Unemployment, Safety Net or Trap?
by Robert Johnson
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I stood frozen in a momentary state of paralysis as I listened to the caller speaking on my answering machine. He was offering me a job in a factory that I didn’t want. Oh sure, I had politely told him to call me in front of my wife just a few days earlier in a token effort to sound interested, but I wasn’t.
You see, I had worked in a factory ten years earlier and hated it. So much so that I swore I would never work in one again. However, I did assure my wife when making the decision to leave my previous job that I would take whatever job I could until something else came up more suitable to my desires.
Internally, though I was conflicted because this was certainly not what God and I had agreed upon as I remembered the conversation. For months I had been praying about leaving my fairly prestigious job as an Executive Director and perhaps taking on something in the ministry, but surely this wasn’t it.
To my surprise, in spite of my early reluctance to answer that phone, God did know what he was doing and this job turned into an excellent career change for me for several years and quite a ministry to boot. So what does this all have to do with unemployment?
To many, unemployment benefits are viewed as a life preserver and a bridge between their former employer and their future employer, providing just a small piece of security during those uncertain times. I’m sure many would also agree that the fundamental intention to provide such a service is a good and compassionate gesture by the government.
However, it is within this safety-net that danger lies. Much like the sweet nectar of the Venus Fly Trap, the allure of the weekly paycheck without actual work can be deadly. The very thing that was meant to be a life line, far too often becomes a snare, both in a physical and spiritual sense.
It is probably about this time that I’m sure the passions of my readers have been stirred in either one direction or another, but take heart, I am not writing to you as one on the outside looking in on a problem I know nothing about, nor as a judge. I have in the past myself taken unemployment benefits, albeit for a short period of time.
One of the very first things I notice about receiving weekly benefits was that I became more selective about the type of work I was looking for, my motivation level in which I pursued work dwindled, and my willingness to accept a position that was lower than what I felt I deserved, decreased. Had I continued to use this benefit and mind set, I would probably have never accepted that position which ultimate led to a pretty good career outside of my field, interest level and below my pay grade to start.
Currently, as an employer, I have frequently come across both friends and strangers alike whom I’ve offered jobs to, who have rejected them because their unemployment benefits had not yet run out, or they were not willing to accept a position that was – “taking a pay cut.”
I believe in these decisions, we run the risk of both dishonoring and distrusting God because he is our ultimate provider and not the government. In Matthew 6:31-33 (NIV) Jesus tells us, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
As Christians, our first response to becoming unemployed should be to pray about the decision, ask God what he would have us do and then to go out and work with all diligence at finding another job. The very nature of unemployment can both lessen our dependence on God and drain our motivation and sense of urgency dry.
A further consideration should also be, at what point do extended unemployment benefits become a government handout? While many have become accustomed to such government assistance, it is wise not to linger on that aid a day longer than is necessary.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matt 6:33
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