How Your Faith Affects Your Work
I’ve had some busy people pick up Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, look at the subtitle, and ask: “OK, so, in a nutshell, how does God’s work connect to our work?” Always a good exercise for an author, to be asked to explain your book in just a few minutes! Here are four ways Christian faith influences and shapes our work.
First, the Christian faith gives us a moral compass, an inner GPS giving us ethical guidance that takes us beyond merely the legal aspects or requirements in any situation. A Christian on the board of a major financial institution—recently publicly embarrassed by revelations of corruption—told me about a closed door meeting there between top executives. Someone said, “We have to restore moral values.” Immediately someone asked, “Whose values? Who gets to define what is moral?” And there’s our problem.
There once was a habitus of broadly felt moral intuitions that governed much behavior in our society. It went well beyond the legal. Much of the ruthlessness, the lack of transparency, and lack of integrity that characterizes the marketplace and many other professions today come because consensus on those moral intuitions has collapsed. But Christians working in those worlds do have solid ethical guidance and could address through personal example the values-vacuum that has now been recognized by so many.
Second, your Christian faith gives you a new spiritual power, an inner gyroscope, that keeps you from being overthrown by either success, failure, or boredom. Regarding success and failure, the gospel helps Christians find their deepest identity not in our accomplishments but who we are in Christ. This keeps our egos from inflating too much during seasons of prosperity, and it prevents bitterness and despondency during times of adversity.
But while some jobs seduce us into over-work and anxiety, others tempt us to surrender to drudgery, only “working for the weekend,” doing just what is necessary to get by when someone is watching. Paul calls that “eye-service” (Colossians 3:22–24) and charges us to think of every job as working for God, who sees everything and loves us. That makes high-pressure jobs bearable and even the most modest work meaningful.
Third, the Christian faith gives us a new conception of work as the means by which God loves and cares for his world through us. Look at the places in the Bible that say that God gives every person their food. How does God do that? It is through human work—from the simplest farm girl milking the cows to the truck driver bringing produce to market to the local grocer. God could feed us directly but he chooses to do it through work.
There are three important implications of this. First, it means all work, even the most menial tasks, has great dignity. In our work we are God’s hands and fingers, sustaining and caring for his world. Secondly, it means one of the main ways to please God in our work is simply to do work well. Some have called this “the ministry of competence.” What passengers need first from an airline pilot is not that she speaks to them about Jesus but that she is a great, skillful pilot. Third, this means that Christians can and must have deep appreciation for the work of those who work skillfully but do not share our beliefs.
Fourth, the Christian faith gives us a new world-and-life view that shapes the character of our work. All well-done work that serves the good of human beings pleases God. But what exactly is “the common good”?
There are many work tasks that do not require us to reflect too much on that question. All human beings need to eat, and so raising and providing food serves people well. But what if you are an elementary school teacher, or a playwright? What is good education (i.e. what should you be teaching children)? What kinds of plays should you write (i.e. what kinds of stories do people need)? The answers to these questions will depend largely on how you answer more fundamental questions—what is the purpose of human life? What is life about? What does a good human life look like? It is unavoidable that many jobs will be shaped by our conscious or semi-conscious beliefs about those issues. So, finally, a Christian must think out how his or her faith will distinctly shape their work.
How wonderful that the gospel works on every aspect of us—mind, will, and feelings—and enables us to both deeply appreciate the work of non-believers and yet aspire to work in unique ways as believers. Putting all of these four aspects together, we see that being a Christian leads us to see our work not as merely a way to earn money, nor as primarily a means of personal advancement, but a truly a calling—to serve God and love our neighbor.
December 4, 2012.