I would guess that if you ask someone what their priorities are, many people would put the same two things at the top of the list – relationships with their loved ones and their job, with both probably fighting each other for the number one spot.
Work is hugely important to us. Decisions about our profession, where we work, why we work, and how we work affect and permeate nearly every aspect of our lives. And in our Western, American culture, work has essentially become the defining source of identity and self-worth.
Even though it’s such a major part of our lives, I think that many of us Christians live with a pretty dim understanding of exactly what work is from a biblical perspective and how the Gospel can and should affect what we do in our jobs and how we do it. Or at least, this has been the case with me. I’ve never really heard much sermon time devoted to the topic, never done a small group or Bible study examining work, and off the top of my head I can’t think of a lot of famous contemporary Christian books on the subject. In my experience, the general “wisdom” for Christians when it comes to work seems to be something like this…don’t lie, cheat, or steal to get ahead; don’t be greedy for money; make sure your coworkers know you’re a Christian; try to work with excellence; and full-time ministry jobs are automatically more honoring to God than “secular” jobs. Pretty anemic, and that last one is a lie.
But I recently finished Tim Keller’s book on work, Every Good Endeavor, and it was a game changer for me. I’d highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, whether you’re working outside the home, working from home, or a stay-at-home parent.
The book is organized into three parts:
- God’s Plan for Work – what God intended for human work, what it was designed to accomplish, how the Christian worldview of work differs from other systems of philosophy or religion, etc.
- Our Problems with Work – practical examples of how sin stains and mars God’s design and our efforts, the various frustrations we run into with our work, the limitations of our work, the tendencies for us to idolize our work and make it about us, etc.
- The Gospel and Work – what is a better framework for our work life, what are practical examples of how the Gospel might be lived out in a particular sector (finance, arts, etc.), how should we view the success of our secular peers, how does Gospel-worldview work look different than simply being “ethical,” etc.
Overall, it was just an excellent and well-rounded exploration of work through Gospel lenses. I especially appreciated that while it did give concrete examples, it did not say, “Do these 10 things and then you will look like a Christian worker.” It just reminded the reader that the Gospel changes everything when it comes to our lives and work, and encouraged us to think a little bigger than just sharing Christ with your coworkers.
Again, I’d highly, highly recommend it. I have a very small list of books that I’m willing to read more than once, but I’m adding this one to that list and want to try and re-read it every few years. It’s that helpful.
Just for fun and for the purposes of getting to know me a bit better, I thought I’d close this post with a list of all the jobs I’ve held so far. I feel really blessed to have had generally very positive work experiences across the board that have taught me so much along the way, even though I wish I had read Every Good Endeavor earlier in life!
- babysitting – I doubt you could find a female raised as a regular churchgoer whose first paying job wasn’t babysitting.
- Kinko’s copy slave – This was my first real job in high school, and I worked at a different branch later in college as well. I learned a ton about customer service a.k.a. dealing with difficult people, and solidified a lot of my basic computer knowledge.
- summer math tutor – I had no clue what I was doing and I hate math, so it wasn’t a great arrangement for me or the kid.
- hostess at Mimi’s Cafe
- eBay seller for a local antique shop
- housekeeping maid for the YMCA in Estes Park – This one was with the Navigators Summer Training Program. It was an absolute blast even though we were just changing sheets and cleaning bathrooms. One major perk? Raiding all the food left by the guests.
- student advisor for one of the academic resource centers at UCI – This was also a fun one. We helped inform fellow students about grad school requirements, how to write a good resume, etc.
- Intern, data entry clerk, executive assistant, grant writing assistant, and grant writer for Children’s Hunger Fund – My longest stay with one employer (five and a half years). I learned a lot and it was a great place to work.
- transcription clerk – I worked from home doing this for about a year. It didn’t turn out to be as great of a job as I was hoping it’d be.
- logistics coordinator for a NASA contractor – While pretty stressful at times it was a very interesting job. I got to learn about and work with aspects of the US and Russian space programs and also got a small taste of the craziness of government bureaucracy from behind the scenes.
- social media poster, newsletter and blog post writer, and data entry for AmeriStudent, a company that places international students here in the US – I’m currently doing this part-time from home. My sister is one of my bosses, which is pretty great. I never imagined I’d get to work with her!
- stay-at-home mom – also my current job, and the most exhausting and rewarding one so far.