Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding freedom in our work

I just finished reading Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton, 2012) by Tim Keller and co-author Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the director of Redeemer's Center for Faith & Work. This book is a good introduction to the excellent work of that ministry. It's helped me approach my "day job" with a healthier attitude and shown me that I can serve God (and my neighbor) at work, even though I'm ambivalent about the mission of the company I work for.

In the last chapter the authors talk about the concept of "the work under the work." This is what truly motivates us to work. It could be merely the paycheck, or it could be achieving  a sense of success and self-worth by being more productive than our peers. It could even be something as noble-sounding as making the world a better place. Every Good Endeavor argues -- effectively in my opinion -- that if the "work under the work" isn't grounded on the promises of the Christian gospel then our work will ultimately be a futile attempt to find redemption apart from the only one who can provide that -- namely Jesus of Nazareth.

Keller and Alsdorf also unpack the symbiotic relationship of rest to work as seen in the Old and New Testament's teaching on Sabbath rest, most notably in the Fourth Commandment. In Deuteronomy 5:15 the observance of the Sabbath is tied to God's rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt -- the Sabbath is portrayed as a "reenactment of emancipation from slavery." (p. 235) How might observing a rhythm of work and Sabbath rest apply to us? We're not slaves are we? Well, maybe. Here's a good quote.

Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don't have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom.  It means you are not a slave—not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph—otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug. (p. 236)

The Bible's depiction of healthy work and healthy rest is great news for a culture in which busyness, restlessness and anxiety are constant companions -- and this book quite brilliantly unpacks it much more than I can do in a short post. Bottom line: read this book! You can have my copy...as long as you pass it on when you're done.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a book that I really ought to read.

Stephen Ley said...

I wasn't going to read it. My thought was "oh another Tim Keller book". But a Christian brother gave me a copy and I was blown away. I found it extremely helpful!