Work That Matters1
Work that Matters
I’ve been doing some reading lately on the doctrine of vocation. What’s that? Yes, I thought you might ask. It’s a doctrine that has, regrettably, fallen out of use. I have to confess, to my own chagrin, that I haven’t taught on this in any consistent way. So, here’s a small beginning.
Does your work really matter? Yes, it pays the bills and maybe provides a helpful service to clients – but is your work significant in light of eternity? Does it matter for the kingdom of God? Are there some callings that have more eternal significance than others? For instance, do pastors and missionaries have a ‘higher’ calling? Is our work more significant for eternity?
Most Christians have a hard time answering those questions. This is a shame because our forefathers knew the answers very well!
I’ve been reading Leland Ryken's wonderful book Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, Puritanism was not, as one wag put it, “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be having a good time”. Rather, the Puritans had a marvelously integrated life. They thought clearly and carefully about what it meant to live all of life for the glory of God–whether that be marriage, parenting, suffering, or working.
Following the lead of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Puritans refused the sacred/secular distinction so common both then and today. The sacred/secular distinction assumes that there are two tiers of work: work that is devoted to God (monks, priests, pastors, or any full-time Christian ministry) and “normal” work (farming, banking, plumbing, and anything related to computers). “Sacred” work is, by definition, more valuable and pleasing to God. Martin Luther famously destroyed that distinction and boldly asserted that there was no difference in value before God between the labors of a maid and a pastor. The Puritan William Perkins echoed that sentiment,
“The act of a shepherd in keeping sheep …. Is as good a work before God as is the action of a minister in preaching.”
Richard Steels asserted that it was in the shop “where you may most confidently expect the presence and blessing of God”. Consequently, Puritans were free to enjoy their work with the full confidence that their labors were as significant and pleasing to God as that of any priest or pastor. The doctrine of election meant that every believer was equally a beloved child of God. The doctrine of providence meant that every believer had an equally significant calling from God as they carried out their work for the glory of God.
How does that work? How do you glorify God at work? By evangelizing? No, but by being an instrument in God’s hands for the unfolding of the glories of creation and the blessing of others. In other words, work is inherently pleasing to God by virtue of the creation mandate (Gen 1:28), the law of love (Matt 22:39), and the gospel mission. Luther points out that our work is not simply a pleasing duty that we perform for God, but our work is God Himself at work graciously providing for the needs of others.
For example, when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, God graciously answers that prayer– not by miraculous fiat, but by calling men and women to grow wheat and others to grind the flour and some to bake bread and others to drive trucks and stock shelves. And of course there are the bankers who helped the grocer get his business off the ground and the lawyers who helped him get the legal affairs in order and the marketers who helped that business thrive. All of these vocations are part of God answering our prayer!
So, brother and sister, work with joy! Your labors are not in vain– they are profoundly pleasing to the Lord.
- I’ve just started God at Work by Gene Edward Veith Jr. It looks excellent!
- Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. This is a terrific book that will bless anyone looking to think more clearly about the Christian life.
- One of my prayers for Harvest Church is that we become increasingly committed to missions - at home and abroad. I really enjoyed this recent article from TGC on “10 Things the Church Can Learn About Missions from Jesus, Peter, and Paul”. Excellent and clarifying!
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