1: Back in 1989, a seminary professor named Dr. Timothy Keller began meeting with 15 people in an apartment in the Upper East Side of New York City.
They were gathering to pray about starting a new church in the heart of Manhattan for professional New Yorkers. This group was concerned that new believers were finding it difficult to find a church in New York they could attend that was open to people seeking questions.
In time, Tim agreed to move his young family to New York City to start Redeemer Church. Over the next 30 years, the congregation grew from the initial group of 15 to more than 5,000 congregants. Along the way, he also wrote 31 books, including several New York Times bestsellers.
From the outside, his achievements are impressive. And yet, according to Tim, it hasn’t been an easy ride.
“At times staff members have protested that my vision was outpacing my ability to lead it or their ability to implement it,” he writes in his book Every Good Endeavor.
“Key leaders in my congregation have moved out of town just as I was ready to entrust some part of the church into their care,” he remembers. “I’m grateful to God for the glimpses He’s given me of what work was intended to be. But daily I am aware of the maddening encroachment of thorns and thistles in the patch of the world that has been entrusted to me for this season.”
2: Life isn’t easy. And work isn’t easy.
Christians believe they know the reason why. It starts with Adam and Eve. Everything changed when they disobeyed God, ate from the Tree of Life, and were banished from the Garden of Eden.
God tells Eve: “I will make your pains in child-bearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” (Genesis 3:16)
He says to Adam: “…cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:17–19)
Tim believes this ancient text “could not be more relevant and practical to life today: It goes for the jugular, as if to say, ‘Do you find the two great tasks in life—love and work—to be excruciatingly hard? This explains why.'”
Theologian W.R. Forrester writes, “in language after language the same word is used for toil and child-bearing, e.g.’ labor’ and ‘travail.'”
The pain of love, marriage, and raising childing is similar to the pain we experience at work. Like childbirth, “work, even when it bears fruit, is always painful, often miscarries, and sometimes kills us,” Tim notes.
3: What’s the cause of all this pain? Sin.
“Since the beginning of time, there has been a wide variety of explanations for why this is so and what to do about it,” Tim writes. “At the heart of the Bible’s account is the concept of sin: Man’s rebellion against God and our resulting alienation from him. The fall of Adam and Eve (and, therefore, the rest of the human race) into sin has been disastrous. It has unraveled the fabric of the entire world–and in no area as profoundly as our work.
Is work itself a curse? No.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, we learn we were made for work. Here and here.
“While God blessed work to be a glorious use of our gifts and his resources to prosper the world, it is now also cursed because of mankind’s fall,” Tim writes. “Work exists now in a world sustained by God but disordered by sin.”
Welcome to work: Pain. Conflict. Envy. Fatigue. We’ve all likely experienced these emotions at work.
We know that no matter how hard we work, we will never achieve all of our goals.
And even when we are delighted with the quality of our work, we “may be bitterly disappointed with the results,” Tim observes, finding “that circumstances conspire to neutralize any real impact from our project.”
We’ve “mastered the skills of farming, but famine or flood or war come in and destroy our harvest,” he notes.
“Everyone knows that this is a broken, troubled world—shot through with sickness and death, injustice and selfishness, natural disasters, and chaos,” Tim observes.
So do we give up? Or give up hope?
No, by understanding how sin distorts our work, Tim believes “we can hope to counteract its effects and salvage some of the satisfaction God planned for our work.”
Reflection: What are my expectations about work?
Action: Discuss with a family member, colleague, or friend.