“How’s work?” I asked my friend one day, tossing out that staple question of casual conversation.
“Work is hard,” he said. “Then again, maybe that’s how we’re supposed to be able distinguish it from all other activities of life.”
I have just returned from the Jubilee Conference which is held every year in Pittsburgh. Jubilee, designed for college students, is a conversation which encourages them to think about connecting faith, work, and every area of their lives. Over the course of a weekend, a number of gifted speakers walked participants through the narrative account of God’s good creation, broken by sin and redeemed by Christ, which now awaits restoration.
Many of the presentations fleshed out the themes Tim Keller discusses in his book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Together with other members of The High Calling, this week I have been mulling Keller’s chapters on problems with our work. When man fell into sin, Keller argues, the good work designed by God became fruitless, pointless, selfish, and a source of idolatry.
I know. Some people enjoy their jobs and have a clear sense they are doing work which they have been called to do. Yet even for those fortunate to have landed jobs which suit their talents and abilities, work remains hard. Machinery breaks down or deliveries are not made. Storms knock out power and internet as a project deadline looms. The economy plunges into a nosedive and insurance costs skyrocket. Employees arrive late or not at all, and tensions simmer within the workplace. The happiest gardener must contend with thorns and thistles which infest the soil.
Keller quotes the Philosopher, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, who attempted to find a meaningful life and achievement through hard work. He concluded, however:
“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17 NIV
Jubilee speaker Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, addressed the burden and frustration of attempting to find a sense of value or worth through one’s work. He likened this search for significance to ransacking the house for lost car keys, only to find them hidden in one’s pocket.
“It is finished,” he said. “All the things I long for, I already own in Christ.”
Because of gospel grace, Tchividjian argued, believers do not have to work toward things like significance, value, or worth. Instead, we are freed and empowered for sacrificial service and love.
Similarly, actor and musician Kenyon Adams issued a call to a roomful of artists, encouraging them to be servants of their craft. Because art evokes a response and the possibility for acclaim, it becomes tempting for the artist to make idols of these things. Another temptation he noted was that, instead of serving culture, artists can use their art as a means of dumping their personal pain into it. Adams offered a harsh but powerful comparison to the distinction between using art and serving it, likening the difference to that of having sex with a prostitute versus one’s spouse.
Both presentations, as well as Keller’s book, have raised questions for me as to how I view work in my home, in my church, and as a writer. I’m wondering about where I am using my work as a means of receiving affirmation or in pursuit of healing and wholeness, things which Christ has already granted me. I wonder how different my efforts might look if I sensed the power I’ve been given for sacrificial service and love.
I may not be able to answer these questions completely, and my answers might vary from time to time. But they are good questions and important ones to keep before me.
Click here for more reflections on Tim Keller’s book over at The High Calling.