By / Sep 6

Genesis 1 shows us that God created the world by working. After creating the world, God gave Adam and Eve the “Creation Mandate,” instructing Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and take dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). In this verse, God instituted work as a way for humans to care for creation and steward his gifts. 

Unfortunately, ever since the Fall, the relationship between people and work has been cursed and broken. One of the ways this is evident is in our view of work. Sin has led many of us to see work only as a means of self-fulfillment and individualism instead of a way to serve others. In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller claims that this view of work “crushes people . . . and undermines society itself.” 

As Keller points out, we must look to the Bible to reacquire a biblical view of work. Since Scripture discusses work often, I will focus on three of the major things the Bible says about work.

The Bible says work is part of God’s design for his creation

One common perspective today is that work is a necessary evil. Many people work simply to pay bills while waiting for the weekend, and they despise their jobs. There has been a big push to make life as easy as possible and avoid work. And though much of work is hard, cursed by humanity’s sin (Gen. 3), Keller argues that an avoidance view of work is self-destructive and harmful to society. To move away from an individualistic view of work, we must see how God’s Word demonstrates his good plan for work. 

God’s extensive use of work throughout Genesis shows us that it is part of God’s design for creation. Throughout Genesis 1, God works to craft the universe and declares it “good,” indicating that it’s exactly as he desires. Since all of creation is a direct result of God’s work, we know work is an integral part of creation. Additionally, the Creation Mandate occurs before the Fall. Thus, the introduction of sin did not introduce work; instead, it has affected work with difficulty and fruitless labor. The mandate from God also shows that we are not created merely for leisure and time spent in idleness. Rather, humanity was made to work, cultivate, and create. 

Remembering that work was given to us by God so that we could enrich his creation and reflect his nature is a critical part of renewing our minds and recovering a biblical view of work.

A pattern of work and rest is essential for our well-being

While God created us to work and take care of creation, he also showed that rest is necessary for us to flourish as humans. After working to create the world over six days, God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3). Genesis 2:3 says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in Creation.” God sets the example by taking a rest day after creation, though, unlike us, he does not grow tired and weary (Is. 40:28). And in Exodus 20, he the Israelites to take a day of rest. In verses 8-11, God draws from his examples in creation and establishes the Sabbath as a day of total rest, dedicated to him. 

While we were created to work, we still need time to rest, worship God, and trust in his provision. Resting can counter the tendency many of us have to tie our identities to our work. In a culture such as ours where productivity and busyness are often our ways of defining success, the scriptures continually remind us that we are finite and must rest. Even Christ in his earthly body slept (Mark 4:38). The rhythm of rest and work structures our life and keeps us between the extremes of laziness or idleness on the one hand and frenetic activity on the other. Most importantly, a set pattern of work and rest in our lives teaches us to rest in our God and his work on our behalf. 

Work is a way to serve your community and spread the gospel

The Bible also commands us to use our work to serve others (Matt. 23:11). And Christians have been commanded to share the gospel and make disciples throughout the world (Matt. 28:19-20). God has called each of us into specific careers and paths, and our jobs are where we spend most of our time interacting with our community. This means, as Andy Mills has argued, that if we have a biblical view of work, we should be doing our work to the best of our ability so that what we produce can serve others and represent Christ well (Col. 3:23). Focusing on serving others with our work, advancing the kingdom, and glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31) can break us out of the self-serving mindset that sees work just as a means of self-fulfillment and enrichment.

The Bible is clear that work is a good part of God’s plan for creation. Through our work, we steward God’s creation and serve our neighbors. At the same time, we weren’t created to work nonstop. God has established a rhythm of work and rest that we might know he is the source of our provision and strength. We can fight the sinful tendencies to despise our work and to use it as a means of individualistic self-enrichment by embracing it as a gift from God. May he strengthen us to work hard for his kingdom and to rest in his care.

By / Aug 25

Scripture calls Christians to glorify God in all elements of life (1 Cor. 10:31). However, connecting our faith to our vocation can often be a challenge. Furthermore, some Christians work in a nonvocational ministry setting while sensing a call to full-time ministry. What does it look like to glorify God in our workplace? And how can it prepare those going into vocational ministry?

I interviewed Param Yonzon, a seminary student and pastoral intern who works full-time for a corporate insurance firm. Yonzon shared how he lives his faith out in his workplace and why he believes his role at his firm has made him a better minister of the gospel. The lessons he shares are important and applicable whether you plan to enter full-time ministry or not. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your vocation.

I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am 24 years old, and I’ve been living in New York for seven years now. I originally came to New York in 2014 for my undergraduate degree at St. John’s University. I studied risk management and insurance, and I ended up getting a job at Marsh McLennan, a global insurance brokerage firm. 

I came to faith when I was 20 years old, in my sophomore year in college. I was raised in a Buddhist household, so I was not raised with a Christian worldview. God got a hold of me through a local church near my college. I sat under Bible/gospel preaching for two years and was discipled by the church’s associate pastor. I eventually came to faith after my father was diagnosed with cancer. 

