Thursday, July 06, 2006

What the Puritans Teach Us About Work - Part 2

The Puritan view of vocation not only legitimized all manner of work as service to God but also had practical implications in the way work was conducted. One such implication was exemplified in the Puritan’s motivation for his life’s work.

Imagine a young man seeking to make choices regarding his career choice. What might he receive as career counseling advice from his Puritan elders? Here’s a possible sampling of their sage advice which I’ve “distilled” into a few key takeaways –

Key point: Have a high view of why you work

“Some man will say perchance: …must we not labor in our callings to maintain our families? I answer: this must be done but this is not the scope and the end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving of man” William Perkins

Key point: Don’t be motivated by fame or fortune but rather by a desire to serve.

“Choose that employment or calling in which you may be most serviceable to God. Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honorable in the world; but that in which you may do most good...” Richard Baxter

Key point: Carefully assess your gifts when choosing your life’s work - they are a possible indicator of God's leading

“Another thing to make the calling warrantable is when God gives a man gifts for it…When God hath called me to a place, he has given me some gifts fit for that place, especially if the place be suitable and fitted to me and my best gifts…” John Cotton

Key point: Be on your guard against selfish, worldly ambition as you pursue your life’s work.

“Take heed lest, under the pretense of diligence in your calling, you be drawn to earthly-mindedness, and excessive cares or covetous designs for rising in the world” Richard Baxter

It's not the kind of advice we're accustomed to hearing or the kind of thinking we carry to work daily. We're not often exhorted to pursue work for the purposes of service nor are we advised to be cautious of selfish ambition. Instead we are often ambitious without caution and pursue work for wealth-building rather than service.

This unusual thinking is at the heart of the Puritan work ethic. I suspect it sounds strangely out of place in the corporate world today not because it's antiquated but because it's counter-culture.


Ben & Amy Phillips said...

good thoughts from mr. baxter. several of them really challenged me, but #2 in particular. thanks for posting and challenging us! - amy

Ben & Amy Phillips said...

thanks for posting these andre. the puritan's view of work has really challenged me. today in particular, #2 & 3 brought a challenge. for #3 - it's never quite hit me in that way that perhaps the gifts the Lord has given us are to be used in our workplaces (not JUST the church). i get into this "christian box" and think that my gifts are only for the church - i think i will think of them differently from now on. thanks for challenging us. what book(s) do these come from?

Meng said...

Andre, just wanted to share a related essay from a good friend I met recently from church...his webpage:
Christian Values At Work
by Soo-Inn Tan, 26 Jun 2006

I just heard that a good friend had received a major promotion. I was glad, proud of him, joyful that a good friend had done well. I was also grateful to the Lord because in this world, good people may not get recognized. No matter how good you are, you take nothing for granted in a crazy fallen world and every blessing is received with thanks giving.

I have known my friend for sometime now. I knew he had sought to bring Christ into his work. He had sought to bring Christian values into his workplace. And God had blessed.

Work takes up so much of our life. If we are not Christian at work then when are we Christian?

Recently I gave a talk to a hospital Christian fellowship on the topic of Christian values at the workplace. I told my brothers and sisters there that Christians should work with competence and compassion. It would make sense for a Christian surgeon to be both competent and compassionate. An incompetent surgeon would be of no use to anyone no matter how compassionate he or she was. But competence must flow from a caring heart.

A very successful doctor once told me that compassion in medicine is unnecessary. Competence is all that matters.I told my friends in the hospital fellowship that the world can and does make one choose between competence and compassion. But Christians do not have that luxury. It has to be both. I reminded them of David.

"And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them." [Psalm 78:72]

Heart and hands. It has to be both.

My recently promoted friend had sought to bring both competence and compassion into his chosen profession. Whatever tasks he had been given in his long career, he had faithfully and successfully carried out. His competence was etched in his track record.

But he was also a compassionate man in an industry that probably put a much lower premium on compassion than medicine. There was one occasion when a colleague on his team was going through horrendous personal problems. He enlisted my help to get professional help for his colleague. I knew he had put in a lot of his own time in tying to help his colleague. He had gone way beyond the requirements of any manager's hand book.

Christians should see clients and colleagues as people made in the image of God and having eternal value. Therefore clients are people to be valued in their own right and not just because they contribute to the bottom-line. And colleagues are not just mechanical cogs in some production machine. They are people with their own dreams and fears, people capable of passion and fear. We needn't wait for the newest book on EQ to remind us that emotions matter. Emotions matter because people matter.

Of course it is hard to juggle our time in trying to be faithful to our duties at work and to go the extra mile to take care of people. We really do need wisdom from above (James 1:5). Often we will feel that we haven't done quite enough at work and for people. We do what we can. We give what we have (Acts 3:6a). But we seek to be true to God's call to us to be good stewards of our abilities, and to care for people. In other words we seek to be people of integrity.

Too many of us wear different faces for work, church and home. Too many of us allow our roles to shape our lives. Instead we should be allowing our life to shape our roles. As I thought of my friend I also thought of his integrity. He didn't have one set of values for work and another for church. He knew who he was and the same person showed up for cell group as well for office.

We mustn't fear integrity beacuse of perfectionism. Many of us wear masks for fear that people will discover our imperfections. The person of integrity knows full well he or she is far from perfect but also knows that they are seeking to mature and grow, to learn from their mistakes. They know grace and therefore they are at home with themselves. They don't have to pretend to be what they are not.

Integrity is a word that sounds strangely old fashioned. Not quite as sexed up as words like "high-flyer" or "successful." It speaks of an approach to life where who we are, what we believe, and how we act, are one. It speaks of a personal wholeness that is the basis for communal wholeness. It speaks of something that we desperately need today. It's the salt and light we are called to be.

This Sunday I will be preaching on "worship" at my church.One of the points I will be making is that Christian worship encompasses the whole of life, not just what we do on Sunday in church buildings. Christian worship is not doing special things at special times in special places. It is the offering of our total lives as living sacrifices back unto the Lord in response to His love for us (Romans 12:1-2). And that surely includes offering back our life at work.

No, that will not guarantee raises, bonuses and promotions. We are Christian at work because we are Christian, period. We have already received our reward up front, Jesus's death on the Cross. Everything we do is in gratitude to that immeasurable gift.

But once in awhile, doing the right thing gets you ahead. It may just get you promoted. Of course that only means you find yourself struggling to be salt and light in a wider and tougher arena. So even as I congratulated my friend, I took down a mental memo: "Pray for him more. He will be facing tougher challenges."

So let us encourage one another in our Sunday worship, and in our Monday to Saturday worship too.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan