As Christians, we have been blessed by God to be a blessing to those around us, especially in the workplace. God expects us to work toward blessing everyone we work with and serve. But how do we handle situations when potential outcomes and decisions work against our God-given calling and instead harm, exploit, or exclude those we are called to bless? How do we speak up when the stakes are high? The quote below is a powerful example of what happens when Christians fail to speak up when the stakes are high:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
These words, on display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, were originally penned by Lutheran minister Martin Niemoller, who believed that Protestant churches had been complicit in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people … simply by not speaking up.
We are faced with countless opportunities in the workplace every day to speak up about decisions, people, products, and strategies that fall short of God’s “good, perfect, and pleasing will” for our teammates, customers, organizations, and society (Rom. 12:2). But speaking up is hard — by speaking up, we risk our relationships, safety, reputation, and position. No doubt, the stakes are high.
There are few who understand the dangers of speaking up better than the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 61:8-9, God highlights four internal postures necessary for speaking up when the stakes are high. Speaking up from this inner place will renew, rebuild, and restore what is hurting around us (Is 61:4).
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
- Sense of pain. “I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” God felt a deep grief for the injury and injustice the Jewish people were experiencing and wrote it down for all to read. Having a sense of pain is acknowledging the potential long-term damaging effects a decision could have on teammates, customers, the organization, or society … and making it public. It is not only being aware of your own interests, but being compassionately connected to the interests of all the other stakeholders at the same time.
- Practice of hope. “For I, the Lord, love justice.” God worked out of a conviction for what is good and right, driven by a love for God’s will to be done “on earth as in heaven” (Matt 6: 10). Practicing hope is not about working from a place of deep anger, resentment, or cynicism, but from a place of awe and wonder over God’s will and expectancy for his return to “renew all things” (Rev. 21:5). In other words, be known for what you are for, not just what you are against.
- Long memory. “In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” Isaiah remembered the covenant of which he and his people are a part. God’s covenant with Abraham was that, through his people, all the nations on earth will be blessed (Gen 12:2-3). This memory gave Isaiah the values, resiliency, and context needed for speaking up when the stakes are high. We, too, are a part of this same story. The battles we face today are ones we cannot lose because it has already been won for us by Jesus. Short-term success or problems cannot compare to our future inheritance in Jesus (Is 61:7).
- Desire to bless. “Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” The last posture that helps to challenge complacency and pull people into the transformation they need, but do not always recognize, is the desire to bless. The nations surrounding God’s people experienced and valued the way Israel had been blessed. Being effective in discussion when the stakes are high is making sure that those who are listening to you believe that you are speaking up in order to bless — meaning you share a common purpose and you care about their goals, interests, and values. Once they feel the “safety” of your blessing, they are more likely to listen to you.
What about you? Which posture do you need to work on so that you have the courage to speak up when the stakes are high? What can you do in the next week to help you adopt that posture?