Ever since coming to faith, I’ve had a heart for evangelism and missions. So I decided to pursue a theological education after getting my undergraduate degree. 

I am currently in seminary and working toward getting my MABS. I’ve been attending Reformed theological seminary in New York City, where I’ve been trained by teachers like Dr. Timothy Keller and Ligon Duncan. 

My aspiration is to eventually become a church planter in the city. 

What are some particular challenges of being a Christian in your area of work?

The biggest challenge I face in my area of work is the idolatry of money. In finance/insurance, there is a culture of an ever-unsatisfying pursuit of wealth. 

Colleagues will move from job to job, team to team, company to company, and city to city to fulfill their desire to make a better paycheck. Most of my subordinates at work always have a lingering feeling that the grass is greener on the other side — that is, there is a better opportunity elsewhere for work. 

Part of the challenge of working in this type of culture is that it is alluring and easy to fall into. I can easily come to a place where I look at my co-workers not as image-bearers, but projects and steps that can help me advance in my career and paycheck. 

How does being a Christian bring purpose and direction to your vocation?

Being a Christian in my workplace has radically changed how I view every person I work with. 

The doctrine of the image of God has helped me process why I should treat every employee, no matter their job, as a person who has infinite value because they are made in the image of God. 

Being a Christian in my workplace has also changed how I view my talents, skillset, and knowledge. God has gifted everyone of us with certain abilities, and it is our duty to cultivate and sculpt those skills for his glory. 

Lastly, being a Christian in my workplace has changed how I view my work in light of God‘s redemptive plan for the world. I know that everything that I do at work plays a part in the long redemptive-historical narrative of Christ, and therefore, everything I do at work matters. 

What advice would you give to a believer who aims to go into your line of work?

The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone aiming to go into my line of work is to learn to cultivate the desire to do the work you are called to do at the present time. 

Most of my anxiety at work occurs when I’m trying to be at two places at once. But, when I make an effort to be present with the work that is before me, I typically end up doing an amazing job. Christ honors even the smallest of attempts to glorify him, especially when we anchor our hope and aim to do every task to the glory of God. 

You mentioned that you are currently a seminary student and aspire to church plant. How do you integrate your call to ministry with working in a full-time, non-ministry position?

Many times in my ministry with youth students, I encounter the same heart problems that young professionals in the workplace have. Often, the heart problems deal with anxiety for the future, relationships not working out, and a works-righteousness mentality (best career, resume, titles, etc.). 

I also know that the Lord has given me a set of spiritual gifts. Things such as preaching, teaching, and hospitality. All of these skills are transferable and applicable to my non-ministry position. Perhaps I’m not preaching, but I can teach certain things I’ve learned to the rest of my co-workers.

One of the things I am more conscious about, as a client advisor, is people do not receive information just by telling them facts. People need illustrations, analogies, and sensory details to understand the full picture of the facts you are presenting to them. I don’t ever want to use my preaching skills in order to advance my career success, but it has led me to become a better persuader and storyteller. 

Working a non-ministry job has also allowed me to learn about the depths of common grace that God has toward all mankind. I have met many talented, smart, and wise people at my work. And most of them are non-Christians. My job has allowed me to see that God loves to glorify himself through their tasks, jobs, and skills because they were created in his image.

How has the gospel shaped the way you view your workplace?

The biggest way the gospel has shaped my view of the workplace is by helping me understand that work is a good thing. Work was created before the fall in Genesis 3. And therefore, work can bring a sort of satisfaction that all mankind can find. However, the gospel has also taught me why work can be hard, daunting, and hurtful because of the Fall. Work can be brutal when left in a toxic environment. A Christian worldview, a gospel-saturated worldview, will leave a person with a sense of the goodness of work in the midst of its brokenness. 

However, ultimately, one day work will be made new. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, all those who repent and trust in him will eventually find a place where there is an infinite amount of ways we can glorify God, in an infinite amount of time, with an infinite amount of grace, and with no sin at all. 

I am looking forward to the day that Jesus redeems the workplace. 

This is the first article in a new series on Vocation. This and future pieces can be found here.

By / Oct 19

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

How does my faith in Jesus connect with my work life? How does Sunday relate to Monday?  What difference does the gospel make when I’m stocking shelves, turning wrenches, or answering phones?  

These are the types of questions that commonly haunt the everyday, ordinary Christian. For those who are serious and sincere in their faith, but who are not part of a pastoral staff or religious nonprofit, what role do they play in God’s kingdom on a day-to-day basis? Connecting the dots between the Christian faith and missionary work is easy. Connecting the dots for truck drivers and dental assistants is hard.  

In the past 20 years, evangelicals have enjoyed a surge of attention and resources dedicated to addressing this intersection of faith, work, and vocation. Christian foundations, think tanks, Christian centers, seminaries, and denominational networks have dedicated much money and attention toward the development of content (books, documentaries, study Bibles, etc.) to inform the Christian laity about the importance and necessity of their roles as “ministers of reconciliation” regardless of their job titles.  

