that your responsibility is to your family, not your work. Work hard as unto the Lord, but love your family. So you tell me, is God more likely to bless you for upholding His priorities or rejecting them?

Jesus Himself talked about how we can get all caught up in seeking riches and security and possessions, and He reminded us that we can’t serve both God and money. And then He said this…

Matthew 6:33 (NLT)
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

If you believe that, then you need to live it. Put God and His priorities first, and then watch Him work.

 

 

 

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