Career vs Calling: Your work matters (Part II)
In part one of this two-part blog series, we discussed two of the three questions we set out to answer: 1) Why do you want to work and 2) Why is it so hard to work?
In part two we are going to look at the question of - how can we overcome the difficulties of work and find satisfaction in it through the gospel?
What Hope Is There
Before we dive too deeply into answering the third question we must first recognize that nothing, including humans, will be put perfectly right until the Day of Christ (Philippians 3:20). Until then, all of creation groans (Romans 8:22). So no matter how close to right we think we can make things work here in this lifetime, we will still be no where near our God-created potential.
But in the meantime, there are four specific ways that the gospel gives us hope in our current, earthly work:
- The gospel provides an alternate story line for our work.
- The gospel gives us a richer conception of work - as partnering with God in His love to care for the world.
- The gospel gives us a new moral compass.
- The gospel radically changes our motives.
An Alternate Story Line
No matter what walk of life a person may be in or what religion we might or might not follow, all of us are acting out a story, or worldview. The peculiar thing is that all of us assume we're right, all of us assume we're the protagonist, and all of us believe that the world would be a little better if everyone acted more like us. Right? Otherwise we wouldn't do the things we do or live the way we live.
Each worldview, whether good or bad, must be able to answer these three basic questions:
- How are things supposed to be?
- What is the main problem with how things are?
- What is the solution and how can it be obtained?
The Christian worldview offers a truly remarkable answer to these three questions. It briefly goes like this:
- The whole world was created for good.
- The whole world is fallen - everything has been affected by sin.
- The whole world is going to be redeemed - nothing exists that there is no hope for!
The gospel is the true story that God made a good world that was marred by sin and evil but through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he redeemed it at an infinite cost to himself so that one day he will return to renew all of creation. He will restore absolute peace and end injustice once and for all.
The vast implications of this Christian worldview should affect everything we do; especially our work!
In short, don't think of a Christian worldview as only doing things that are overtly Christian. Instead, think of the gospel as a set of glasses through which you look at everything else in the world.
A New Conception Of Work
Everyone, both Christian and not, participates in God's creation through work. This means that if God's creation is to be well cared for and to continue on, it partly depends on the work of those who do not know Him! This is exactly why God blesses the world with common grace. Common grace (which is beyond the scope of this article) is the idea that God gives talents and skills to non-believers that are at least just as good as the talents and skills that he gives to those who love Him. As Matthew 5:45 succinctly states - "[Our Father] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous".
What this means is that we have to embrace and engage those who don't share our beliefs in our work in order for our work to be fruitful. It's not an "Us vs. Them" kind of problem. It's just "Us" when it comes to caring for God's creation.
As Keller intelligently points out in the book - Sin means that believers are never as good as our true worldview should make us. Grace means that unbelievers are never as messed up as their false worldview should make them.
A New Moral Compass
Most religions, including Christianity, teach four central virtues: justice, courage, temperance, and prudence. But as Thomas Aquinas first noted, what sets Christianity apart is faith, hope and love.
The Christian teaching of love was, and still is, revolutionary. Things like loving your enemies and forgiving your persecutors were concepts from another world! So what if instead of approaching our next potential job and asking ourselves, "What am I going to get out of this?" we instead asked "How can I love others better through this position?". Wow!
There are two main driving forces that should enable us to learn how to love others through our work.
First, is that we have a different source of guidance than the world has. The world is guided by profit, success, legacy. But we are guided by the Holy Spirit. We are not guided by the Holy Spirit in some magical kind of way but rather He makes Jesus Christ a living, brilliant reality that is constantly transforming our character. Giving us new courage, humility, boldness, contentment!
Secondly, we have a different audience. Ephesians 6:5-9 clearly spells out how we are to conduct ourselves as employees. Keep in mind that as you read that passage, a slave during the time the Bible was written is very different of what we think of as a slave today. You can safely substitute the word "slave" in this passage with "employee" and "masters" with "bosses". Anyway, verse 7 says "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people". When we work, we are serving the Lord, not just our bosses! What a privilege to work!
A New Power For Work
If I'm being completely honest with myself, I admit that I sometimes struggle with having to feel productive all the time at work in order to get some kind of satisfaction through work. The hard part about it is that the world calls this "drive" but the Bible identifies it as an idol and therefore sin.
There are three main ways that people try to find a sense of self through work:
- Productivity (that's me) - Leads to burn out
- Success - Also leads to burn out in a slightly different way
- Paycheck (so they can enjoy their "real life" after work) - turns work into a pointless grid
The combination of these three things is what Keller calls the work under the work.
The work under the work is the constant turmoil we self-create in order to find some kind of meaning in our work. This unrest is completely unnecessary though and, as we've already pointed out, leads to dissatisfaction in your work.
This unrest, as we showed in part 1 of this blog post, is a problem that the world really doesn't have an answer for. It's typically treated with self-improvement techniques or relaxation techniques that often involve getting away from your work!
As Christians though, we have a new power that compels us to work. Paul highlights this in Romans 12. He starts out by saying "In view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God". What Paul means exactly is that we have freedom under God's mercy, but that freedom is not be squandered on ourselves or our own interests. Rather, we are to live completely selflessly, dying each day to our own interests, as an offering to God.
Paul later goes on to tell us exactly how we go about this. "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.". The Greek word for zeal communicates both a sense of diligence and urgency. If you work with urgency but not diligence, you end up becoming frenetic. If you work with diligence but not urgency, then you end up just slowly plodding along with no passion. Only a combination of both is fit for Kingdom work!
Notice also this phrase, spiritual fervor. The Greek literally translates as "as to your spirit boiling". Paul is being very clear that God's work is to be done with emotion, discipline and urgency.
Paul is not asking us to do something that has never been done before. This is how it was with Jesus. He set Himself apart, lost everything, endured everything to obtain His goal of our salvation. His passion was for you and for His Father, not for Himself!
Now obviously it is not our place or within our capabilities to live a perfect life like Jesus did, to take away the sin of the world but God does ask us humans to seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17). These are the things we should be striving to accomplish in our work! Our power to work does not come from within, it does not come from a salary or title or reward. Our power to work comes from the fact that we are sinners redeemed by Grace and have been personally asked by the creator of the universe to take care of His world! What a privilege to work!
My charge to Restoration Church (including myself) is to work not just to benefit yourself, your family, or even your community. These are all good things. But also work to the benefit of your field of work itself! Our goal should not just simply be to do good work but to increase the human race's capacity to do what you do! Show the world a better, richer, more skillful way to do what your industry does!
This blog series only touches on the many, deep topics surrounding work that are discussed in Keller's Every Good Endeavor. There are so many things that I wanted to jump in to but just didn't have the space or time to do that. If anything in this blog series resonated with you, I would strongly encourage you to grab a copy. I have one sitting right here, let me know if you'd like to borrow it.