While these efforts have proven positive for both pulpit and pew, much work remains for the masses. This must not be an occasional conversation in the church. It must be part of every church’s strategy to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12).  

In his commentary on Ephesians, the late John Stott referred to Eph. 4:12 as an “every member ministry.” And, indeed it is.  The “work of the ministry” is not the proprietary business of pastors and missionaries. It is the calling of every Christian to connect Jesus to their work, modeling love for God and neighbor, being salt and light at every time and place, and last but not least, to conduct their work with a love and excellence that proclaims the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  

Every kind of work is a sacred calling 

Gene E. Veith’s book God at Work has quickly become a classic in the Faith and Work titles.  Written in 2002, Veith approaches the conversation employing the Lutheran framework for vocation that emerged amidst the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  

The Reformers, especially Luther, sought to reclaim the notion of calling (vocatio in Latin) for the Christian laity. Veith writes, “In scrutinizing the existing ecclesiastical system in light of the Gospel and the Scriptures, the Reformers insisted that priests and nuns and monastics did not have a special claim to God’s favor, but that laypeople too could live the Christian life to its fullest” (18). This dovetailed nicely with the well-known reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, the doctrine that “all Christians enjoy the same access to Christ and are spiritually equal before Him” (19).  

The “priesthood of all believers,” Veith clarifies, did not turn all Christians into pastors. But it did turn “every kind of work into sacred calling.” Building upon this foundation, Luther and the Reformers recognized multiple callings for every Christian, including the calling to work, family, citizenship, and church.  

“The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives.”

Each of these vocational categories receive a chapter in Veith’s book. But, before diving into these, he considers “How God Works through Human Beings,” wherein he employs the Lutheran Two-Kingdom’s model to explain how God works through means. Following Luther, Veith puts forward distinct spiritual and earthly kingdoms in which God uses the spiritual kingdom to restore sinners and to rule in their hearts, equipping them for everlasting life. This finds “tangible expression in the Church” and its activities (29).  

Just as God uses the means of the church to accomplish the purposes of his spiritual kingdom, he also works through means of the earthly kingdom, especially natural law, to accomplish his plans. As well, he works through even the so-called “secular” vocations of people in the earthly kingdom. “That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design” (30).  

In chapters three through five, Veith addresses “The Purpose of Vocation,” “Finding Your Vocations,” and “Your Calling as a Worker,” respectively. These are among the most helpful and insightful chapters as they crack open the reality of an “every-member-ministry” way of life for all Christians. Veith pulls the conversation off the stage of the extraordinary and into the realm of the everyday, ordinary Christ-follower.  He writes, 

“This means that vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts—the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday—but in the realm of the ordinary.  Whatever we face in the often humdrum present—washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with friends—this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love.” (59) 

This emphasis on the “ordinary” is right and beautiful and has gained greater traction in recent years. An arguable extension of the “faith and work” movement has been the revival of interest in everyday liturgies that see all of life as sacred and holy, purposeful before God despite how extraordinary it may or may not be. Veith goes on to say, “The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives” (59). If there were a one-sentence summary to the book, this would be it. He repeats this idea at the end of chapter five, reflecting on those who responded to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Those responders insisted their bravery was simply, “doing their jobs.” Veith responds with, “That is the doctrine of vocation. Ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor, ‘just doing our jobs’” (75).  

Following dedicated chapters on the callings to family, citizenship, and church, Veith offers three short but important chapters on the “Ethics of Vocation,” “Bearing the Cross in Vocation,” and the conclusion, “Resting in Vocation.”  In a particularly poignant section in the “Ethics of Vocation” chapter, Veith discusses “sinning against vocation.” Despite the deluge of resources on faith, work, and vocation in the past decade, the notion of “sinning against vocation” remains largely left out and underdeveloped. Veith suggests that one way to look at sin is as a “violation of one’s calling.” “Since the purpose of vocation . . . is to love and serve one’s neighbor, failure to do so is a sin against one’s vocation” (135).  

Reflections for today

I have three brief reflections on the book.  

First, while Veith is a top-shelf academic and intellect, perhaps the greatest feature of God at Work is its accessibility. In keeping with the Reformers’ intention of reclaiming Christian vocation/calling for the laity, Veith’s book is written and organized brilliantly for the thoughtful layperson, the trained pastor, or theologian—and everyone in between. 

Second, while I remain unconvinced of the two-kingdoms approach to God’s world, the four-fold approach to vocation (work, family, citizenship, and church) remains foundational for my own thinking, teaching, and preaching on calling. Veith’s explanations and insights on these areas of Christian calling remain among the best in the literature, informed by the primary and secondary sources but distilled for all audiences. 

