Here are four big ideas from his book that go to the heart of the biblical and Reformation understanding of faith and work. If you reflect on these ideas, you begin to see how truly transformative they are.
- One of the chief insights of the Reformation is that we can (and must) find God in everyday life, not just in spiritual contemplation and devotion.
- We can find God in everyday life because he created it and is Lord of all life.
- This means that daily work is not a hinderance to the Christian life, but a necessary ingredient of it. We can find God in our work and work with him in it, as co-workers.
- God will judge your work.
It’s called “Winning at Work.” In it, Chip hits on two different types of work we do. First, there is work we do simply because we have to. This is work as a means to an end. Second, there is work we do because we want to. This is work as an end in itself.
Many of us have much of the first kind of work in our jobs and in our lives. There will always be some of that. But to be most effective (and fulfilled) in our work, we need to move our roles to consist more and more of the second kind of work.
Here is a great summary from the New Canaan Society newsletter:
Chip asked us to remember when the idea of work became real for us. For Chip it was the chores he was assigned as a child: that was work as a means to an end, work you have to do to get what you want. But there was other “work” Chip voluntarily embraced growing up—constructing forts, putting together pushcarts, building treehouses. Lots of sweat and effort, but no obligation. This is work as an end in and of itself, work you want. What if you think of your work on this continuum, somewhere between the chores and the treehouse? Where are you most days? When Chip found himself stuck on the chores end of the spectrum, it was a signal that he wasn’t winning at work anymore, and that he needed to consider significant change.
Everything you do can become an agent for good. The activities of our everyday lives are themselves part of the good works God created us for in Christ (Ephesian 2). And, therefore, they have great meaning. Don’t just try to get things done; seek to serve others to the glory of God in everything you do.
Doing good work also doesn’t just happen accidentally. We have to be intentional in making plans for the welfare of others. And then we have to be proactive in carrying those plans out.
Note Ephesians 5:15–17: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
We are not to breeze through life, but to “look carefully” at how we walk. We don’t just walk through a store with our eyes closed, buying whatever we touch, and expect it to turn into a wardrobe. Nor should we do that with our time and opportunities. We are to “make the most” of the time. The time doesn’t make the most of itself; we are to take back the time from poor uses and turn it to good uses.
Let us plan to do good with the time we’ve been given today.
For more, see Chapter 4 and 5 in What’s Best Next.
What Does God Want Done?
Good works. What God wants done are good works.
We see this right in Matthew 5:16, where Jesus sums up for us the entire purpose of our lives: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
That is the purpose of the Christian life summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives—what God wants from us—is to do good for others, to the glory of God.
We also see this in one of the most important passages on productivity in the Bible—Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Likewise, Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And Jesus says in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Being Fruitful in Good Works
Hence, good works are part of the purpose of our salvation. In one sense we have been doubly created for good works. God created us to do good works, as we see in the creation mandate in Genesis, and here we see that we are also re-created in Christ to do good works.
Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works.
Hence, we can define productivity in this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works.
This is a great TEDx talk by Ryan Hartwig, co-author of Teams that Thrive. It’s called “The Myth of Meaningful Work.”
Does this mean that we are wrong-headed in wanting our work to be meaningful?
Not in the slightest. What he means is this: meaning is not something first of all found in the job. Rather, meaning is something you bring to the job. We make our work meaningful. We can (and must) bring meaning to our jobs.
Meaning is in the way the work is done, and therefore any task — whether it is regarded as “meaningful” by society or not — can be done with incredible significance.
In fact, it used to be that most people did experience a deep connection between their work and meaning. So what happened?
We changed the way we do work as a society in the quest to utterly maximize efficiency. The result was that we turned work, which is in itself meaningful, into alienating labor. We forced people to start doing work in ways that take the meaning out of their tasks by reducing the space for personal initiative and contribution and introducing more control-oriented management practices.
Of course, as he points out, there were many excellent benefits of scientific management. It really did increase efficiency, and that was needed. But the principles were taken too far.
What we need to do is find ways to help people overcome the gap between work and meaning that has been imposed so often not from the tasks themselves, but from the way in which we make people do them.
The talk is a great overview of these things, and closes with four suggestions for helping people bring meaning back into their work.
That’s the subject of my post at The Gospel Project yesterday, Work and the Kingdom of God. I talk about avoiding the two errors of compartmentalization and spiritual weirdness, and how the biblical path is love at work (and what that means).
God does everything he does with excellence, and Jesus surely never engaged in shoddy work in his time of working as a carpenter before his public ministry. Therefore, we should not settle for shoddy work in our occupations, either.
Yet, because much Christian teaching on work is still thin and compartmentalized, this often happens. We need to correct this by affirming that we are not to compartmentalize our work and our faith, as though God’s call on us applies only in the area of church and our personal lives. Further, if we were able to recapture the compelling biblical vision of work in the church, it would do wonders for the effectiveness of our testimony to the gospel before the world.
I love how Dorothy Sayers makes these points in Why Work:
How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.
