By Ken Costa
I have spent the appreciable part of adulthood living in what appears to many to be two separate worlds. The first is the financial and business world, and the other is the church-based preaching and teaching world. You might assume that these worlds inevitably collide—after all, it can be so easy to disconnect our spiritual and religious lives from the wider working world of business and finance.
And yet Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians that “in [Christ] all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). I have come back to this verse again and again throughout my career, in humble recognition that there is only one Lord. The Lord of mercy is the Lord of the money markets. The Lord of prayer is the Lord of profit. The Lord of compassion is the Lord of competition. There really is only one sphere of influence: the kingdom of God. There Christ Jesus operates as Lord in our lives and in the world. Christ himself is the cornerstone and crossover point. By his Spirit he enables us to take the truths that are recorded for us in the Bible and translate them into day-to-day practical realities. He is our anchor as he aligns our wills to his. We must take hold of this truth in order to find our callings.
There have been many occasions when I have felt the desire to leave the harsh competitiveness of the business world. It’s tough; one feels the heat daily. And it seems so at odds with anything that could remotely be thought of as Christian. I remember a time when one of these bouts was upon me. We were in the midst of a major transaction. It was harsh, the hours were long, and the client was demanding. I was tempted to throw in the towel and walk away from it all. I know we all have these moments when life just doesn’t seem to make sense—and not only on Monday mornings. At times it is a passing thought: Why am I doing this? At other times, it is the deep frustration of purposelessness. The grass of the nonprofit sector—or any other business—seems so much greener than the occasional tufts of green that mark the rough ground of the financial world.
In these times, I have formed a habit of turning to God to give me perspective on the frustration I am facing. I cannot say I have ever heard the audible voice of God, but in the midst of this difficult time, I sensed a word of encouragement. I sensed him saying, “I am strengthening you in the world, for the world.” In an instant I could see a purpose to what I had been going through. The grimness didn’t just disappear, but somehow the knowledge that the unrelenting stress had a deeper value brought me out of that black hole. I learned a lesson then. The demands of the world are tough, but I developed a pattern of trying to coax myself through each of these attacks in the knowledge that God had called me to that place and would provide the strength that I would need for it. I believe that this phrase was meant for me at that specific time, but it is also of much wider application to all of us who are at work in the world. Above all, it means accepting a full calling in the workplace to fulfill God-given plans for the workplace.
I don’t have to tell you what it’s like to work under the pressure of daily professional demands. Deadlines need to be met and are set to maximize performance in a short time period. Relationships are strained, and temptations abound to cut corners or blame others or be a little greedy.
We must keep in mind that it is precisely this world that we are called to engage with. Jesus could not have been clearer in John 17 when he asked God not to take his disciples out of the world but to remain with them in the world: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (v. 15). It is Christ’s desire for us to be made strong so that we remain in the world as salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16). His instrument for strengthening us is Scripture (John 17:14, 17).
Ken Costa is an internationally renowned banker, having worked as Chairman of UBS Investment Bank. He serves as the Chairman of The Alpha Course. He is the author of God at Work and Know Your Why.