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Work & Unemployment (a church for the good of Dublin)

27 January 2015

Sign of WorkThis Sunday we will finish our series “New Year: New You” which has been based out of the book of Colossians – do have a listen to all the talks if you’re interested. The aim of the series is to get our foundation and motivation right as we start 2015 so if things go according to our plans we will be able to thank God and not get proud, and if things don’t go according to plan we’ll be able to trust God and not get depressed. One of the most important topics to consider when it comes to a ‘new year’ and a ‘new you’ is the subject of work and I think we all fall into one of two categories:

  1. Work is too important to us (it is an idol that rules us) – in the long run this leads to symptoms like anxiety, overwork, neglect of other areas of our lives, pride and exhaustion.
  2. Work is not important to us (it is a necessary evil to endure) – in the long run this leads to symptoms like boredom, laziness, a begrudging attitude, envy, moaning and grumbling.

In this post I outline my sermon from Sunday and also give some discussion questions if you want to go deeper in City Groups. Do watch this brilliant video from Tim Keller and his book Every Good Endeavour is required reading for anyone serious about faith and work (I quote from him liberally below, often without reference). By the way, when I say “work”, I am talking about paid work and unpaid work, work in the home and work in the office and I am also talking about work at university and school (i.e studies).

There is one more thing to say by way of introduction. The topic of faith and work is of huge importance for us as a church looking to bless Dublin and play our part in bringing cultural change. People from all over Ireland and, with the tech bubble that now exists in Dublin, people from all over the world come to Ireland for jobs. So if we want to be a church that exists for the good of the city, we need to equip people to bring God’s love to the city through their work. Here is a great quote by Mark Greene from Thank God It’s Monday that captures what I mean;

“The impact of Christians effectively robbing their work of spiritual and ministry value is to produce a sense of guilt. The working Christian comes home at the end of a fifty-hour week and thinks:

“I haven’t done any evangelism. I haven’t done any ministry. I’m not serving God. I must make time outside of work to do all these things”

The result can simply be exhaustion and discouragement. Exhaustion because too much is being attempted, discouragement….because there is a sneaking suspicion that the thing we spend thirty, forty, fifty hours a week doing is of no intrinsic value to God”.

So let’s look at the subject of faith and work under 2 headings.

(1) Your Work Matters To God (The Biblical Overview)

Let’s piece together the 4 parts of the biblical story.

1. Creation: Work is Good.

Sign about WorkIn the beginning God worked. God got his hands dirty. He brought order out of chaos and beauty out of darkness. He took what was formless and filled it and made it wonderful. And at the end of each day of work he said “it was good.” He enjoyed his work. He got satisfaction out of his work. And what we’ll see is this continues throughout the rest of the Bible…God is always working, getting his hands dirty.

  • In creation God is a gardener.
  • In Jesus God comes not as a philosopher or army general but as a carpenter.
  • In the resurrection God comes back and starts helping his disciples to fish.
  • In the consummation, at the end of time, God is cleaning up after a great battle and building a magnificent city.

From start to finish, God is a worker. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted place in our world, the creator is a worker, a designer, a gardener, a carpenter, a fisherman and a city planner. And God’s call to the first humans (Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:15) was to image him by working and continuing the work he had begun, to join him in the work! God is saying: “Just as I am a gardener, so you need to garden, just as I take care of the world, so you need to care of the world, just as I am king over this earth, so I call you to be vice-regents with me.”

This gives our work so much dignity. If you look at all other ancient world-views and religions and how they saw work, it never had this kind of dignity and status. Only the Jewish and Hebrew thought was so positive about work. Work is a vocation. Work is a calling. Work is a task given us by God himself. Work is not a necessary evil or an afterthought. The garden was perfect, there was nothing wrong with it, it was paradise…and yet God calls us to work. We are to bring order out of chaos, beauty into the blackness and fill what is empty.

Tim Keller says this about the view of work given in Genesis 1-2:

Work is taking the raw material of creation and developing it for the sake of others. Musicians take the raw material of sound and bring the meaning of art into our lives. Farmers take the raw material of soil and seed and bring food into our lives. This means we are God’s ministers in our work not only when we are witnessing or talking directly about Jesus, but when we are simply doing our work. A musician is serving God when she makes great music, not solely when she is singing about coming to Jesus.

