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Series: How to Stay in our jobs with God — Treating our Work Relationships as Gifts

In this final installment of notes on John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life ideas for integrating faith and work, we’ll be looking at

#6. “We make much of Christ in our secular work by treating the web of relationships it creates as a gift of God to be loved by practical deeds of help and sharing the Gospel” (p. 151).

To begin this section of the book, Piper explains his rational for putting this item last: “…not because it is least important but because some who put it first never say anything else about the importance of secular work” (p. 151). Thankfully, Piper does not diminish the Christian calling to a secular workplace as solely a vehicle for personal evangelism. However, if Jesus wasn’t lying when he talked about what he had come to do, and if it’s true that he died as a substitute for any who will let him, then the importance of sharing this “good news” can’t be diminished, either. As Piper says, “speaking the good news of Christ is part of why God put you in your job” (p. 151, emphasis mine).

God has given us our secular jobs for many reasons–to excel in them through creativity and industry, to create useful products, to promote human flourishing through the products we make or services we render, to provide for our needs, to provide for the needs of others, to enjoy with Him–and one of them is to be messengers of the good news. All the other ways to bring God to work combine together to make our context-conscious speaking of the Gospel attractive. And, if what Jesus Christ said is true, that knowing God is the the only life there is (John 17:3) and that he is the way to God (John 14:6) and that he didn’t come to give us advice on how to live (religion) but rather to give us life itself–well, then we don’t really love our jobs or the people we work with if we’re not willing to share that with them. And we can’t look at that last statement as a guilt trip, because guilt trips don’t motivate over the long term. It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a reality check.

May this series of reflections be used by the Holy Spirit to break down the idea that faith and work are separate things; may it reconnect us with the reality of what we set out to do when we get out of bed each morning to go to work.

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Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs with God — Earning Money with which to Help Others

Continuing with John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life pointers for integrating faith and work, next on the list is:

#5. “We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God” (p. 150).

Now, keep in mind that, prior to this, Piper advised that we work to earn enough money to avoid becoming a burden on others. He’s not saying, “You have to give all of your money away, even though you have a mortgage and a family.” But he is saying, “As [you] work, [you] should dream of how to use [your] excess money to make others glad in God” (p. 150). The portion of our money that Piper is talking about here is that which we earn in excess of what we need (“and we need far less than we think”). The way to glorify God in our earning this portion of money is to meet the needs of others with it, in the name of Jesus.

So, to summarize what we’ve covered thus far: as we go to work each day, 1) consciously enjoying being with and depending God as we go about our tasks, 2) striving bring creative excellence to all that we do, 3) using our job to “adorn” our spoken Gospel, 4) seeking to earn enough money to avoid burdening others while seeking to be helpful more than profitable, 5) we can also daydream about how to bless those in need with our extra money.

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs with God — Making Enough and Focusing on Helpfulness

4. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning enough money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work rather than the financial rewards.

I like how Piper shows a tension here: we both need to make enough money to keep us from being a burden on others, but we also need to prioritize helpfulness over profit.

First, we need to not feel bad about making an honest living: “Work with your hands… so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess 4:11-12). When we earn a living, we honor God and we “clear the way for non-Christians to see Christ for who he really is. Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 147). When a moral non-Christian who values good work ethic sees Christians who use God as an excuse for not working hard, they use it as evidence that our God is not worthy to follow. Using God as a reason for not working hard is falsely communicating about a productive, creative, purposeful, working God.

Second, though it’s paradoxical, we honor God by making a living when we are focused not on our profit but on the benefit our product or service brings to society. This sort of thinking smacks of heresy, but listen: “Yes, we should earn enough money to meet our needs… but, no, we should not make that the primary focus of why we work” (Piper, p. 147). Jesus strikes us with his words each time we read, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Piper helps demystify this concept: “Work with an eye not mainly to your money, but to your usefulness. Work with a view to benefiting people with what you make or do…. Stop thinking mainly of profitability, and think mainly of how helpful your product or service can become” (p. 148).

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs “with God” — Confirming the Spoken Gospel

So far, we have looked at staying in our secular jobs “with God” by:

  1. Enjoying Fellowship with Him
  2. Pursuing Creative Productivity for a Purpose
    1. Consciously Relying on Him

These insights have been reflections and notes from “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5,” a chapter in John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life.

