The Sacred Work of Cleaning Up Trash

Our jobs aren’t just about making money, they’re also about establishing social status. Some jobs are celebrated and others are just tolerated. But whether you’re a six-figure brain surgeon or you clean toilets at the local Taco Bell for minimum wage, does all work really have sacred value to God?

I love this quote from Pastor Tim Keller:

“The current economic era has given us fresh impulses and new ways to stigmatize work such as farming and caring for children – jobs that are supposedly not “knowledge” jobs and therefore do not pay very well. But in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament, we see him as a carpenter. No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God”

Last year I had a beautiful and unexpected encounter on a trip home from LA that deeply impacted my perspective on this issue. I recounted the following in my journal on the flight.

We were sitting at Gate 27 in the mostly empty Atlanta airport, watching the last few minutes of an NBA basketball game on one of the terminal television screens. We were waiting for our 11pm connecting flight back to Indy at a mostly empty gate when a young girl with a broom and a dustpan began sweeping under the seats around us. I could hear her singing quietly to herself.

“Are we in your way?” I asked as she filled her rolling bin with a day’s worth of trash from thousands of hurried travelers.

“Absolutely not!” she replied.

Her pleasant demeanor unexpectedly unfolded into inquiring about our day and telling us a great story about the time she found someone’s lost luggage, googled their name, and contacted them directly to ensure it was returned.

“I just couldn’t rest until I made sure that man got his stuff back!”

She was such a breath of fresh air after a day of flying that after she left, I ran down the terminal to catch up with her. I startled her a bit, but I felt like there was something she needed to hear.

“Thank you for what you do here,” I told her. “There are no small jobs when we do them unto the Lord. You partnered with Him tonight in caring for us. Your work matters. Thank you.”

She seemed to be both grateful and stunned, as if she had never thought about her job that way before. But it was true. That night, she was God’s business partner, doing His work in caring deeply for each one of us.

I want to do better in recognizing the sacredness of work, no matter how important or unimportant our culture may have deemed it to be. From the pilot who flew my plane to the young lady who swept under my seat at Gate B27, all work matters when viewed through the lens of partnering with God in the care of His world and His people.

What if we saw our work and the work of all those around us that way?


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

How To Find More Happiness at Work

Researcher Christian Smith uncovered some fascinating insights while working on the National Study for Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill a few years ago. When asked the question, “what is the purpose of this life?” a majority of Americans answered simply:

“To be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. In fact, you might even agree with that sentiment. You don’t have to look very hard to see that personal happiness and fulfillment is the central theme of modern Western culture. Follow your heart! Chase your dreams! Do what you love! These are the mantras of our civilization.

And with the right nuance, there is some truth to these things. We certainly weren’t created for a miserable, meaningless existence. But placing personal happiness at the center of our pursuits is actually a sure-fire way to find misery.

Our Design

We weren’t designed to be the central character in a story we are writing, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece God has been writing since the beginning of time. Look at Genesis chapter 1:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

–Genesis 1:26-27

We were made to be image bearers, vice-regents (a person who acts in the name of another) reflecting the glory of God and carrying out His purposes in the world. God has been, and always will be, the central character of The Story, and we will only find our true joy in fulfilling our creative role in His grand narrative.

We were created for the glory of God.

This is true of our everyday work as well.

Flip the Script

In the 1500s, the common belief was that the earth was at the center of the universe and all the rest of the heavens – the moon, sun, stars – revolved around us. It wasn’t until a scientist named Copernicus confronted this falsehood that the truth finally won out.

The Gospel creates a kind of “Copernican Revolution” in our lives as well. It flips the script! It removes us from the center of our own story and puts God in His rightful place. This is the story we were meant to live, as vice-regents, image bearers, and reflectors of God almighty! This is the context for our everyday work.

Here’s the reality – God did wire each of us a certain way, he gave us talents and passions and dreams for this life we have to live. And He undoubtedly wants us to pursue those giftings, to His glory and for His purposes!

Finding Meaning

If you want to pursue more meaningful work, if you want to find more purpose in your day job, start here. Pastor JD Grear says it this way:

“Whatever you’re good at, do it well for the glory of God. Then do it somewhere strategically for the mission of God.”

Pursue your own happiness and find your own misery. Pursue God’s glory and you can find joy in the expression of your God-given giftings in wherever your daily work leads you.

“For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.


 

One Word that Just Might Change the Way You See Your Job

Statistics say a majority of people hate their jobs. Most see daily work as something that just “has to be done.” After all, there are bills to pay, kids to feed, school loans to pay off, and hopefully a few dollars left over to do some fun stuff from time to time.

This is life. The rat race. Days of mostly meaningless work sprinkled with a few occasional glimpses of happiness here and there if we’re lucky.

Work is boring. Work is hard. Work is meaningless. Work is drudgery.

Or perhaps you find yourself more in this camp. Your work makes you feel good about your place in the social hierarchy. Maybe it pays you big dollars and gives you leverage to mute many of the fears others hear more loudly.

Work is status. Work is identity. Work is power. Work is security.

How about you? How would you finish that sentence? Work is _______________.

Have you ever wondered how God might fill in that blank?

Different Perspective

There is a fascinating Hebrew word in the Old Testament that paints a much more beautiful picture of this thing we call work:

Avodah

Avodah is the Old Testament Hebrew word for work.

And worship.

And service.

Yep, this one word actually means all three things simultaneously. Avodah paints a beautiful word picture of God’s intertwined intent for our everyday work.

In Psalm 104, avodah means work:

“Then man goes out to his work (avodah), to his labor until evening.”

– Psalm 104:23

In Exodus 8, the same word is used for worship:

“This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.”

– Exodus 8:1

In Joshua 24, it means service:

“But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.”

–Joshua 24:15

For those redeemed by the Gospel, work is not our identity nor is it just some horrific punishment for man’s sin. Work is worship! Work is service! Work is a simultaneous opportunity for us to provide for our families while giving glory to God and loving our fellow man.

Conclusion

How would it change the way you feel when the alarm clock goes off tomorrow morning if you saw your work this way?


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

Gospel Insights from a Successful Venture Capitalist

If you could ask a successful leader one question, what would it be?

I found myself with that opportunity recently, riding in the passenger seat of a car next to a highly renowned businessman. Just the two of us, and 25 minutes of highway between us and our destination.

You wouldn’t know his name. You wouldn’t recognize his face. If he passed you on the street, there’s no real reason he’d ever catch your attention. But he’s a venture capitalist – a real-life Shark Tank – and he’s made more money (and given more away) than anyone I’ve ever hung out with.

He’s also a Christian.

And while his gifts in business have brought the dreams of countless upstart entrepreneurs to life, his generosity has brought life and hope to countless numbers of people across this globe. I was fascinated, and outside of a few crazy morning drivers, I had his undivided attention.

Digging Deeper

“Obviously, you’re skilled at what you do,” I brilliantly noted. “But lots of people are good businessmen. What’s your edge? What makes you special? What’s your ‘secret sauce?’”

He paused, took a deep breath, and let the awkward silence hang in the air just long enough to make me uncomfortable. I fought the urge to fill the void.

Finally, he began:

“A number of years ago, my wife and I were watching one of those old, cheesy Bible movies. It was at the point in the Old Testament where God asked Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. I watched as the actor playing Moses argued with God, as he wrestled and toiled in the tension of what God was asking him to do. And as I watched Moses pray and beg God for help, something hit me:

Moses didn’t know the end of the story. He had no idea what was about to happen!

Revelation

We read the narrative knowing the outcome – the plagues, the people, the leaving, the chase, the Red Sea’s miraculous parting, the provision of daily food in the desert – we know how it all turns out! Moses did not. All he had was that God had spoken and his trust that God would lead.

I decided that was a pretty good way to run my business.

I start each day by asking God to speak, and then I trust He will empower me to go wherever He leads. If I have any kind of secret, I guess that’s what it is.”

That’s some simple, solid advice. I wonder how all of our journeys might change if we committed to do the same?

“Moses answered God, ‘but why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

“I’ll be with you,” God said.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

Does “Called Into Ministry” Mean Becoming a Pastor?

Anyone else grow up going to summer church camp?

Every summer I spent a week in Hartford City, Indiana at Lake Placid campground, home of the sanctuary made out of a rusty old airplane hanger, sulfur-infused water that smelled like rotten eggs, and some of the greatest memories of my entire childhood. I loved church camp! It made a deep and indelible mark on my spiritual development as a young Christian.

Most of it was beautiful, but there were also some unintended theological consequences. Much of what we learn really is caught not taught.

Each of the four evening camp services had a theme, and the 3rd night of camp was usually “called into ministry night.” The camp speaker would passionately preach about what it means to be called by God into full-time vocational ministry. This was followed by a direct challenge to listen intently! What was God saying to each of us individually about our own calling? He was most certainly tapping some on the shoulder, and we don’t want to miss “the call.”

The service would usually culminate with a show of hands for all those feeling God’s “call into ministry.” About 10-12% of the hands would go up, and those feeling this call were invited to the altar where the rest of us gathered around to pray for them. When the prayer time was over, we would all head back to our seats, some carrying “the call” into sacred work and the rest of us just left to our secular work trajectories.

At least that’s the message that was instinctively received.

Snack Shop Talk

I remember using those very terms at the snack shop after service. Someone would holler across the ping pong table, “hey Coop, so are you called into ministry?”

“No-no, not me,” I always shot back. “I’m just going to pursue a secular job. I don’t feel called into ministry.” (Little did I know I would spend a dozen years on staff at two churches. God most certainly has a sense of humor).

Let’s be clear, nothing intentionally devious was being perpetrated here, but an unintentional heresy of sorts was being deposited into our Christian worldview. In seeking to clarify the ecclesiastical pastoral calling on people’s lives, we were unwittingly segregating the way we thought about Christian work and calling as a whole.

This has caused confusion for many believers in the understanding of their everyday work. It’s resulted in marketplace Christians believing their lives are second class, that their “secular jobs” only exist to make money to fund truly sacred activities, that there is no meaningful connection between their daily vocations and the work of God in the world. And that’s just bad theology.

Work Theology

Please don’t get me wrong, there is something special and distinct about the ecclesiastical call into full-time ministry (I spent 12 beautiful years as a pastor myself!), but the sacred nature of work is not just for pastors or those employed by a church, it is intended for all Christians!

Did you know our English word “vocation,” which we use when discussing someone’s career choice and what they do for a living, is derived from the latin word “vocare,” which means calling. The Apostle Paul uses this same word when he references pastors in the church and those who work in the marketplace. There is no distinction.

But my guess is that few of us think of our day jobs this way. We’ve instinctively assumed that our work was just a way to earn money so we can pay the bills, support our families, do a few enjoyable things from time to time, and maybe give a little to the sacred things in life that really matter. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find a little bit of meaning from it, or at least make enough money to offset the meaninglessness. If not, I guess we’ll have eternity to make up for it.

This is bad work theology.

Your work, in the church or in the marketplace, is vocare. It’s a calling. It’s part of our human vocation as vice-regents and caretakers of God’s creation.

How would it change your feeling when the alarm goes off each morning if you saw your work like that?

If you’re a believer, you have a calling. It’s time to embrace it.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.