2. The Fall: Work is Broken

After Adam and Eve sin, God says: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” What was once liberating has become toil. What was once enjoyable and satisfying is very often futile. What brought rest to our lives now often brings exhaustion. Subduing, ordering, filling and beautifying our world is now not an easy task. Work is broken and twisted and this manifests itself in 4 main ways.

  1. Unemployment – This wasn’t God’s intention. Some people choose not to work to do other things, and that is fine. But others want work and can’t get it and that is not what God wants. When you are unemployed you start with a sense of anxiety about the future and about money and how you’re going to survive. But it often leads to a place of boredom, despair, loneliness, isolation and depression. When I helped on a job seekers course a few years ago, the biggest challenge for people was morale. They doubted themselves and their ability. They felt worthless. They had lost hope. They felt rejected. They couldn’t see a way out. Work is such an important part of what it means to made in the image of God, to be out of work is to experience one of the greatest curses of living in a fallen world. Read on for more details.
  2. Boredom. Work is pointless and doesn’t bring joy. The book of Ecclesiastes talks a lot of about this.
  3. Anxiety. Work is full of pressure and you often feel like a failure.
  4. Overwork. Work becomes an idol and becomes our whole identity. We now work not to serve God and others, but ourselves, for money or for status. Keller says:

Picture of work and life in balanceIf the point of work is to serve and exalt ourselves, then our work inevitably becomes less about the work and more about us.  Our aggressiveness will eventually become abuse, our drive will become burnout, and our self-sufficiency will become self-loathing.

But if the purpose of work is to serve and exalt something beyond ourselves, then we actually have a better reason to deploy our talent, ambition, and entrepreneurial vigour- and we are more likely to be successful in the long run, even by the world’s definition.

3. Redemption: Work is restored

When God comes to restore our world he comes in physical form, as a carpenter, to restore our physical universe. He did not come to save our souls out of this universe; he came to save our souls and body FOR this universe. He wants to give us the foundation and motivation, the power and identity, with which to bring redemption to our workplaces. He wants us to be so secure and confident in him, to have all our identity and status in him and his provision, that we don’t look at work purely for money and status, but look at work as a way to serve him and bring justice, peace, beauty, healing and goodness to world. We’re to make society as good as it can be. We are to once again see work as a calling, as a vocation, as a way to image our creator and bring his creative power into the world.

4. Consummation: A physical world of work

God saved us, that we might be restored to our original task, though what was a garden in Genesis will become a city in the new heaven and the new earth. Whilst we’re still to rule with God, some jobs will no longer exist:

  • We won’t need doctors, because there will be no sickness.
  • We won’t need search and rescue teams as no-one will be lost
  • We won’t need the police, because justice will roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream
  • We won’t need any church pastors, because we will all know God perfectly and live in his presence

But we’ll still work and work will be satisfying and good. It will bring joy to us, joy to our creator and joy to one another. We’ll make more magnificent civilisations and cities and buildings than anything this world could ever dream of. We’ll compose better music, create better artwork, play better sport, develop better high tech businesses and eat better food than anything this world has to offer.

(2) God matters to your work (Colossians 3:16, 22-4:2)

There are 3 things that we need to learn to help us find the ‘redemptive edge’ to our work. They all come under the heading of seeing work as a calling.

1. See work as a calling – do it first and foremost for him

Sign about workThis is the main trust in the passage from Colossians. God is our boss. God is our only audience. So even when our boss is not there, we don’t cut corners and see what we can get away with, we do it for him. We’re not trying to impress our boss, we’re trying to impress God. Mark Greene tells a story of a minister who asked a young girl, who served as a domestic in one of his families what evidence she could give of having become a Christian, and she meekly answered, “I now sweep under the mats.” Her motivation had changed, she was serving Jesus, she was living in the presence of God. Work is a calling. Work is a vocation. Work is for God and that brings an integrity and sincerity to your work.

2. See work as a calling – do it to serve others

Keller picks up on Psalms 145-147 where it talks about how God is loving towards all he has made and how he cares and provides for, protects and satisfies his creation. He feeds every living thing. He loves every living thing. People have often asked how God provides for his creation and the answer is through you and me. God chooses to love his creation through you and me. We’re still God’s ambassadors on earth. The baker, the farmer, the mother, the milk-maid, are all God in disguise – God with masks on. God is loving, providing, caring and feeding you through them. When you marry and bear children, it’s a calling of God, it’s God in disguise. It’s God’s way of creating and distributing his gifts. When the farmer farms and the baker bakes, it’s God in disguise, it’s God’s way of feeding you. When you set up high-tech businesses in Dublin to make software and help people bring order and efficiency to our world and you provide jobs and money for people, it’s God in disguise. It’s God’s way of providing for you.

