Timothy Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor, helps disciples find God’s meaning and purpose in our vocations. God does not call everyone to be in the full time ministry, yet God does call everyone to work with all of our hearts at our jobs. “Whatever you do, put your whole heart and soul into it, as into work done for God, and not merely for men—knowing that your real reward, a heavenly one, will come from God, since you are actually employed by Christ, and not just by your earthly master.” (Colossians 3:23-24, JB Phillips) This blog captures my summary and reflections on the book.
John Coltrane: “During the year 1957, I experienced a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer fuller more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through his grace… May he help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.” A Love Supreme
· Assures me that God cares about everything I do and will listen to my prayers
· Reminds us that God cares about the products we make, the companies we work for, and the customers we serve
· Is good news: “You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope”
· Gives meaning to our work as leaders
o We’re supposed to treat all people and their work with dignity
o We’re to create an environment in which people can flourish and use their God given gifts to contribute to society
Whatever work we do, we express our relationship with God in the way we speak, work, and lead, pointing people to Christ.
“The Leaf by Niggle” by J.R. Tolkien
Niggle knew that he would soon be going on a journey, which ultimately would mean death. However, he determined to paint one great picture from his incredible imagination. Niggle imagined a leaf and then a whole tree and even a landscape beyond the tree with snow-topped mountains. So Niggle acquired a huge canvas and began to paint. His artistic perfectionism combined with his unusually kind heart preventing him from making significant progress on this masterpiece. His good deeds eventually did him in – while rescuing a doctor and his wife from a rainstorm, he became deathly and ill and died after only finishing one leaf – “The Leaf by Niggle” which was framed and hung in the local town museum, though noticed only by a few. When Niggle arrives in heaven, to his surprise he found the entire scene – leaf, tree, landscape, and snow-topped mountains – finished and part of the True Reality that would be enjoyed into eternity!
Without God even our greatest endeavor is completely meaningless toil. However, the God of the Bible promises that True Reality beneath, behind, and beyond our daily reality.
Part 1: God’s Plan for Work
1. The Design of Work. In the beginning, God created, then He rested from His work. Work was not some meaningless toil, but part of God’s divine plan. He passed this work on to man, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Gen 2:15) God delighted in His work! Yet, even in the beginning, God created limits of His work and rested on the 7th day – then commanded man to imitate Him and rest on the Sabbath.
2. The Dignity of Work. The humanistic view of work is demeaning. Plato considered work to demean man to the level of animals. Yet God worked and created man “in His image” to also be a worker. Greeks considered death a friend that rescued us from work; the Bible considers death an enemy (1 Cor 15:26). God gives each person gifts in the form of skills and abilities to play his/her role in creativity, cultivation, and ultimately tending to the needs of the physical universe. There is no room for looking down on anyone in their role as a worker.
3. Work as Cultivation. God gave man a role in creating culture and civilization – to “be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it.” God’s plan for all work is creative and assertive, rearranging God-given materials and creation in a way that helps the world and people to thrive and flourish. The word “culture” comes from the word “cultivation.” God doesn’t make junk and neither should we. We “bring order out of chaos, create new entities, exploit the pattern of creation, and interweave the human community.”
4. Work as Service. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul tells the Christian that it is unnecessary to change what they are currently doing in life. 1 Cor 7:17 says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and which God has called him.” God calls us and assigns us spiritual gifts to carry out His ministry. The question for each of us becomes, “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” Martin Luther took hold of this truth, rejecting the concept that the only way to serve God was as a monk, but rather that “we are all consecrated priests by baptism” as Peter said in 1 Pet 2:9 and John in the Apocalypse said, “You have made us to be kings and priests by your blood.” Therefore each one’s calling is that person’s unique way of living out God’s calling – as a “father, mother, farmer, or milk maid.” Through this mindset, all work becomes a way to love the God who saved us and to serve our neighbor.
Part 2: Our Problems with Work
5. Work Becomes Fruitless. Ever since Paradise was lost, every person feels the fruitlessness of pouring themselves into their work. We were not meant to find our fulfillment in work, but in the God who created us. Only in God’s paradise will our labor find it’s full reality – as Niggle found.
