We continued our series on work last Sunday evening when I contributed to the general cheerfulness of humanity by preaching on Ecclesiastes. Should you be feeling unduly happy at the moment you can bring yourself down to earth by listening to the sermon here.
Some of the material in the sermon (the surveys from Oxford University Press and London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) came from Tim Chester’s book Gospel Centred Work. It is a short, highly readable book that I was able to work through in a week. Much of it covers the same ground as Keller’s book that I reviewed last week- the early chapters follow the same pattern of seeing work through the lens of creation, fall and redemption and there was a similarly helpful insistence that our work must flow from our identity in Christ rather than our work becoming our identity.
However, there were new insights that were helpful. The middle section of the book deals with five common challenges that Christians face at work (“I’m worried about my work”, “I’m afraid of my boss”, “I can’t bear to fail”, “I find it hard to stop” and “I can’t get along with them.”) In each case Chester helpfully applies the realities of Scripture to them. For instance, the antidote to worry is getting the truth into us that Christ is in control of our work situations rather than believing he is only interested in church. As well as encouragements, there are real challenges in this section with Chester expertly pointing out the heart issues that lie behind some of our decisions at work. For instance- “People who are not trusting in God’s greatness often over intervene, because they feel the need to control everything. People who are not looking to God for approval often under-intervene because they want everyone to like them.” He challenges our tendency to overwork noting that we should be seeking to do simply that which God expects of us instead of trying to prove ourselves, being governed by other people’s expectations or being control freaks who can’t let go. The section on relationships at work is equally helpful- it is much too easy to see the problem as other people rather than reflecting on our own sinful desires that can often be the cause. These chapters are not always comforting and occasionally they can feel somewhat idealistic but you sense that they are getting to the root of some of our work problems. I think it would occasionally be useful for us to ask to what extent we ourselves are responsible for some of our difficulties at work and see whether there are things we can change.
One of the things we have been trying to get away from in this series is the idea that there is a hierarchy of better jobs for Christians to do- with cross-cultural missionary at the top and being a businessman near the bottom. However, Chester is useful on the benefits and challenges of the business world- “Business blesses our world by creating employment, providing services, generating tax revenue and resourcing mission. Business people interested in Jesus should feel welcomed and affirmed.” However, he notes the potential challenge- “Money can be idolatrous- so Christian business people need to be accountable for the way they generate wealth and the use to which they put it.” I’m currently musing on the interface between the church and the business world- I may write up some thoughts on this in the next few weeks.
Lastly, I was grateful for the clarity of his thinking in terms of how to use work for the Lord’s glory. He suggests that some people (as has happened at Woody Road) may want to reduce their working hours in order to earn simply that which provides for their needs to give them more time for witnessing and involvement in church and community. However, he notes that this won’t be the right option for many. Instead their work provides them with a great opportunity to bless other people and it would be wrong for them to reduce their workload- for it is through their work that they show love for people and point them to the Lord. Then again for others earning money through their work gives them the opportunity to provide for the work of the Gospel and for those in need. None of these options is necessarily better than any other and will depend hugely on our circumstances. The point is that we need to be thinking clearly and working out how we can serve the Lord best in our situation.