The third way that Piper lists for staying at work with God is:

3. We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken Gospel.

It can be easy when talking about faith and work to overemphasize the work and forget about the gospel. As Piper says,

“There is no point in overstating the case for the value of secular work. It is not the Gospel. By itself, it does not save anyone. In fact, with no spoken words about Jesus Christ, our secular work will not awaken wonder for the glory of Christ” (Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 142)

The core of this teaching is that the way we do our secular work “will increase or decrease the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess before unbelievers” (p. 143). When I as someone who seeks to be a Gospel-centered teacher engage with my colleagues and students and community members with respect and humility, I am allowing any mention of Jesus from my lips to be met with attention and consideration rather than scorn and dismissiveness.

Of course, the great assumption is that they know we are Christians. Yet, if they don’t, if there is no Good News of a saving, sacrificing God for our work to adorn, our work falls painfully short of its calling (Titus 2:9-10). It is like a good commercial that never mentions the product. “People may be impressed but won’t know what to buy” (p. 143).

On the flip-side, our work can remove stumbling blocks. Everyone has had the unfortunate experience of hearing the Gospel from someone who is well-known for their laziness, or their dishonesty, or their gossip. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Stephanie Crawford is a self-proclaimed Christian woman, yet she is equally famous for her nosiness. As Christians, if we content ourselves with doing slipshod work, we put a stain on the gospel rather than adorn it.

John Piper on Unemployment

“To be sure, we should help each other find and keep work. We should care about the larger problem of unemployment. It is not first an economic problem, though it is that. It is first a theological problem. Human beings are created in the image of God and are endowed with traits of their Creator that fit them for creative, useful, joyful, God-exalting work. Therefore, extensive idleness (when you have the ability to work) brings down the oppression of guilt and futility.”

–John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 142

 

Series: How to Stay in Our Jobs with God — Consciously Relying on Him

Today I had planned to move to Piper’s third point, but, as I was considering it, I got the sense that consciously relying on God’s power during work, for each task, was something that deserved another day’s reflection. Several observations from my experiment with this:

  • How quick I am to embark upon tasks by my own power, even tasks that I struggle with. This always leads to a stressful time when completing unpleasant tasks (e.g., grading papers).
  • How quick God is to show mercy when I ask Him for help and acknowledge that I need him for all tasks, both the ones I am confident of (e.g., teaching a “home run” lesson that has worked in the past) and the ones I am leery of.
  • How essential this is. Really, in the phrase consciously relying on God’s power, the word consciously is unavoidable. Whether we acknowledge Him or not, we only complete tasks because He has allowed us to have the abilities to complete them — but that is far from saying that unconsciously relying on his power is just as good! I already listed stress as a fruit of pretending that I do things under my own power, but there are plenty of others, including a lack of excellence in the work that we do.
    • Since excellence is another object we strive for in order to point towards God’s excellence, relying on God’s power is even more critical for those tasks that we need to grow in our ability to complete.

Series: How to Stay in our Job “with God”: Creative Productivity for a Purpose

2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry.

Creative Productivity for a Purpose

There is a lot underneath this heading in John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, but I’ll try to summarize it all here with a sentence from Piper:

“…[T]he essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory (141).

There’s enough meat in that one sentence to keep me busy in my secular workplace for the rest of my life! In short: we work in our secular workplaces with God when we strive for creative productivity for a purpose.

“As Good as Prayer”

Piper also addresses a common error made by well-meaning folks of faith in their secular workplaces: neglecting the responsibilities of our jobs in favor of “exercises of devotion” (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, fasting)–in other words, “personal piety to the neglect of secular duties”–is hypocritical (141). Jonathan Edwards once wrote about his wife as an example of the opposite of this error: “worldly business has been attended with great alacrity, as part of the service of God; [she declared] that it being done thus, ’tis found to be as good as prayer;” (quoted in Piper, 141).

Piper goes on: “True personal piety feeds the purposeful work of secular vocations rather than undermining it. Idleness does not grow in the soil of fellowship with God” (142).

Summary

The second way to bring God to work is:

  1. Consciously relying on his power
  2. Consciously shaping the world after his excellence (and thereby doing excellent work)
  3. Thereby being satisfied in him.
  4. Thereby having Him glorified in us.

Application

For me as a public school English teacher, excellent work means:

  • Grading papers in a manner that is most helpful to students.
  • Grading with honesty and accuracy on all graded assignments.
  • Planning lessons not with teacher ease as the highest priority, but with whatever will most effectively make the lesson accessible and meaningful to students.
  • Incorporating a moral bedrock to all classroom instruction, both with words and with deeds.