Feb 14, 2013

Books on Work: Every Good Endeavor

A colleague and I were talking about the value of work—why we perceive some work as more important or “worthy” than other work, and how that spills over to the perception that some people are more valuable than others.

“We all share the same inherent value,” I said. “Whether we’re the CEO or the janitor, we each have the same inherent value.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that,” my colleague said. “Some people are clearly more valuable than others.”

“To be sure, we have different skills and levels of skills and talents,” I said. “But we share the same inherent value. Don’t confuse the talent and skill with the worth of the person.”

She still disagreed. The notion was too strong an assault on what she had been taught in school and by her own experience.

The fact is, we are all indeed created equal—equal in the sense that God sees each of us as inherently worthy and valuable, and in the same way—because He created us.

And, as Tim Keller points out in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, He created us to work. Work was part of creation. It was there at the beginning. And it was one of those things that God saw as good. God created work. More to the point—He modeled work in the very act of creation.

It’s a startling thought: God created work as an integral part of the human experience.

And if God sees each of us as inherently valuable, then He sees the work we do as inherently valuable. No matter if it’s neurosurgery, driving a truck, preaching a sermon, working a production line, teaching high school English, nursing a baby, growing soybeans, selling women’s shoes, or writing stories for the newspaper. We all have different levels of skills and talents—but that does not mean that God differentiates as to our worth as His creation.

It also means all work is important.

“This revolutionary way of looking at work,” Keller says, “gives all work a common and exalted purpose: to honor God by loving your neighbors and serving them through your work.”

Work is an act of service and serving, Keller says. But he goes deeper than that. The statement I found particularly startling was how Keller added to the description: Work is an act of love.

I had to come to a full stop and consider that statement.

My work is an act of love. My work—and how I do my work—is an act of love shown to colleagues, people who work for me, my boss, his boss, my customers, and all of the people I interact with every day. And it is an expression of my love for God.

Keller goes even deeper. If I understand my work as an act of love, and respond accordingly, I can change the culture; not only that, I can create the culture. By loving God in my work, I can create culture.

My work and how I do it is salt and light. It can influence and create. And it doesn’t matter what my salary level is, or my job grade, or my title. It is part of my inherent worth.

My colleague continued the conversation, demanding to know why I believed what I was saying.

“We are each made in God’s image,” I said. “That’s why we share the same inherent value. That image includes the work we do, and the value of the work we do. What the work actually is doesn’t matter, unless it’s something that falls outside what God would define as good and useful work.”

She stared at me for a moment, and then she nodded.

“What you’re saying is strange,” she said.

“It’s counter-cultural,” I said.

We’re going to be discussing Every Good Endeavor on Monday mornings in February. I hope you’ll join us as we dive deep into calling and vocation. Next Monday, Tim Watson leads us in Part Two: Our Problems with Work (chapers 5-8). If you posted at your blog on the introduction this week, leave us your link in the comments. If not, jump into the discussion anyway! We would love to hear your thoughts. In March we'll be discussing David Platt's new book Follow Me. Get your copy now if you want to join in on that discussion.

Image by Lefteris Katsouromallis. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of Dancing Priest: A Novel.

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