8 to 5

During the Reformation a couple of ordinary, yet remarkable, folks realized that salvation does not lie in our own hands but rather that we are saved by faith and faith alone. Sounds rather philosophical? Well actually the repercussions of this realization spilled over into a shift in societal structure. During this short span of time there were angry kings, martyrs, famous speeches, great literature, great art and the start of democracy, just to name a few. In short: the world changed dramatically. One of the areas where specifically a fellow by the name of Martin Luther made a massive impact was in the perception and theology of “secular” work. People started to think about their jobs and its value.

Four hundred years later we are still (or maybe again) struggling with the concept of work. It takes up most of your day and is not always, sometimes never, fun. We work so that we can then buy things, travel the world and give to charity. We might work to form our identity, to gain respect and leave a legacy. How many people do you know that actually work every day with the sole purpose of retiring? I, for one, know several people that would say we work today to one day move to the coast to sip mojitos and take strolls on the beach. Is this really all there is to your eight to five?

Recently interest in the meaning of work started to (re)surface in discussions and seen more and more in literature, especially in Christian circles. Tim Keller released a book Every Good Endeavor where he discusses our perceptions of serving God in our jobs. He starts off by listing some of the ways to serve:

  1. The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.
  2. The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
  3. The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.
  4. The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.
  5. The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.
  6. The way to serve God at work with a graceful, joyful, gospel-changed heart thorugh all the upas and downs.
  7. The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.
  8. The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.

So which one is the way in which we are to serve God at work? The assumption of course is that only one of these is the way in serving God. Keller makes the point that these are several aspects of the same thing, each of them are a way  in serving God at work – a combination of these is the way we serve God.

The inherent value of work and our understanding of the value of our work remains a challenge that we need to face. To conclude, see the words of Mr Luther himself:

All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government-to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.

We need to continue to think about work and how we can shift a perception that work is nothing more that a means to an end.