Keller goes on to apply this to those looking for work and says that the functional reason you should have a job is because it helps others. You shouldn’t do a job for the status or money; you should look to see whether it’s useful for other people. Don’t be a drain on society, be an investor. So don’t get a job that makes money, but doesn’t help people. Hopefully you can find a job that does both! Work that’s good work helps people and promotes the common good. Work that’s good work may not be well paid or specialist but it is an expression of love. He says:

“We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer ‘What will make me the most money and give me the most status?’ The question must now be ‘How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and human need?”

2. See work as a calling – do it with excellence

Paul says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart.” If you’re raising children, do it to the best of your abilities. If you’re studying, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re stacking shelves, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re arranging financial transactions, helping people find careers, caring for people in hospitals, selling software, building software, playing rugby, teaching kids…whatever it is, do it to the best of your ability. Work at it with all your heart. Why? Because this is worship to God and loving to others.

But there is another reason. Even if you’re doing a job you don’t like or you find it too menial or too hard or too boring (or whatever!), if you (a) see that job as a calling to serve God and love others and (b) do it to the best of your ability, you’ll have greater joy in that job. You’ll be able to give thanks for that job. It will make the ‘non-ideal job’ manageable and doable – maybe even enjoyable at times – until a more ideal job that suits your talents, gifting, experience and qualifications comes along.

To work with excellence and to work in the service of God and others is to have the right attitude and will mean you moan less, cut corners less, grumble less and stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. That is what the book of Ecclesiastes says, which talks so much about the toil and futility of work – if you can learn to give thanks for it and do it with the right attitude, that is a gift from God and will help you find meaning in what is often a meaningless world.

Even the simplest, most basic jobs which the world thinks are pathetic, have dignity and worth before God. He was not above the station of a gardener or a carpenter. He got his hands dirty, he worked with all his heart. He blessed others and it gave him personal satisfaction. Work with excellence. Work with gratitude. Work to serve others. Work to serve God.

Picture of a man needing to find workThe Agony of Unemployment

So let me finish by making four simple points of application to those who are unemployed. Please do read this earlier blog post from October 2012 about when I seeking work in Dublin myself.

  1. Stay Grateful – see how God is providing for you through the city and the live register. Gives thanks to God for the benefits you receive, the food you receive, the help you receive, all free of charge.
  2. Take the next step – take the necessary steps you can to seek work, whether through FAS or a back-to-work scheme or through starting at the bottom of the ladder in a more menial job and treating that as launching pad for something else in the future. Don’t pass over work because you’re above it. And sign up for a FAS community employment scheme or a course at Jobcare.
  3. Take Support – Whether from your family, friend or the church family. Speak to your City Group leaders. We can give you emotional and practical support. The church is called to be a family that looks out for one another.
  4. Read Matthew 6:25-33 a lot – learn to trust God as a father who will provide for you and remain committed to seeking first his kingdom. At lean times in our marriage, these verses have been very important to Leanne and myself. He is a good father who cares for you and he will give you everything you need. He may not give you everything you want but he’ll give you everything you need. Hold on to that promise.

Reflection and Application

Here are some questions for you to think through with a friend or in City Group:

  1. Is work too important for you or not important enough? Why?
  2. In your opinion, why is work robbed of ‘ministerial value’ in the church (see Mark Greene quote)?
  3. Does our church assume a hierarchy where those in church leadership are the most important and those with ‘normal jobs’ are less important? If so, how can we combat this?
  4. What is the biggest joy and greatest stress for you at work right now?
  5. Which bit of the biblical overview was new to your thinking? How does this inspire or motivate you in your work?
  6. Which of the three applications with regards to seeing work as a calling is most challenging to you? Why?
  7. How can we help those in our church family who are unemployed?
  8. What unanswered questions do you have with regards to faith and work?
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One Comment leave one →
  1. 28 January 2015 11:38 am

    Steve,

    Very interesting blog post. I think you are absolutely right that we need to restore the status of work in our churches. Work is a great opportunity to serve and help Christians and non-Christians alike. Done with the right attitude, all work, even seemingly menial, will be a blessing and a potential eye opener to other people.

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