What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly — but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? [Great point! Shoddy and careless workmanship is an insult to God because it misrepresents his nature and pervasive concern for all areas of life.]
No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could any one believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in her sermons and in her little books of devotion, the church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman.
And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as the work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.
Especially in a challenging economy, some people take the perspective that you should work whatever job you can, because the most important thing is to make money and earn a living from your work.
This perspective can sometimes sounds virtuous at first. And, of course, earning a living is indeed an important and essential component of work. If you can’t earn a living at your work, that turns it into an a-vocation, not a career.
However, there is actually something very un-Christian in that view of work. The problem is that it has turned making money into the chief and leading principle for our work. But that is not to be the case. Making money in your work is only one component among at least two others to which we are to give chief consideration in choosing a job.
That perspective of work outlined above subordinates the equal importance of finding work for which you are a good fit to the cause of financial gain. That is not right. It dehumanizes people and robs them of their ability to find real fulfillment in their work and, ultimately, make their greatest contribution.
The great Christian thinker Dorothy Sayers captures this perfectly in her short essay “Why Work”:
At present we have no clear grasp of the principle that every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature. The employer is obsessed by the notion that he must find cheap labour, and the worker by the notion that the best-paid job is the job for him.
Only feebly, inadequately, and spasmodically do we ever attempt to tackle the problem from the other end, and inquire: What type of worker is suited to this type of work?
People engaged in education see clearly that this is the right end to start from; but they are frustrated by economic pressure, and by the failure of parents on the one hand and employers on the other to grasp the fundamental importance of this approach.
Steve Jobs often said “you need to love what you do.” I’ve seen some Christians stalk down about that, saying things like “well, I have to live in the real world — I can’t afford the luxury of seeking a job that I love.”
But without even knowing it, Steve Jobs was actually reflecting a very Christian view of work. And, as Jobs knew, this is actually the perspective that tends toward the greatest economic success in the long-run as well, for it is impossible to excel over the long-term at work that you don’t enjoy.
Finding work that you love is not a luxury. It is an implication following from the Christian view of work — namely, that work is not only about economic realities, but as Sayers also says, something that should be looked upon “as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.” That reality needs to be upheld right along with the economic purpose of work. Anything else is a truncated view of work, and to say “but I need to live in the real world” is the easy way out and actually lazy.
To those who say “but what if sweeping floors is the only job you can get; shouldn’t you take it?” The answer is, first, the biggest problem with this question is that it seems to assume that there is no one out there who actually likes sweeping floors. But beyond that, most of the time people asking this question are settling too easily. If you are literally going to starve if you don’t sweep floors, then sweep floors. But don’t stop there. While sweeping floors, hold on to your aspirations to find the work that is a good fit for you, and keep looking for it.
Too often, people fall into the fallacy of using economic realities to bludgeon people into giving up their aspirations and dreams. Why do we have to settle so easily for the “either/or”? As in “either you are a dreamer who wants to find the work that fits yourself well, or you can live in the ‘real world’ and do work you hate but earn a living.”
I reject that dichotomy, as all Christians should. It is unloving, un-Christian, contrary to the nature of human beings in the image of God, contrary to the reality that work is intended by God to be more than economic, contrary to God’s very own purposes for our work and, ironically, in the long-run it is also contrary to the legitimate economic aspect of work.
I did not realize until the other day that Dorothy Sayers’s classic, foundational, and fantastic essay on work is online.
This is one of the most helpful articles on work that I’ve read. Keller and many others refer to it often as well.
And, we still need to fulfill the challenge she lays down in it. She says at one point “the Christian church desperately needs a theology of work.” We’ve been doing better in the last ten years (some fantastic efforts are listed below), but don’t let the existence of some great new books on this fool you. We still have a long way to go in actually working this these truths into our hearts and lives.
Here’s one of the best quotes from Sayers’ essay:
It is not right for the Church to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.”
Here are some of the best books that have begun to give us a much better, articulate, and biblically grounded doctrine of work in recent days:
- How then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, by Hugh Whelchel
- Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day, by Paul Rude
- Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, by Tim Keller
- Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, by Tom Nelson
And here are some websites that I highly recommend:
- The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and their blog, Creativity, Purpose, Freedom
- The Acton Institute and their blog.
- Work Matters
Question: What other books and websites would you suggest?
Seth Godin, in a post from about a year ago:
The false choice of mediocrity
Too often, we’re presented with choices that don’t please us. We can pick one lousy alternative or the other. And too often, we pick one.
I was struck by Apple’s choice to put a glass screen on the original iPhone. Just six weeks before it was announced, Steve Jobs decided he wanted a scratchproof glass screen. The thing is, this wasn’t an option. It wasn’t possible, reliable, feasible or appropriately priced. It couldn’t be done with certainty, and almost any other organization would have taken it off the list of appropriate choices.
It was unreasonable.
And that’s the key. Remarkable work is always not on the list, because if it was, it would be commonplace, not remarkable.