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Faith and Work
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Christianity Today International
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Chapter OneSESSION 1
WORK-DRUDGERY OR DELIGHT?
For some people, work is a source of great personal satisfaction-perhaps they're in their "dream job" or maybe they feel they're making a difference in the world. For others, work is a means to an end: the paycheck. For them, work is the daily grind and TGIF! is their mantra. Real life starts not when work begins but when it ends.
So is work a blessing or a curse? As followers of Christ, how should we feel about our work, and what should characterize the work we do? Is there an inherent value to work (besides economic necessity)? While most of us will spend a significant portion of our lives on the job, it seems only a few of us find meaning and fulfillment in what we do. Is the secret a new job, or a new attitude toward the one we have? We'll explore these questions and many others using Bruce Shelley's Christianity Today article "Why Work?"
* Before You Meet
Read "Why Work?" by Bruce Shelley from Christianity Today magazine.
* Open Up
Select one of these activities to launch your discussion time.
Discuss one of these icebreaker questions:
What's the first image that comesto mind when you think of the word work?
What feelings does the word work evoke in you? Why?
What do you think are the common attitudes or mind-sets people have about work in our world? Brainstorm several together as a group.
Identify two opposite walls in your meeting room as Wall #1 and Wall #2, then stand together in the middle of the room. Read each of the following questions together as a group; after each question, every person should walk to a spot in the room to show his or her answer.
What's your general reaction to the word work? Treat the room as a scale, stretching from "very negative" (Wall #1) to "very positive" (Wall #2). Walk to a spot in the room that best represents your answer.
How much happiness or fulfillment do you find in your own job or daily work? Treat the room as a scale, stretching from "zero happiness or fulfillment" (Wall #1) to "a great deal of happiness and fulfillment" (Wall #2). Go to a spot in the room that indicates your answer.
Using the same scale, how much happiness or fulfillment do you experience in your time away from your job or daily work (during time off)?
Consider these two viewpoints and determine which one best reflects your perspective? Go to a spot in the room that reflects your answer.
(Wall #1) A person's work should be a source of happiness, meaning, and personal fulfillment.
(Wall #2) Work is a necessary part of existence in order to provide the means to live; but happiness, meaning, and fulfillment usually come outside of one's work.
Return to your seats and take a moment to share your thoughts from this experience.
* The Issue
Bruce Shelley in his article "Why Work?" says that Americans have lost their sense of the value of work and instead focus on what happens after the work hours. He writes, "This frustration in the workplace comes in large part because people feel the squeeze of two conflicting attitudes toward work.
"On the one hand, Americans are influenced by the images from our economic culture that portray the workplace as a source of happiness and personal fulfillment ... On the other hand, recent years have convinced many Americans that work can never be satisfying in itself. Many of us endure work only so long as it promises a satisfactory private life."
How would you answer the question: Why do you work?
In what ways should work for a Christian be different than it is for someone who has no conscious commitment to God?
Take a moment to read Genesis 1:27-31, 2:15, 3:17-19; Ecclesiastes 2:4-11; and Colossians 3:22-24. Jot down a few notes and observations about the passages: What do these passages say about work? Which words or phrases stand out to you the most? What questions or issues do these passages raise for you?
* Let's Explore
Work was part of God's good creation.
Describe what you do in a typical day at your "job." (For some, this may be a job you do without financial compensation.)
In your description, did you tend to talk about your work in generally negative or positive terms? What did you focus on ... and why?
Though work was included in the curse after the Fall (in Genesis 3:17-19), work was not created as a punishment. In fact, God modeled work and rest for the first seven days of creation and he gave humankind work to do from the beginning days in the Garden of Eden.
Read Genesis 1:27-31, 2:15. What work did God give the first humans? In what tone is the work described? What insights does this give you about God's intention for humans and work?
In what ways can work be "very good"? Describe a time in your life when you experienced work as a "very good" thing.
Think of your current work, whether it's a job you are paid for or work you do without financial compensation. What are the best aspects of your job-the tasks or moments that bring you joy or satisfaction?
Because of sin, our experience of work can be far from "very good."
