1: “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?”
This question likely runs through our conscious or unconscious mind when selecting a career or deciding on a job.
This thinking leads doctors to practice medicine “not primarily to relieve suffering, but to make a living—the cure of the patient is something that happens on the way,” author Dorothy Sayers observes. “Lawyers accept briefs not because they have a passion for justice, but because the law is the profession which enables them to live.”
There is, however, a different, counter-intuitive question we may want to consider instead, Timothy Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
“How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?”
Why ask this question? Because doing so will likely “lead us to a more sustainable motivation for discipline and excellence at work,” Tim writes.
“If the point of work is to serve and exalt ourselves, then our work inevitably becomes less about the work and more about us,” he notes. “Our aggressiveness will eventually become abuse, our drive will become burnout, and our self-sufficiency will become self-loathing.
“But if the purpose of work is to serve and exalt something beyond ourselves, then we actually have a better reason to deploy ou talent, ambition, and entrepreneurial vigor—and we are more likely to be successful in the long run, even by the world’s definition.”
2: Tim builds on this idea by reminding us that “something can be a vocation or calling only if some other party calls [us] to do it, and [we] do it for their sake rather than for [our] own. Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others. And that is exactly how the Bible teaches us to view work.”
He suggests, “this revolutionary way of looking at work gives all work a common and exalted purpose: to honor God by loving our neighbors and serving them through our work.”
That’s next level.
Writing after World War II, Dorothy Sayers observed how many British men and women came to a similar understanding during the difficult days of the War. “The reason why men often find themselves happy and satisfied in the army,” she notes, “is that for the first time in their lives they found themselves doing something, not for the pay, which is miserable, but for the sake of getting the things done.”
Her observation challenges our modern thinking that work is simply a means to earn money.
“The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done [itself],” Dorothy notes. “I believe there is a Christian doctrine of work, very closely related to the doctrines of the creative energy of God and the divine image in man.”
3: Writer Lester DeKoster believes work is indispensable for human beings: “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others . . . in which others make themselves useful to us.”
Look at the chair we are sitting in right now, he suggests. Could we have made it ourselves? “How [would we] get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber and roads to drive on from place to place?
“In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! . . . If we . . . worked not forty but one-hundred-forty hours per week we couldn’t make ourselves from scratch even a fraction of all the goods and services that we call our own. [Our] paycheck turns out to buy us the use of far more than we could possibly make for ourselves in the time it takes us to earn the check. . . . work. . . yields far more in return upon our efforts than our particular jobs put in.”
Or, imagine if everyone stopped working.
“What happens?” Lester asks. “Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from the shelves, gas dries up at the pumps, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end, utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around campfires, sleeping in caves, clothed in raw animal hides.”
The difference between a wilderness and culture? Work. Simply work.
“There may be no better way to love your neighbor, whether you are writing parking tickets, software, or books, than to simply do your work,” Tim suggests.
Reflection: How is my work useful to others? Do I see my work as a calling?
Action: Discuss with my spouse, a colleague, or a friend.