“You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud, if you peel it to perfection.” Eric Liddell‘s missionary father in Chariots of Fire

1: February 24, 1989. Captain David Cronin was piloting United Airlines Flight 811 from Honolulu to New Zealand.

“The 747 had climbed to twenty-two thousand feet when the forward cargo door of the jet blew open, tearing a huge hole in the side of the plane,” writes Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

“Nine passengers were immediately sucked out of the plane to their deaths,” he notes.

Flying debris had struck the two engines on the plane’s right side. They were out of commission. The aircraft was 100 miles from land.

David “brought all of his wisdom and thirty-eight years of piloting experience to bear,” Tim notes. “To compensate for the lack of thrust from the two right engines, he struggled to hold the control column steady with his hands while using his feet to put pressure on the control floor rudder to stabilize the plane.”

Because of the gaping hole in the fuselage, the biggest question was how fast to fly. David “slowed the plane as close to the stall speed as possible to keep the air rushing over the plane from further widening the hole,” Tim writes.

The landing would be exceedingly difficult. “The wing flaps used to slow down the plane were not working properly. . . . He would have to land the plane at 195 miles per hour, compared to the normal speed of 170 miles per hour.”

And, because the plane had been fueled with 300,000 pounds of jet fuel before the long flight, the landing gear would collapse upon landing.

So, what happened? Despite all of these challenges, Captain Cronin “made one of the smoothest landings the rest of the crew could remember, amid cheers of the passengers,” Tim writes. “Airline experts called the landing miraculous.”

A few days afterward, an interviewer asked Captain Cronin about his first thoughts following the loss of the cargo door. He responded: “I said a prayer for my passengers momentarily and then got back to business.”

2: The greatest gift the pilot had for his passengers that day was his experience and his judgment.

“The critical issue was this: was he competent enough as a pilot to bring that badly damaged plane in safely?” Tim quotes Lutheran leader and businessman William Diehl, who tells this inspiring story to make an important point: “If the call of the Christian is to participate in God’s ongoing creative process, the bedrock of our ministry has to be competency. We must use our talents in as competent a manner as possible.”

This insight has powerful and wide-ranging implications for how we see our work. All jobs—”not just the ‘helping professions’—are fundamentally ways of loving our neighbor,” Tim writes. We “do not have to do direct ministry or nonprofit charitable work in order to love others through our jobs.”

Our work allows us to connect with the divine in many ways. In doing what we do with excellence, we “discover that the very actions of daily life are spiritual, and enable . . . people to touch God in the world, not shy away from it,” William observes.

To live this way requires us to broaden our perspective. “The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays,” Tim notes.

“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 a good table.”

3: Whatever job or profession we have, we can choose to seek satisfaction from it. The key word here is “choose” because “it will not be subjectively fulfilling unless unless we consciously see and understand our work as a calling to love our neighbor,” Tim writes.

He refers to this idea as the “ministry of competence: If God’s purpose for our jobs is that we serve the human community, then the way to serve God best is to do the job as well as it can be done.”

Too often, as believers, we live disjointed lives. We worship on Sunday. We “live our lives” the rest of the week.

Such a missed opportunity! Instead, we can decide to see our work as God’s calling. We can offer our work to him. “When we do that, we can be sure that the splendor of God radiates through any task,” Tim writes.

The key message? “Our work is our prayer.'”

In the liner notes to his masterpiece A Love Supreme, John Coltrane says it beautifully: “This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How can I choose to see my work as a calling to “love my neighbor”?

Action: Discuss with my spouse, a colleague, or a friend.

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