Finally, while tempted to mention again the great emphasis on the “ordinary” noted above, I’ll refrain in favor of a deep appreciation for the final chapter on “Resting in Vocation.” By this, Veith means both contentment in one’s calling and the importance of Sabbath as part of our calling in Christ. As a friend once said to me, “Rest takes work.” Indeed, it does, and Veith does not neglect to remind us of this in the final pages of his book. Doubtless, anyone who reads God at Work would wish for more than eight pages dedicated to the importance of rest. Nonetheless, Veith leaves the reader with plenty to consider for all of life, working and resting.  

Veith’s God at Work made a deep impact upon its release in 2002 and continues to occupy an important place in the ongoing conversation on faith, work, and vocation. Veith’s book was one of the first I read on the topic as a college student transitioning to seminary. The writing was simple, but the ideas were new and profound for me at that time, and they remain organizing principles for how I understand and live into my own callings every day. May God at Work remain not only on the shelves of those teaching and preaching about Christian vocation; but may it find its way to the bedside table of all Christians that each may become a mature and ministering worker of God. 

By / Sep 3

Daniel Patterson shares how Christians can avoid making productivity an idol.

By / Sep 4
By / Sep 3

People [usually] grasp that God cares about their work and then ask: So what does that mean for me? How do I figure out what God wants me to do in my work? How do I handle struggles and disappointments?

Jesus will give you grace and power to face whatever his calling requires you to face. You may be called to spend most of your work doing tasks you dislike; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to work for an arrogant, domineering boss; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to work alongside dishonest, backbiting co-workers; Jesus will give you grace and power for that. You may be called to lose your job and have to find another opportunity to use your gifts productively; Jesus will give you grace and power for that.  

On the other hand, you may be blessed with amazing opportunities. You may well have everything going for you. If so, Jesus will give you grace and power to take full advantage of those opportunities for his kingdom. The more God invests in you, the more return on investment he expects you to be striving to give him.

Know who you are in Christ and who you are in the world

[But], only the gospel can empower you to work while removing the burden of earning from your work. In our vocations, God calls us to get out of our comfort zones, working hard to accomplish his purposes. But we rest on God’s saving grace in the cross and the empty tomb of Christ for our standing and favor with God. We are not earning our place in the glorious kingdom whose purposes we work so hard to advance.

That is why the high and holy calling of God is a blessing for us and not a curse. We know who we are in Christ. We know that God gives us this high calling because he loves us, because he has already adopted us as his children and secured a place in his kingdom for us. There is no chance we will lose our real and ultimate blessing, however weak or deficient we may sometimes be in our vocations here.  

We aren’t earning in the kingdom; we’re learning in the kingdom. We are not just taking care of God’s world in our vocations. We are learning how to be God’s children. God is using our callings to shape us into the kind of people he wants his children to be. That’s one reason it’s sometimes quite difficult!

But you don’t leave behind your natural human identity and relationships when you embrace your gospel identity and your relationship with Christ. Even after he became the world’s greatest missionary, Paul continued to claim both his Jewish identity and his identity as a Roman citizen. He had relationships with people that helped make him the person he was; Jesus didn’t replace those relationships. He suffused them with his grace and power to Paul.  

In the same way, you are more than just a Christian. You are many other things as well—perhaps a husband or wife, perhaps a mother or father, perhaps an employee or student, perhaps a co-worker, perhaps a citizen. Hopefully you are a church member. And whatever else you are, you are certainly a neighbor to all those God brings into your life! The intersection between our gospel identity and our natural identities—our relationship with Christ and our relationships with those around us—is where we find most of the challenges and opportunities of our vocations.

In my case, I’m called to be a good husband and father and church member; a good employee to my supervisors and to the school that employs me, as well as a good employer to those I supervise; a good craftsman to those who receive the services I provide (including you); a good citizen to my city, state and country; and much else besides. These identities reveal to me much of my calling from God.

See the big picture, but don’t “despise small things”

[R]elationships are [central] to God’s design for us as human beings and the way we follow his calling in our lives. God made us to be relational—“it is not good that man should be alone” is the only “not good” pronounced before the fall. We are made male and female in the image of God, made from the beginning to be fellow workers and family members, so we could show the world through our relationships with one another what the divine nature looks like: the holy love of three persons for each other, together forever as one God.  

No one works alone. Your work is extensively bound up with the work of all the people around you—the boss you work for, the co-workers you work with, the customers you serve, the household your work supports, the people you buy things from using the money you make in your job. And all their work is in turn bound up with the work of thousands of others. Ultimately, your work is interdependent with the work of millions around the world.  

Suppose you work on an assembly line making a part that goes into the braking system of a car. If all you see is the machine you operate on the assembly line and your paycheck, you’re missing the big picture. You are making cars safer, saving lives. You serve the customer (drivers) and your community, making God’s world more like what he wants it to be. That’s your first contribution to the big picture.  

Now go a step further. Why does your company pay you to operate that machine on the assembly line? Because customers want cars to be safer, so they’re willing to pay a little more for better brakes—including that little part you make. The company pays you because your work creates value for it.  

