How Then Should We Work? 2

imagesHugh Whelchel points out two lies that together define “success” in our culture in How Then Should We Work?

The first is, “If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be.”  The second is, “You can be the best in the world.”  Put the two together, and you have this message: you achieve success when you work hard to be the best in the world in whatever you choose to do.  But this definition of success — “being the master of your own destiny” — is an idol.  Whelchel quotes Tim Keller:

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are God, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength and performance.  To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you.  You are supreme.

The Biblical alternative, drawn from the parable of the talents according to Whelchel, is to define success as being faithful with the talents we are given by God.  And we should all “feel God’s pleasure when we are faithful to our calling.”


Work in the Spirit 26

imgresMiroslav Volf concludes Work in the Spirit by stating, “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, hints at the same, referencing Dorothy Sayers who once said “the worker’s first duty is to serve the work.”

Volf comes to this conclusion by examining “human nature as God desires it to be.”

If the purpose of human life is either reflection (as in much of philosophical tradition) or worship (as in much of Christian tradition), then work can have only instrumental value.  One works in order to keep alive, and one lives in order to think or worship.  But if work is a fundamental dimension of human existence, then work cannot have only an instrumental value.  If God’s purpose for human beings is not only for them to ensure that certain states of affairs come about (the cultivation and preservation of the Garden of Eden) but that these states of affairs are created through human work (tilling and keeping), then work cannot be only a means to life whose purpose exists fully in something outside work, but must be considered an aspect of the purpose of life itself (emphasis in the original).  

Therefore, “if I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end it itself.”  We should “not turn a fundamental aspect of life [that is, work] into a mere means of life.

This is very much contrary to how we often perceive work.  We strive “to produce things most efficiently [and are] not interested in work at all, but in the product of work.”  “The unreachable ideal” that we nonetheless strive foolishly for is “to have the product without the work.”  But the original design for work was not so.  “Human beings are called to achieve something efficiently as well as gifted to enjoy the process of achieving it.” And we were intended to work “without inconvenience” and “as it were, in play and with the greatest delight.”

So we come to Volf’s conclusion again: “neither work nor the product of work should be a mere means but should also be ends in themselves.”  This means:

…every good worker goes out of herself and loses herself in her work.  Without such “self-forgetfulness,” in which the inborn egoism that twists everything into means for our ends loosens its grip on us, there is no true joy in work.  The opposition between the self-forgetfulness in work and self-realization through work is only apparent.  Just as “everything else” will be added to us when we seek the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), so will self-realization be added to us when we seek good work, when we serve others by self-forgetful, enjoyable work that does not violate our personhood.

Eric Liddell: Pure Gold 2

imgresDavid McCasland in Eric Liddell: Pure Gold says, “[f]or Eric, there was a great feeling of joy [for winning the gold in 400 meter race in the 1924 Paris Olympics] but no sense of receiving God’s blessing for refusing to run on Sunday.  He had won — that’s all.  Decisions based on principle needed no circumstantial vindication.”  Indeed, he was a man who understood sabbath, who was not enslaved to his work even when the work held out the possibility of an Olympic gold in a 100 meter race.

Do you know what else?  As Tim Keller put it, he was not running to chase away his sense of insignificance.  “It never occurred to him that he was the only member of the British team to have won two medals in individual races.  Part of what endeared him to others was his ability to enjoy his success while being completely detached from any sense that he was responsible for it.”

Business for the Common Good 2

imgresIn Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong & Scott Rae, as do John Knapp and Tim Keller, see a problem with the commonly held, yet unbiblical, sacred-secular divide. “Ministry” means “service.”  “To have a ministry simply means to be in service to God.”  “Business is ministry, the work of God in the world.”  And “[a]ll of us are in full-time ministry if we are followers of Christ, and we entered full-time service/ministry at the time we came to faith.”

Yet I fear this mode of thinking is too ingrained, especially among the “ministers.”

Take a look at this wonderful piece in which its writer, Drew Dyck, affirms “all vocations are sacred.”  He “applaud[s] this move towards a more holistic understanding of vocation.”  Yet, in the next paragraph, the writer says “[l]et’s not forget to also honor the call to full-time ministry,” referring to pastors and missionaries in contrast to every other vocation.

I am certain the writer did not mean to imply only being a full-time pastor or missionary is being in “full-time ministry.”  But that’s precisely the problem.  We use the term “ministry” so consistently to refer solely to church activities that it is hard for us to grasp everything, including business, is ministry.

Every Good Endeavor 17

imgresTim Keller is at his pastoral best in the last chapter of Every Good Endeavor where he sharply diagnoses how, when we work without the gospel’s power, we are not “merely doing the work that draws the salary” but also “working to chase away [our] sense of insignificance.”

We are too often driven by acedia which, according to Dorothy Sayers, means “a life driven by mere cost-benefit analysis of ‘what’s in it for me,’” contrary to what its translated version, “sloth,” connotes.  In fact, a person “characterized by acedia…does not necessarily look lazy at all.”

Keller exhorts his readers:

Instead of working out of the false passion of acedia, which is born of selfishness, you are working out of true passion, which is born of selflessness.  You are adopted into God’s family, so you already have your affirmation.  You are justified in God’s sight, so you have nothing to prove.  You have been saved through a dying sacrifice, so you are free to be a living one.  You are loved ceaselessly, so you can work tirelessly in response to a quiet inner fullness.

He points to two examples.

One is Eric Liddell who, as portrayed in Chariots of Fire, declares: “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”  The other is John Coltrane, who after his experience of the grace of God in 1957, was freed to make music “for the music’s sake, the listener’s sake, and God’s sake.”

Tim Keller concludes with these words:

You can accept gladly whatever level of success and accomplishment God gives you in your vocation, because he has called you to it.  You can work with passion and rest, knowing that ultimately the deepest desires of your heart — including your specific aspirations for your earthly work — will be fulfilled when you reach your true country, the new heavens and new earth.  So in any time and place you can work with joy, satisfaction, and no regrets.  You, too, can say, “Nunc dimittis.”  (That is, “I could die happy now,” the words of Simeon upon seeing the Messiah.)

Every Good Endeavor 16

imgresOne by-product of my sustained reading and reflection on faith and work has been an inkling to find other Christians at my church to reflect together on these issues.

Such a gathering would help us engage in “theological and ethical reflection on our field of work,” a task that is harder than simply focusing on our own jobs and “merely seek[ing] to work with personal integrity, skill and a joyful heart” according to Tim Keller in Every Good Endeavor.

“Christians are to think persistently and deeply about the shape of work in their field and whether (in biblical terms) it accords as well as possible with human well-being and with justice,” Tim Keller continues.  Once we do this, and “only then will [we] be ready to make the changes if and when the opportunity presents itself.”