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Surviving work politics

Renew / Work Life
Jesus was plagued by politics. Everywhere that He went, there were people who didn’t like His agenda and spelt a lot of time gossiping, maligning Him and plotting for his downfall. Does this sound anything like our workplaces? What can we learn about dealing with office politics?

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文在职场政治中存活 繁體中文 > 在職場政治中存活)


In any occupation that involves people, we will find co-workers or supervisors with their own agendas, and very often, their agendas won’t be the same as ours. There may be ‘fiefdoms’ and cliches; people who will band together for “power”, hide behind corporate policies, be manipulative or tell lies in order to get their way.

Rising above the politics

Jesus saw through people’s personal agendas very clearly but didn’t take their behaviour personally. In fact, one of the last things He said while crucified on the cross was; … “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

And He tells us; But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:44,46) 

Here are some things to remember about politics at work.

1. It’s not personal, it just feels that way

Work politics is usually not about us personally, but a result of the work culture, the mindset of our supervisors or co-workers, or our job positions. If another person were in our position, they would face similar challenges.

2. Everyone is coping too

People do what they think is the “best” or “only” way to get ahead. Just as we try to cope with work politics, those who are stirring up office politics are also trying to cope, only it’s often tied to their pride or insecurities. If we put our emotions aside for a moment, we may realise that “nasty” co-workers deserve our empathy more than our revulsion.

3. Why are we struggling anyway?

Beyond the obvious answer that “politics makes work unnecessarily stressful or unpleasant”, we should ask ourselves why we feel offended, angry, anxious or resentful in the first place. Is it our sense of pride, entitlement, security or self-esteem that is under threat? Is it all tied to work?

4. Politics becomes a problem if we place our faith in our work or ourselves

Remember that this life is like a vapour and that our true calling is a royal priesthood and God’s special possession. Take a few minutes to reflect on that. Then look at the weight of the office politics and see if it is still a heavy burden and concern.

Work politics becomes a problem if we place our faith in ourselves or our work, instead of God and our true calling.

James 4:14-15 NIV  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

1 Peter 2:9 NIV  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Remember God’s Word

Office politics can indeed be painful and it’s not something that can be dealt with overnight. It threatens anyone’s sense of self and financial security. To survive it, we need to remember our Heavenly Father’s providence and goodness and learn to step outside our own frustrations to look at our work situations through God’s eyes.

Here are some helpful verses:

1. Whatever our position, we are called to serve God 100% and not people

Ephesian 6:7-8 NIV  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

2. We are to be shrewd but innocent

Matthew 10:16 NIV  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

3. Choose the higher way, do what’s good and honourable in the face of injustice

1 Peter 2:12,15 NIV  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 

Romans 12:21 NIV  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

4. There is no need to retaliate

1 Peter 2:23 NIV  When they hurled their insults at him (Jesus), he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

5. There is no need to resort to grumbling or disputing

Philippians 2:14-15 NIV  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 

6. Leave justice to God and His timing

Hebrews 4:13 NIV  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

7. Do not let the fear of people intimidate us, turn to God

Matthew 10:28 NIV  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Isaiah 41:10 NIV  fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

8. Before we ask for an escape route, we need to ask Jesus about His purpose for our situations

John 17:15 NIV  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

9. Remember, we are called to love, pray for and bless our “enemies” anyway

Romans 12:12,14 NIV  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:20 NIV  On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Lastly, we can meditate on Psalm 37 from David. David was chased down and hunted by his “boss”, King Saul, who wanted to destroy him in order to keep his power to himself. David never allowed himself to be intimidated but patiently waited for God’s plans for him to unfold. King David eventually led his people to greater prominence than his predecessor, all because he chose to honour God first and not man.

Psalm 37 NIV
Do not fret because of those who are evil
 or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither,
 like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
 dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord,
 and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
 trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
 your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
 and wait patiently for him;
 do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
 when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
 do not fret—it leads only to evil.

For those who are evil will be destroyed,
 but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.


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