Now keep going. The paycheck you make for creating value for your employer supports your household. The goods and services you purchase with that paycheck allow other workers to do their work, serving the world in all their various ways and supporting their own households.  

Maybe you don’t get a paycheck for doing your job. You could be a homemaker or a retiree. All the same things still apply to you, though—you do work (in the home, volunteering, etc.) that serves people and makes the world a better place. Your work contributes to the well-being of your household and community, and helps other people do their work. You’re no less a part of God’s big picture. The paychecks are not the point; they’re just useful tools for keeping things going.  

“[T]he big picture” is not something that happens apart from the ordinary tasks of everyday life. Those mundane tasks are precisely where the big picture happens. That’s why the Bible is constantly stressing faithfulness and conscientiousness in performing our routine duties. That’s where God paints the big picture.   

Zechariah rebukes “whoever has despised the day of small things.” He tells them they will change their tune when they realize that the “eyes of the Lord . . . range through the whole earth.” Even on the assembly line, or in the kitchen at home, or in the cab of a truck, or in an office cubicle!  

This modified excerpt was taken from The Gospel For Life series, The Gospel & Work, edited by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker. GREG FORSTER serves as the director of the Oikonomia Network at the Center for Transformational Churches, and is a visiting assistant professor of faith and culture at Trinity International University.

By / Apr 16

A friend sat across from me and said, “I know my job is good work, but I’m just not passionate about it. I know I’m called to this other kind of work, and I’m wondering when God will let me actually do it.” I remembered myself, 10 years earlier, sitting with a mentor and saying the same words to her: Will God ever let me make a living doing what I love instead of this grind?

This grind for me, in that season, was office work, answering phones, typing emails, editing documents, setting up rooms for meetings, making coffee, and spending hours on the phone with customer service reps when our printer was on the blink. It felt meaningless to me, a waste of my degrees (English and Fine Arts), and not at all good. I knew on the surface the work was good, and I believed in the organization for which I worked, but the work itself felt monotonous. I believed the lies that if God really loved me or if I was really a faithful Christian or if someone would just notice my gifts, I wouldn’t be stuck. I blamed God, myself, and others for the reality that my passions didn’t pay.

God’s mercy to me in that season was that my discontent with life actually led me to realize I did not understand the fullness of the gospel. It was the reality that God is a worker that began to unveil my eyes to the gospel.

After leaving my passionless job and the shred of faith I thought I had, I landed in north Texas at a church where one of my first interactions was at a women’s Bible study. My first night there the teacher taught on Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created. ” I’m not sure I heard anything else that night, only that God was Creator, and he created. Something about this concept of him shook me that night. God was the first worker, he created work and called it good, and any gifts I had were only because of and for him. Whether anyone noticed my gifts or passions, I was still imaging him simply because I was created by him. And that was enough.

God is always at work

God, more than any human he ever created, knows what it means to work, create, wait patiently for fruit, to say the same things repeatedly, and to see his work desecrated by others. God knows what it is like to care intensely about something and see it mistreated or misunderstood. Our Creator is not like the old clockmaker, precise with his creation, but stepping away as soon as it works on its own. Our Father is not an idle God, twiddling his thumbs on his throne far away.

Our God is intricately involved in our work because it is primarily his work. He is accomplishing all he said he would accomplish, even in what seems weak or foolish to us. Our Father is never a distant or cruel or punitive manager. Christ is never a disobedient or arrogant servant. The Spirit is always at work within the children of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

God designed man to work, tend, keep, and have dominion over the wildness of the garden as a picture of what he was doing with man, beckoning them into fullness of life in him (Gen. 2). Yet, if we’re not attentive to what God is doing, we can begin to believe all work is a post-fall aberration. We begin to believe it diverges from our desire to dwell in a perpetual Sabbath, Eden as we envision it, void of drudgery, toil, and sweat, or anything that doesn’t bring us immediate joy. While it is true that there is an element of hardship to our work that’s born of the fall, it is not true that all work is meaningless unless it is easy, desirable, what we feel called to do, or want to do.

It can be tempting to look at the fruitlessness of our work today—the emails that keep coming, the diapers that need to be changed, the folks who need counseling, the policies that never seem to change—and to think none of this is producing something, but it isn’t true. The goodness of work is not in the production of the work itself or what it accomplishes, but in what it is producing in us and in others (Rom. 5:3-4). We do not work for work’s sake; we work for God. All work is good if it is done for the glory of God, even monotonous, rote, messy work.

God made you to work and called you good

God called man very good in the creation narrative, not because of anything man had accomplished or would accomplish, but because all God created was called good, and man was the chief good of creation. Even as the capstone of creation, though, man was still fallible, and sin entered the world. Therefore, there is an element of our work that is broken, but the essence of our work is still good. It is still—even in seemingly pointless endeavors—participating in the redemptive work of the kingdom of God.

