Last week I stumbled upon the news that Timothy Keller, ‘Pioneering Manhatten Evangelist’ (as described by the New York Times)[i] sadly passed away in May. This came as quite a shock and prompted me to reflect on the significant impact his books have had on my life. As the new Careers Coordinator to MECS 10 years ago, I was encouraged by some colleagues to read ‘Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World’[ii] to assist me in thinking about a biblical perspective on work and careers. I am privileged to be able to share these thoughts with our students so that they may find a sense of eternal purpose for their study and future careers. Below is a summary of Keller’s reflections on God’s intended plan for work:
1. The Design of Work. In the beginning, God created, then He rested from His work. Work was not some meaningless toil, but part of God’s divine plan. He passed this work on to man, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). God delighted in His work! Yet, even in the beginning, God created limits on His work and rested on the 7th day – then commanded man to imitate Him and rest on the Sabbath.
2. The Dignity of Work. The humanistic view of work is demeaning. Plato considered work to demean man to the level of animals. Yet God worked and created man ‘in His image’ to also be a worker. Greeks considered death a friend that rescued us from work; the Bible considers death an enemy (1 Cor 15:26). God gives each person gifts in the form of skills and abilities to play his/her role in creativity, cultivation, and ultimately tending to the needs of the physical universe. There is no room for looking down on anyone in their role as a worker.
3. Work as Cultivation. God gave man a role in creating culture and civilization – to “be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28). God’s plan for all work is creative and assertive, rearranging God-given materials and creation in a way that helps the world and people to thrive and flourish. The word ‘culture’ comes from the word ‘cultivation’. God doesn’t make junk and neither should we. We ‘bring order out of chaos, create new entities, exploit the pattern of creation, and interweave the human community.’
4. Work as Service. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul tells the Christian that it is unnecessary to change what they are currently doing in life. 1 Cor 7:17 says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and which God has called him.” God calls us and assigns us spiritual gifts to carry out His ministry. The question for each of us becomes, ‘How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?’ Martin Luther took hold of this truth, rejecting the concept that the only way to serve God was as a monk, but rather that “we are all consecrated priests by baptism” as Peter said in 1 Pet 2:9 and John in the Apocalypse said, “You have made us to be kings and priests by your blood.” Therefore each one’s calling is that person’s unique way of living out God’s calling – as a ‘father, mother, farmer, or milk maid.’ Through this mindset, all work becomes a way to love the God who saved us and to serve our neighbour. (Brett Kreider[iii])
My observation in working with Senior Secondary students, is that our young people are struggling with a sense of purpose regarding their futures since the pandemic. Antonella Gambotta-Burke wrote in an article for The Australian[iv] recently, “While older, affluent adults may have welcomed the break from commuting or relentless professional obligations, using the time to bake sourdough and take up piano or ballet, the young, at the height of their most intense educational, mating, and socialising periods, crashed. Their faith in their ability to change the world evaporated, a loss reflected in the current epidemic of apathy of Australian schoolchildren. To them, the imperfections of the world became intolerable.”
But here is where we as parents and teachers in a Christian school can challenge the ‘world’s’ perception of what the purpose of work is. Our purpose is not to change the world in our own strength. It is to be part of God’s plan and bigger picture, trusting that despite the world’s imperfections, God is in control. When we can view our lives and work in this way we take the focus, and pressure, off ourselves and put it on the Creator, who knows what He is doing and created us intentionally to take part in ‘His Great Endeavour’.
Thank you, Timothy Keller, for your faithful life and work.
Amelia Koole – Senior School Coordinator & Careers Coordinator
[ii]Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World, Hodder and Stoughton, 2014
[iv]Gambotta-Burke, Antonella, ‘Aesthetic vigilence’: Is your phone killing you? The Australian, Saturday August 19th, 2023.