Do you think some types of jobs more easily lend themselves to being a "delight"-a source of purpose or enjoyment-than others? If so, give examples of jobs that are fulfilling and jobs that seem to be inherently less fulfilling. If not, explain why not.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:4-11.
Can you relate to the author of Ecclesiastes? When have you felt like this?
Read Genesis 3:17-19. Here, as a consequence of Adam and Eve's sin, Adam's work farming (which was originally "very good") is now described by God in terms of pain and toil.
When has your job felt like toil or caused pain in your life? What are some of the most difficult or frustrating aspects of your current job?
As followers of Jesus, our work can serve a higher purpose.
In his article, Shelley says that "Christians ... are governed by a higher conception of work. In the collect for Labor Day, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer entreats God, 'So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good.' This concern for the 'common good' can make work more than a private enterprise."
Reconsider some of the jobs you discussed earlier which seem inherently less fulfilling. In what ways could these jobs be performed by Christians as ways of contributing to the common good?
When it comes to awful jobs, being a slave is the worst of the worst. Yet Paul asserts that even work done in such a demeaning role can have great meaning and can serve a higher purpose. Read Colossians 3:22-24.
What would it look like for you to do your job as if you are working for Jesus? How would it change your daily work experience? Be specific.
Jesus himself worked as a carpenter (see Mark 6:3). Shelley cites the article Why Work? and summarizes one of the author's points this way: "That the incarnate God worked at a carpenter's bench is a striking testimony to the sanctity of the workplace."
Take a moment to imagine Jesus at work as a craftsman. Why does it matter to you that Jesus himself had a job? How does considering Jesus at work affect your understanding of the place of work in your own life?
* Going Forward
Break into pairs and discuss these questions.
In his article, Shelley recounts the story of Addison H. Leitch who posed this striking challenge to his seminary students as they prepared to head home at the end of a semester: "Suppose that the last man to check out the jet plane on which you will fly home did his job just as faithfully as you have done yours here during the last semester."
What if an airline technician or your car mechanic or the construction workers who built the bridge you'll drive across tonight did their jobs "just as faithfully as you have done yours" in recent weeks or months?
Shelley asserts that "Quality is a Christian concern because for the Christian the daily job is a daily offering to God." Is this statement reflected in your own attitude toward your daily work? Share a specific way in which you feel personally challenged to treat your work as a "daily offering to God."
What practical steps can you take to recapture God's design and purpose in your job?
Gather back together as a group to pray together. Begin by naming the "delightful" aspects of your various jobs, thanking God for the goodness in the work you do. Then move to a time of prayerful reflection or confession about the parts of your work that feel like "drudgery." Together, ask God to help you do your work unto him and as meaningful service to others.
* Want to Explore More?
Want to explore this topic further? Here are some resources that will help.
"Why Work?" in Creed or Chaos?, Dorothy L. Sayers (Sophia Institute Press; ISBN 091847731X)
"Work Is Our Mission," Uwe Siemon-Netto, www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/ November/30.30.html
"Reflections: Work and Vocation," www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/ September/19.65.html
"Working to Serve or Serving the Work?" Kelli Trujillo, http://blog. christianitytoday.com/giftedforleadership/2007/09/working_to_serve_or_ serving_th.html
Chapter TwoSESSION 2
CALLED ... TO THIS?!
"The Puritan work ethic" or "the Protestant work ethic" are phrases thrown around these days-usually to describe a person who works lots of overtime, has a high level of responsibility, is efficient, and keeps an unusually spotless desk. But what is the Puritan work ethic? Does it really mean an overcommitted and highly efficient employee, or is it something entirely different?
In Leland Ryken's Christian History & Biography article "The Original Puritan Work Ethic," we'll learn about three "vintage Puritan traits" regarding attitudes toward work and discuss how we can take these ideas and apply them to the contemporary workplace.
* Before You Meet
Read "The Original Puritan Work Ethic" by Leland Ryken from Christian History & Biography magazine.
* Open Up
Select one of these activities to lunch your discussion time.
Discuss one of these icebreaker questions:
People often use the phrase "work ethic," such assaying "He has a really good work ethic." What is a good work ethic, in your opinion?