All God does is good, therefore work is good

When we live quiet lives and work with our hands (I Thess. 4:11), we are imaging a beautiful attribute of God, his faithfulness. It is easy to be faithful when what we’re doing is exciting or seen by others, but that is not faithfulness as much as it is attentiveness. Faithfulness is continuing in the work of our hands when there are no accolades or affirmations.

We can begin to believe simply because we’re passionate about something or feel a certain inclination toward it, God means it for us now or in the future, but God’s Word never promises this. Over and over God tells his children to be faithful, work hard, trust him, and empty ourselves. We’re reminded in Scripture of men and women who worked a very long time and never saw what actually was promised to them (Heb. 11).

When we believe a desire for a vocation means we will get to do it all our life, we’ve made the passion for the thing our idol. How much better to trust the work of our hands to the Creator of all, knowing he takes what is a formless void and makes it all beautiful in his time? Our work is good because, when all was still a formless void, God was preparing us for good works (Eph. 2:10).

God gave you your passions and your work for today

What are we to do when that which we’re passionate about doesn’t provide a living wage and isn’t something we get to spend much time doing? Simply put—we can be faithful with what we can do now to hone in on the gifts God has given us, instead of burying them as the unfaithful servant did in Matthew 25. Some of the servants were given more talents, others fewer, but all were given the opportunity to be faithful—even the one with the least. What are some ways God might have you be faithful today with what you have in your hand right now?

There are things we can do to kindle the sparks of joy we find in our God-given passions: host an art night at church, submit a poem to a literary magazine, take family photos for some friends, practice hospitality in our homes, serve our churches in lay ministry, tutor students in biology. Keep your appetite whetted for the beauty you find in your passions, even if they don’t pay. God is your provider, for both your daily bread and for the vocation you desire.

What my mentor said to me, and what I said to my friend that day in the coffee shop, was that God had not called us to anything that wasn’t the best for us today. Our work was good as we did it unto God. Our desire for work we were passionate about was good too, but not if it eclipsed our trust in God’s goodness for each day.

This quote from Martin Luther helps remind me weekly of the same truth, "What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow."

Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before kings.” Whatever your gifts and passions are, it is God who gave them to you and who designed them to make a way for you. I beg you to trust him with the timing and the way. Until then, continue on in today’s good works which were prepared for you before the foundation of the world.   

This article is from Light Magazine. You can read it for free here

By / Mar 7

Should women work?

That’s a modern question—and frankly, one that would puzzle our ancestors. They would wonder: Do you want to eat? Do you want warm clothes? Then yes, women should work!

For most of human history, mere survival required all hands on deck. But something changed in the last three centuries that makes us think that our modern experience of work has been the norm throughout time. If we don’t know the story of work, we could not only misunderstand our own times and culture, but we also could potentially read our current experience into the Scriptures.

For example, there are some who charge the apostle Paul with being sexist because of the instructions he gave to the younger pastor Timothy about younger widows, when he cautioned against women becoming “idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Tim. 5:11-14 ESV).

Was Paul being sexist here? If we think of “managing households” as the way we currently live in our homes, we could think he wanted to keep women “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.”

But Paul’s own words need to interpret this passage. Why does he want women to avoid idleness? It’s right there at the close of the passage: Because he does not want to give the adversary an occasion for slander. Paul is being strategic, not sexist. He knows that women’s work matters to advance the gospel. He also knows that gossip destroys relationships in the church and undermines our worship of God.

Why is the issue of women working today so difficult—both inside and outside of the church?

Additionally, Paul’s example in the narrative accounts in Scripture show that he was eager to partner with hard-working women like Lydia, a dealer in the luxury good of purple cloth, and Priscilla, with whom he labored daily as a tentmaker. Paul’s example in those accounts is not contradictory to his pastoral epistles.

So why is the issue of women working today so difficult—both inside and outside of the church?

This is not just a philosophical question. It has serious implications across the globe. Take, for example, Japan. Japan has a problem that foreshadows the future for many developed nations: a falling birth rate. Its fast-shrinking population means Japan’s future labor force and tax base will shrivel, while its costs to maintain the elderly will grow.  

This looming economic crisis has forced Japan’s leaders to consider how younger Japanese women should be used to solve this dilemma. The question they ask is, are women more useful to the Japanese economy in the bedroom or the boardroom? Should more Japanese women be employed to grow the economy or should they have more than their average of 1.3 children?

Japan is not alone. This discussion is part of most cultures today, including developing nations, where education and employing women is seen as the key to poverty alleviation. What happened? How did economic productivity and parenthood become distinctly different roles for women?

The short answer is that this division arose largely after the Industrial Revolution changed the home from being a place of economic productivity to being a place of consumer goods consumption. This became more pronounced in the late 20th century as modern businesses began to prize short-term profits over long-term investment.

A Historic Understanding of Women’s Work

Historically, women’s work revolved around creating textiles and getting food to the table. These were not fluffy activities. They were vital to survival. They could also be done while bearing and caring for children.

