Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Working hard for the ...? (All things in Jesus' name part 3)

As providence would have it this next post will serve as both the 3rd in a series about honoring Jesus in all things and a wrap of the first day of the City to City Pastors and Planters Conference with Tim Keller.

The overarching theme of Keller ' talks today was for gospel belief to be integrated into all areas of life.  He very eloquently described a problem that exists in almost all sections of the church in the west; the reality that most discipleship prepares Christians for weekends and week nights rather than the other 80% of their existence.  Which I guess is similar in many ways to my previous assertion that while we know we should do everything in the name of Jesus we have rarely been shown how to do this practically.  Last time I shared how we might bring Jesus to bear on our spending... This time I want to do it with our work life.

Amongst other implications Keller shared with us today how gospel renewal will impact how a Christian should view work and since I am sure he has more to offer than me I will use some of his headings to frame my thoughts.

People have varying attitudes to their work.  These views can range from those who simply see work as a means to an ends (where it becomes something that must be endured in order to bring home the bacon) to those who view it as their very identity (it is the thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, the thing that they rest all their hope on, the thing that gives them ultimate satisfaction). The former can lead to boredom, laziness and taking immoral or even dangerous shortcuts as we seek to make the meaningless monotony of our day bearable.  The latter can lead to deception, risk taking and selling others out as we seek to improve our position and therefore enhance our self-worth. Ultimately this leads to anxiety and stress because so much is riding on our performance.

Keller described ways in which the gospel gives us a new vision of our work which can rescue us from both extremes. Bringing Jesus to bear on our work means embracing this gospel-shaped vision of work:
1. The gospel gives our work meaning
Feelings of meaningless abound in the daily grind; as you roll out of bed, drag yourself onto public transport and grit your teeth for another day at the grindstone it is easy to feel as though all your effort is amounting to nothing. But the gospel tells us that God is passionately concerned with our work!  The gospel can give us a vision of our work being used to aid human flourishing that transcends white collar and blue collar divides.  God values all work whether it is viewed as important by our society or not. Practically this means that the work of a gardener is equally valid as a surgeon and the most monotonous task in your day deserves as much of your energy and effort as the most exciting. When the gospel shows us that our work is part of God's great plan to bring completion and justice in this broken world surely we are freed from insignificance and boredom.
2. The gospel gives us a new identity apart from our work
It is so easy for us to define en our lives based on what we do.  After all we spend a significant portion of our lives working and when we meet someone one of the first questions on our lips is "what do you do with yourself". The pressure to succeed and draw significance from our wins in the workplace are ever present. Our parents hassle us to get a good job and our bosses (driven by their own desire to succeed) demand more and more out of us. But serving the idol of work is a futile endeavour indeed, because even though we sacrifice more and more for our jobs we rarely find the satisfaction that we crave. The gospel however, shows us that our identity is not to be found in our work but in the reality of Christ's redeeming sacrifice on our behalf.  When our identity and satisfaction are found in Christ's work we are freed to embrace our work without fear, stress or anxiety.
3. The gospel gives us a moral compass that is objective to our work
Workplace bullying, gossip, questionable business practices and immoral artistic demonstrations are realities in so many of our professions. The temptation to embrace these practices in order to fit it, gain favour, win promotions and succeed financially are huge. But the gospel fills us with God's Spirit which is working to bring truth, neighbour love and godliness into our lives. Paul says that once we are saved the power of sin has been torn down for us, so rebuilding what God destroyed is unthinkable. Knowing the gospel gives us a moral compass outside of our profession that frees us to act I the best interest of love rather than the bottom line.

Ultimately bringing Christ to bear on our work will mean that Jesus will be evident in the way we view our work, our motivation to work and our work ethic. Keller said that it will mean graciously absorbing more pain on the behalf of others than we inflict because that is what Christ did for us at the cross. Surely this will attract those we work with to find this radical gospel vision of work as well.

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