Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Carrying Beams Off A Ship All Day

I took this photo while in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2007, on board a wind-powered sailing vessel [no engine--just sails] loaded with wooden beams that were hand carried down a narrow plank to the dock below by men working from 6am to 6pm for $9 a day. 

Last week I quoted a Coca-Cola executive who said, "we don't find meaning in our work, we bring meaning to our work." Bonnie Wurzbacher went on to say that until we understand "there is no secular and sacred split," and we "see how our work truly fulfills and advances God's purposes for the world," we cannot bring meaning to our work.

So how does a man carrying beams off a ship all day bring meaning to his work?

Watching those men do their back-breaking work in Jakarta tested my theology of work. In Indonesia, where the average wage is $100-$200 per month, these workers were at the upper end of the scale. But putting money aside, I had to ask myself: could I even do this kind of work? And for how long?

I wasn't asking this question in light of the physical challenge. That was easy to answer! I figured I could last about 45 minutes. I was asking in light of the mental challenge. Could I really bring meaning to this kind of work? Month after month? Year after year? If so, how?

Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing the matter of bringing extraordinary meaning to "ordinary" work. Even the so-called "mundane." But before I get into this, let me say that if you really feel like you're "carrying beams off a ship all day," and you have the means to do so, I suggest you meet with a trained job coach who can assess your situation and provide counsel regarding a better job fit. I once advised a young man to see a Christian "calling coach," who later told me it was the best $200 he ever spent.

But most people in developing nations don't have the luxury of a job change, and many in the "first world" don't either. Furthermore, all jobs have "chores." Perhaps the "chores" are not as dramatic as that shown in the photo above, all jobs have difficult, unpleasant, and sometimes loathsome aspects.

If your work "energizes" you 60% of the time, consider yourself blessed! But would you like to bring more meaning to the remaining 40% of your time? And if you are "energized" by only 10% of the work you do each day, would you like to bump that percentage up?

You don't have to change your job to bring extraordinary meaning to "ordinary" work. It's a matter of thinking differently about the work you're already doing.

Stay tuned.

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  1. Perspective for those of us in the "first world" can be given by such glimpses of those in the majority world where the freedom to explore and develop one's life, as uniquely fashioned from on High, is relatively unknown. So, keep the good stuff flowing here Christian!

    1. So good to hear from you, David! Blessings on you!

  2. This is great. This reminded me of an essay by CS Lewis I recently read about doing good works, but also doing good work. There is more than just doing good works. The glorification of God also requires that the work we do also be done well, or to the best. I thought it very eye opening when Lewis pointed out how businesses have built-in obsolescence in order to sell more and encourage consumerism. But this approach is not Biblical. In all that we do, we should do it to the best of our ability, whether we are doing good works, or a mundane task. To encourage consumerism encourages conformity to the World rather than conformity with God's design. I think our work has meaning when we know that what we are doing shows our obedience to God and similarly shows our service to our fellow man, which should be done well to glorify Him.

    I'm really enjoying this ministry on the Theology of Work. Its time for capitalism to get back to its Christian roots and away from all the cronyism.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Joe. I was reading just last week from a great book by Mary McCleary, called, "It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God." In her chapter on "Craftsmanship," she refers to Eph. 2:10, where it says, "...we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..." Here the word "works" [as in "good works"] is the Greek word "ergoin," coming from "ergon," which can mean "anything accomplished by mind, hand, art or industry, a business, an enterprise or undertaking." Awesome!