The superlative example of feminine productivity written thousands of years ago and found in the Old Testament Scriptures—the paragon of excellence in Proverbs 31—was a financially savvy woman who traded in textiles, managed employees, reared her children, and honored her husband. She wasn’t a real woman, but a portrait of what wisdom and excellence looked like in the virtuous woman. Her profitable activities dominated this picture, and she was commended for them.

Travel through time and you soon find industrious women like Kate Luther, the wife of Martin Luther in the Reformation era, and Sarah Edwards, the wife of theologian Jonathan Edwards, in colonial America. These women were married to men whose writing and teaching profoundly affected their eras, but those activities weren’t always profitable. Their husbands were not the sole income-producers. Instead, their wives managed the estates that generated their family’s income, and did so while rearing large families and housing numerous guests.

The Industrial Revolution and the Wage-earner

Their children also saw how their parents worked and were involved in keeping the family fed, clothed, and housed. There was no “take your kid to work” day because with only a few exceptions, most children grew up seeing their parents work. But that shifted when the Industrial Revolution arrived. What had once been typical of American productivity—the self-employed proprietor, farmer, and artisan—gave way to the wage-earner.

Ironically, when the Industrial Revolution arrived in the U.S., it began by disrupting the textile industry. The work that had been largely done by women in their homes was now outsourced to the large textile mills of New England. These mills, in turn, hired young women to work long hours and live in factory towns—the famous Lowell Mill girls. In the 20 years following the start of the American Civil War, the size of the U.S. industrial labor force doubled. Then it nearly doubled again in the next 10 years, between 1880 and 1890.

Children were also affected by the Industrial Revolution. They had been an early supply of cheap and nimble factory labor. But the 19th-century reform movements—largely driven by women—curtailed the abusive practices surrounding child labor. That was good for the children, but it meant if families could not labor together, then families had to decide how they would earn money and care for their children.

Women were employed in increasing numbers through the 1920s, but the Depression in the 1930s created a backlash against working women. Employed women faced great hostility because they were seen as taking a job from a man who needed to provide for his family. That attitude was so prevalent that in 1932, Congress passed the U.S. Economy Act, prohibiting the federal government from employing two people from the same family, and 26 states passed legislation prohibiting married women from holding any jobs at all, including teaching.

But World War II radically changed that view. During the war, the U.S. government ran a huge campaign out of its Office of War Information to persuade women to join the workforce to manufacture war materials. They ran more than 125 MILLION ads to do this. That was nearly equal to the number of people living in the U.S. at the time! In response, six million women took on industrial jobs in shipyards, lumber mills, steel mills, and industrial laboratories—and they were good at it. In May 1942, Business Week reported that airplane plants considered women 50 to 100 percent more efficient than men in wiring instrument panels due to greater attention to detail.

A “New Normal” that Doesn’t Satisfy

Postwar, after decades of upheaval, everyone was eager to create a "new normal." The expanded manufacturing base began to churn enormous numbers of consumer goods. The dawn of national television in 1951 provided a way to showcase modern families living with these goods. As the economy grew, so did the middle class. While spending on food rose by a modest 33 percent in the five years following the end of World War II, purchases of household appliances and furnishings jumped by 240 percent.

Now here is the important point: This was the culmination of a trend that had been developing since the 19th century. The home's transition from a place of productivity—as it had been for all of human history—to a place of consumption was now complete. This significant and profound change now shapes our modern assumptions about the home, and it colors the way we think about the Bible's passages that mention the home. But there, in the idealized 1950s, while the home was undergoing this tremendous shift, more women were entering the workforce. By 1952, there were actually two million more working wives in the labor force than at the height of World War II, and there was a 400 percent increase in working mothers throughout the decade.

This gap—the gap between the advertising propaganda designed to sell household goods to a consumerist culture—and the reality that having more stuff doesn’t really satisfy the soul is where the women's liberation movement was born in the early 1960s. As Betty Friedan wrote in her influential 1963 book that kicked off the movement, women need "some higher purpose than housework and thing-buying."

She’s right. But the unfortunate thing is that even Betty Friedan refuted some of her own ideas by the end of her life. Though the women’s liberation movement did enact some needed legal changes in terms of equal pay for equal work, the movement did not overcome one of the most significant tensions for women in fulfilling the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 to both “be fruitful and multiply” and “fill the earth and subdue it.” Instead, it added to the overload by maintaining that it was possible to “have it all” and all at the same time.

For a brief moment in the mid-1980s, reality set in and there was a sub-group of feminists who pushed back at the ideas that there were no differences between men and women and that gender was a social construct, and instead said that the truly radical thing would be to legitimize the differences between women and men, especially with regard to their windows of fertility, and create a different life sequence for women that honored the time out needed for bearing and caring for children without penalty to future productivity and job opportunities. This group, called the Sequencers, lost the argument, which was truly a blow for our culture at large.

Stewarding our talents over time

So how then should we resolve this tension? I submit that the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 helps Christians to think eternally about productivity.