6. Work Becomes Pointless. Eccl 2:17 reminds us that work is meaningless. The “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes writes like a Philosopher, making his point through examining hollow philosophy and ultimately concluding that the only logical choice is to Remember Your Creator.
7. Work Becomes Selfish. As the builders of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 discovered, it is very easy for work to become about “making a name for ourselves,” rather than God. Esther discovered that the purpose of her work was to give up her self to save her people. Jesus gave up his “palace,” choosing God’s will rather than his own, ultimately giving meaning to our lives.
8. Work Reveals Our Idols. It’s no secret that people sacrifice and worship work, success, and just about everything else but God. Our postmodern culture trades the satisfaction of working toward a common good of our civilization for whatever position provides the biggest paycheck. The gospel provides an alternate story line, partnering us with God, directing us with a moral compass, and changing our motivation for our work.
Part 3: The Gospel and Work
9. A New Story for Work. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 Cor 10:31. While most philosophies blame something in the world, Christianity uniquely blames sin for its consequences on the world. The whole world is Good, yet fallen, and destined to be redeemed. The Christian worker finds meaning in this story. Questions we must continue to ask:
a. What’s the story line of my work culture?
b. What are the underlying assumptions about meaning, morality, origin, and destiny?
c. What are the idols? The hopes? The fears?
d. How does my profession retell this story line and what part does the profession itself play in the story?
e. What parts of the dominant worldviews are basically in line with the gospel?
f. What parts are irresolvable without Christ and need to be challenged?
g. How do these stories affect both the form and the content of my work personally?
h. How can I work not just with excellence but also with Christian distinctiveness?
i. What opportunities are there in my profession for a) serving people, b) serving society, c) serving my field of work, d) modeling competence and excellence, and e) sharing Christ?
10. A New Conception of Work. “Whatever you do, do well” Eccl 9:10. “Every good and perfect gift is from above” James 1:17. Even Cyrus (Is 45), a pagan, was anointed with God’s Spirit and chosen for leadership! Common Grace describes that common bond that we should feel with all members of our human race who work in way that builds our culture and civilization, regardless of their beliefs. It is shown by recognizing the good in what they do in contributing to society and appreciating their contributions, even recognizing them as gifts from God. It is how we can recognize and appreciate God-given talent without being condescending or having to qualify our appreciation. This is different than “dualism” that creates a wall separating the sacred from the secular. Instead, our entire lives, integrating our faith and work together under the grace of God. Christians should be the most appreciative of the hands of God behind the work of our colleagues and neighbors!
11. A New Compass for Work. The Christian story overcomes an inherent limitation in ethics. The “very definition of righteous people is that they disadvantage themselves to advantage others, while the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” Thomas Aquinas acknowledged Plato’s four cardinal virtues – justice, courage, temperance, and prudence – as scriptural. Then Aquinas added three unique Christian virtues – faith, hope, and love. Though no one at the end of their life wishes they spent more time at the office, we could imagine at the end of our lives wishing that we had produced more work products that provided an overall benefit to the world that we are leaving behind. Consider the many benefits of the Christian worldview. For example, if it were not for the Christian view of the individual, the philosophy of human rights would never have emerged.
12. New Power for Work. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Col 3:23). Work becomes physically draining when we attempt to build our worth, security, and meaning through work. Productivity and success can burn us out. Living for the weekend so that we can enjoy “real life” turns work into a pointless grind. Dorothy Sayers explains the sin of sloth in her book Creed or Chaos?, as a life driven by “cost-benefit analysis” or “what is in it for me?” Passion must come “in view of God’s mercy” (Rom 12) not from selfish gain. Ultimately, the Christian view of work creates a work-life balance that includes the need for rest and appreciates all work contributions that build our civilization and culture. Ultimately, this view of work appreciates the “True Reality” of Niggles’ leaf and helps us to believe that one day all of our contributions will bear fruit.