Share an example of someone you know who has a good work ethic. Or, alternately, describe the behavior of someone you've observed to have a poor work ethic.
Most people have had quite a few different jobs in their lifetime. Write down (if you can remember!) all the jobs you've ever had. When you're finished, rank the jobs from least favorite (1) to favorite (high number, depending on how long your list is.)
When everyone is finished making and ranking their list, discuss:
What made your least favorite job so bad?
What was it about your favorite job that made it such a good experience?
What do your favorite jobs have in common? Your least favorite?
* The Issue
At its root, the word vocation comes from the Latin vocationem which literally means "a calling." The writer and pastor Frederick Buechner famously described vocation, saying "The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
In "The Original Puritan Work Ethic" Leland Ryken explains the "particular calling" in the Puritan doctrine of vocation. Ryken is clear to point out that "This view of work as vocation offers more than simply the possibility of serving God in one's daily work. It offers the possibility of serving God through or by means of that work. To work is to serve God."
What do you see as the difference between a vocation and an occupation or a profession? Or should there be a difference at all? Explain.
Do you consider the work you do to be your "calling" in life? Why or why not?
What do you think is the difference between serving God in one's daily work and serving God through one's daily work?
Take a moment to read Exodus 35:30-36:1 and Colossians 3:1-17 on your own. Jot down a few observations about the passages: What do these say about work? Are there any similar themes? In which ways do these passages connect with the Puritan idea of vocation?
* Let's Explore
We should strive to live a God-centered life.
In his article, Ryken describes how the Puritans sought to put God first and value everything else in relation to God. "For the Puritans," he writes, "the God-centered life meant making the quest for spiritual and moral holiness the great business of life."
What's your reaction to this Puritan sense of priorities and to their view of life as a quest for holiness? How does this compare or contrast with the way most Christians today view life?
Ryken goes on to quote Richard Baxter as saying, "In a divine commonwealth, holiness must have the principal honor and encouragement, and a great difference be made between the precious and the vile." Then, Ryken comments that "Our own culture has conspired to make such holiness seem burdensome, but the Puritans found it an appealing prospect."
Do you tend to view holiness as burden some or appealing? Why? In what ways does holiness seem burdensome in our culture?
Read Colossians 3:1-17. Here we find a holiness code that includes both "do's" and "do-not's."
What would it look like, in the context of your specific job or career, to make holiness a central quest? Give specific examples based on this passage.
God calls us to our work.
Read Exodus 35:30-36:1. Here we read an example of the particular callings God gave to Bezalel and Oholiab as artists and craftsmen.
What do you observe about God from this passage? What skills, abilities, or interests has God given to you?
Ryken explains that in the Puritan perspective, "A particular calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of daily living. It focuses on, but is not limited to, the work that a person does for a livelihood."
Based on this understanding of vocation, what do you feel are your own particular callings? How do they relate to the work you do for your livelihood?
In Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life, Margaret Kim Peterson writes the following:
One lifestyle magazine quotes a woman who said of a particular point in her life that she had decided from then on to spend as little time as possible "doing things that just don't matter." The result? "I haven't had my head inside a toilet since." I doubt, however, that this woman's toilet has gone uncleaned in the intervening years. I suspect someone else has been cleaning it, someone whose role in life, her employer imagines, is to do work that "doesn't matter."
Have you ever felt like you were hired to do something that "doesn't matter"? How did it make you feel?
The Puritan doctrine of vocation brings a sense of dignity to all sorts of work. How can we use this to transform our perspectives of "menial work"?
We should view all of our life as God's.
Ryken points out that for the Puritans "life was not divided into sacred and secular."
In what ways do you tend to divide up your life between the sacred and the secular? What are the dangers of dividing life into two separate spheres?
Imagine a cohesive life where everything is sacred (including your work). What does it look like? How is it different from the way you live now? What has changed: your circumstances or your attitudes?
* Going Forward
Take a moment to review the sidebar from Richard Baxter's A Christian Directory in Ryken's article. Break into pairs and discuss two to three of the do's and do not's below that are directly applicable to you. Each topic includes an active commitment for the upcoming week.
Excerpted from Faith and Work Copyright © 2008 by Christianity Today International. Excerpted by permission.
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