The policies and practices of our modern workforce are not family-friendly for either men or women. I hope these issues will change in the near future, but I’m not certain they will or how it will be accomplished. But I am certain that this dilemma does not escape the Lord. Whether in biblical times or today, he is the one who gives us the time, talents, treasures, relationships, opportunities and capacities that need to be stewarded and invested for his glory. We are not in charge of what we have received in any of those areas, but we are held accountable for how we invest them. This stewardship idea means we do not need to compare ourselves—our lives are not going to look like anyone else’s, for we have specific opportunities, capacities, and talents to invest for God’s glory.

Please note the inclusion of “capacities.” Not everyone has the same energy levels or ability to juggle stress. Please also note the inclusion of “opportunities.” It takes wisdom to know which opportunities need to be invested in immediately and which could be simmered until a less busy season in the future. This is where the idea of “having it all” is unhelpful. Those of us who have lived a few decades know you may have it all, but not all at the same time, and usually not without a lot of stress. Because we only speak about women’s life for the first 20 or so years of an adult woman’s life, we have not developed vision for what women can and should do in the second half of life. Seeing a woman’s life and productivity through the entire arc of her life helps us understand that you may put the Great American Novel on hold for a better time but you can’t put your toddler on hold. The growing is going to happen no matter what.

The story of work helps us to understand that our modern experience of parenting and productivity is not the norm in history, but it presents an opportunity to live thoughtfully and strategically as stewards of all we have received, meriting praise from our Master and an invitation to enter into his joy.

This article was adapted from The Measure of Success. Carolyn McCulley is a documentary filmmaker and is the founder of Citygate Films in Virginia.

By / Oct 10

Katherine Alsdorf teaches us how to encourages women who are bored in life.

By / Sep 1

“Our kids need to go in the ministry. People are dying and going to Hell. Let the world provide the doctors and lawyers and carpenters. We need laborers in the field.”

This was the message I heard, growing up, over and over again. The pastor was well-meaning. His desire was to see the church committed to reaching the world with the gospel. But while I’m grateful for the evangelistic impulse it created in me, this paltry doctrine of vocation did much damage. It crippled the ability of young men to discover their God-given gifts and talents and leverage them in the marketplace for the glory of God. The only “real” calling for a young man is the ministry, whether as a pastor or a missionary. My childhood church was an extreme outlier on this issue, I realize, but this kind of weak theology of work did pervade the Church for several generations.

Which is why I’m grateful for the emerging, healthy, robust faith and work movement in the Church.  In the last few years, many terrific books have been written that offer a more robust, gospel-rich view of life and vocation, one that encompasses all God intended when He reached into the dust to create humankind. The Genesis mandate to subdue the earth, to create, to innovate, has been redeemed anew by Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that the gospel restores us to the joyful work God created us to perform.

At its best, a robust faith and work movement removes the kind of class system that often exists in churches, where the pastors and church leaders are held up as the spiritual varsity team and those who slug it out from Monday thru Friday are sort of useful witnesses, sources of tithing income, and faithful providers, but are not nearly the heroes who draw a check from a Christian 501(c)3. Churches who embrace a biblical worldview understand that God is empowering people to apply the gospel in the marketplace.

If we are not careful we can create a kind of second class system by elevating those whose vocations seem more praiseworthy.

But if we are not careful we can create a kind of second class system by elevating those whose vocations seem more praiseworthy—white collars or creative such as artists, engineers, lawyers, and CEOs—over and above the blue collar, “dirty jobs” professions that so employ so many of our people. It’s easy to fall into this trap only because white collar professions and creative endeavors seem more visible and are more easily held up as examples of gospel innovation in the marketplace. But I also wonder if we’ve not subconsciously imbibed the disdain our culture has for so-called blue collar professions.

Previous generations held up the trades—plumbers, electricians, line workers, factory foremen, and retail managers—as worthy vocations. Today someone who works as a bricklayer or roofer or some other blue-collar profession are often looked on as sad cases. We wonder, privately, where the wrong turn happened. How could a smart, capable person end up in such an ignoble career? Where’s the future in that?

But we forget that our society runs on the strength of those who build and maintain our infrastructure, who go to work every day and build things with their hands.

I think, for instance, of my Uncle Jim, who just retired from the Post Office after over 40 years of faithful service. This was a tiring, grueling profession. He had to get that mail delivered on his route regardless of weather. So in the winter, he trudged through snow and ice. In the summer, he endured a hot, non-air-conditioned truck. He’s dodged dangerous dogs and angry neighbors. And yet every day he showed up, every year, for over four decades. He didn’t do it because he heard a powerful presentation of Kyperian worldview. He probably couldn’t pick Tim Keller out of a lineup. He simply fulfilled his mission because it was the right thing to do and he did it well to the glory of God.

I hope our faith and work theology works for Uncle Jim, not just for the artists and painters and poets. I pray that the postman of the next generation might deliver mail with a bit more bounce in their step, because they know that despite the cultural fascination with white collar work, those who labor in the trenches of our less flashy professions do work as important as anyone else.

This article originally appeared here.