It’s kind of an odd choice to read a book about work at this stage of my life. I’m a stay-at-home parent and I love it. I feel a lot of value in what I do and so I try to do it to the best of my ability. Which is really what lies at the heart of this book.
I’ve said before how much I enjoy and appreciate Keller’s writing. I think he’s one of the best Christian writers currently out there. The subject of work and Christianity is not one I’ve heard a lot about so I was curious to read Keller’s perspective. Rather, I should clarify, the subject of Christians at work is one that is talked about a lot but it’s usually within the context of explicitly Christian ministry. Pastors and missionaries etc., which is the atmosphere in which I grew up. Christians working jobs that are really obviously Christian. Often there is an expectation that if you are a Christian – especially an evangelical Christian – you should be working within a Christian job. So if you’re a Christian writer, you should write Christian books. A Christian movie director should make Christian movies. A Christian teacher should teach at a Christian school. You get the idea.
I don’t agree with that at all and so was pleased to hear Keller offer an alternative opinion, backed up with scripture.
First, Keller lays the groundwork by discussing the importance of work. He begins in Genesis (where else?) by pointing out that work was present in the world before sin. We are designed to work, to find satisfaction in a job well done. As humans, we will be happiest when we are able to do fulfilling work and when we do it to the best of our abilities. Keller lays out the importance of viewing all work as valuable. For a long time and certainly still in our society, work has been seen in a hierarchical way. “Professional” work is seen as more important, more worthy than blue collar work, even though both are necessary in a functioning society. There are lots of reasons this is so but it’s especially important that Christians not buy into this attitude. Our work has value. So whether I’m helping someone find something to read in a bookstore or I’m spending my day with my daughter, my work has value. I found a lot of comfort in that.
And if you approach work for the perspective that simply to work is important, then you no longer need to be confined by the idea of “Christian” work. Now, I think there is huge value in Christian ministry but I also think there is a powerful need for Christians to work outside of Christian circles. In banks, in tech start-ups, as school janitors, as grocery store cashiers. And, wherever we are, we need to do those jobs to the best of our ability and, in so doing, we glorify God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
This is really the crux of the book. But what does that look like? In some jobs, this might be more obvious. It means avoiding shady deals. It means respecting your co-workers. It means finding a balance between your work and family life.
I had a job once where my boss told me he really liked hiring Christians because all of his Christian employees were hard workers. I had never done anything explicitly Christian at this job. Really, the most Christian thing I’d done was asking for Sundays off. But I showed up on time and I worked as hard as I could. Of course I had my off days and my difficult days but I was delighted to know that, for at least one person, Christians were equated with hard and honest work.
This is what Keller is talking about. There may be situations in our jobs where we have to make moral decisions but for most of us, it is far more likely to be a matter of showing up and working hard.
This is hardly the exclusive domain of Christians and one of the chapters I enjoyed most was where Keller discusses something we’re all familiar with. What about our friends and co-workers who aren’t Christians but are wonderful people living moral lives and excelling in their chosen fields in an ethical way? If Christians have this special calling to be excellent workers and we are called to do so from a moral and spiritual standpoint, what about non-Christians who also do so but don’t have the same guidance? At the job I mentioned above, I certainly wasn’t the only employee who worked hard and most of my fellow co-workers were not Christians or especially religious. I did a good job but not spectacularly better than many of them. Some days they were definitely more gracious and more dedicated than I was. Keller provides a great explanation based on the idea of common grace. Since this is something I’ve thought of before, the book was worth it based on that chapter alone. Although, obviously, I think there’s a lot of great other stuff in here.
Work is challenging. Whatever you do, no matter how much you might love it, it comes with its own set of difficulties. Even your dream job has days where you just want to stay in bed. Every job requires skill and patience. This was an encouraging book to remember that, as Christians, we have an added reason to strive for that skill and patience.