The poet W. H. Auden once wrote about the interplay between art, science, and Christianity. Near the beginning of his essay is this statement: “To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.” He thus trivialized what we do the majority of our week. However, later in the article he did redeem himself somewhat: “There can no more be a ‘Christian’ art than there can be a Christian science or a Christian diet. There can only be a Christian spirit in which an artist, a scientist, works or does not work.”
How do you view your work? Is it something you do to survive, or something in which you thrive? Put another way, do you work to live or live to work? Timothy Keller’s excellent book on this subject, Every Good Endeavor, explains why we want to work, why it is so hard to work, and how the gospel can enable and ennoble our work (I recommended this book in the January 17, 2019 Voice of Grace). I again highly commend this book to you!
In a nutshell, work is hard because it often becomes fruitless, pointless, selfish, and reveals our idols. But work is integral to our design as image-bearers of God. God himself works, as a creator and a carpenter, and he has created us to work as well. And he did that not as a curse (the command to work was given before the fall) but as a blessing, giving us a role in caring for and cultivating his creation. Viewing our work as a calling from God (“vocation” derives from the Latin word “to call”) gives it dignity and purpose, which is not exactly small beer.
Keller points out that first, our work is a calling to serve others: “Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others. And that is exactly how the Bible teaches us to view work.” Secondly, our work is part of our worship of God: “Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it—no matter what kind of work it is.” Which way of looking at your work makes it richer, fuller, and more deeply satisfying: to view it as something you do to earn money, or to view it as your service to others and your worship to God? To ask the question is to answer it.
The New England Puritan Cotton Mather expressed similar thoughts to Keller’s. He wrote that every Christian has both a general calling to serve the Lord and a particular calling to be useful to others. He likened the Christian to a man in a boat rowing for heaven. If he pulls on only one of his oars (callings), he “will make but a poor dispatch to the Shoar of Eternal Blessedness.” Everyone must have a special business “so he may Glorify God, by doing Good for others, and getting of Good for himself.” Are you pulling on both oars? Are you serving God and serving others? Or are you, as the song suggests, simply working for the weekend?
Finally, don’t judge your work, vocation, career, or calling by the world’s standards. Be encouraged by these words from John Calvin: “This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendor and value in the eye of God.” Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you joy and fulfillment in your work!
Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder.