I’ve been reading the book “Every Good Endeavor” by Tim Keller. It’s a book about work and the meaning of work. Have you ever been dissatisfied with work? Does it ever seem like work was drudgery, that it was unfulfilling? Are you tempted to find another job or simply do your time until retirement? What is the point of work? Aristotle said work was a necessary evil and the greatest aim of man’s life was to get to the place where he didn’t have to work. It kind of sounds like one interpretation of the American dream, doesn’t it?
I knew a high school boy whose father had died from overwork. In Japan they call it karoshii, or work death. That would be the extreme opposite of Aristotle. Most of us would find ourselves somewhere in the middle. We know work should be more than just a paycheck; there should be some value in what we do. On the other hand we know work is not the goal of life; we work to live, we don’t live to work.
Keller says we should expect to be frustrated in our work even though we may be in the right vocations. The reason for this frustration is because our work will never be good enough. It will never match up to the highest aspirations of our heart. Eventually all our work is wiped away by history. King Solomon despaired of all the fruit his labor accomplished since it would probably go to scoundrels after he died (Ecc. 1:18-20).
But that doesn’t mean work doesn’t have a noble purpose; it does. Work enables us to provide for our families. It shouldn’t destroy our families. Work gives us the opportunity to create; as a counter to consuming. Work is a participation in the Divine process of ordering this world. If God could say his work was ‘good’ and then ‘very good’, what can we say about our work?
Thirty years ago I was in basic training. Our drill sergeants told us to do a ‘police call’ (pick up litter to include cigarette butts) outside in the rain. I grumbled as I put on my poncho and went outside. I thought, “I don’t even smoke. Why am I picking up someone else’s butts?” Then Paul’s words came to mind, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Col.3:23). The rain didn’t stop but the Son was shining.
As we move deeper into the 2014 calendar year take a moment to reflect on your work. Be thankful. Many Americans would love to have your job or mine. Be content. You can provide for yourself and your family. And finally be joyful. Your work can be a service to God which history will not wipe away.