The Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast: Episode 3
Welcome to this episode of the Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast. This particular episode has been a long time in the making. I’m here with my co-host, Andee Marks and as we’ve worked on this particular topic, we have struggled to make this podcast topic manageable. Today we’re doing our first book review. This sounds simple but it’s been anything but simple. Why? Because there’s so much to say. This book has so many great points and it’s a book we resonate so deeply with. So how do we pick just a few things to talk about. We’ve been wrestling with what to include and how to talk through it for two months. So, here we go. This is a book review of Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller.
Andee: Rhonda, I love this book. I mean we’ve talked about this a lot obviously but I love how Keller begins this book by reflecting on God’s initial work through the Book of Genesis or the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. He points out that Genesis perpetually describes God at work. The author is using a Hebrew word for ordinary human work. So in the beginning, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil which came into existence after the fall. I think many of us tend to think of work as punishment and it’s not. God intended work from the very beginning. Keller writes, “Work is as much of a human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality. It’s food for our soul.” It’s just beautiful.
Rhonda: It sure is.
Andee: Ordinary work was not and is not beneath God. And again, not for God. And again, Kelly says, “God worked for the sheer joy of it.” I think that is one of the most profound statements about work that I have ever heard. “God worked for the sheer joy of it.” So, we see that work is part of God’s perfect design for human life because we’re created in God’s image.
Rhonda: That whole thing about the “sheer joy of it” work and words sheer joy. There is work that God has created for us that will be sheer joy. That doesn’t mean that it will that it will be perfect for us but there will be joy in our work.
Andee: Exactly and then there’s this other side of work, which is rest and that too is part of God’s design for human life. We know from Genesis that God worked for six days and then he rested on the seventh. And the fourth of the Ten Commandments instructs us to follow God’s example working six days and then having a Sabbath day, a day that’s just set apart for a renewing of our minds and our bodies and our spirits as we worship our Creator because that’s what happens when we worship the Creator, we are renewed. So, this rhythm of work and rest is God-given and it is God-ordained as a good thing and a life-giving thing. Our culture, in our culture today we tend to think we put too much emphasis on work. It’s just not all there is to life. I think we’ve almost forgotten that as a culture. So consequently, when we’re all work and no play, we’ve heard that so many times, but if we live that, work can become drudgery rather than a calling, rather than our vocation.
Rhonda: That is so important. That rhythm of work and rest is so important but it seems to be lost for so many of us in our work and in our culture. Yeah, we have rhythms in our lives but they’re not the wide open spacious routines of nature, those God-created rhythms. When I was thinking about these rhythms and routines, personally I equate that to agriculture because that’s where I grew up and it is so easy to see the rhythms and the seasons in agriculture. As a farm girl, I saw God’s rhythms and the routines in the seasons and the routines of caring for the land, for crops, and for animals. And that leads us to another point that is just so beautiful in this book.
Keller talks about the masks God which he gets from the writings of Martin Luther and the masks of God. He gives several examples of this but the one that makes the most impression on this farm girl is the example of agriculture. You know God could provide for us by giving us manna every day. He did that for the Israelites in the wilderness but instead, he allows us to participate in that with Him in our provision. That means he has people who will plow and plant, who cultivate and harvest. If you have ever grown anything, even in your garden, you know you have parts of it that you have no control over. Nature takes its course. The seeds sprout, we have no ability to impact that really. I mean, we put the seed in the ground and it comes up. If we keep checking if the seed is getting ready to come up out of the ground eventually it’s not going to come up. You can’t keep pulling up and seeing, hey are there roots yet? No, that’s not how it works. The weather cooperates or it doesn’t. Believe me, growing up with a farm family, I know all about that. Farmers get cranky when it doesn’t rain, they do. Sorry about that to my family who might be listening but I’m just telling the truth.
Many things are out of our control when we’re in agriculture and as much as farmers are an independent lot, they are also very interdependent. There are equipment dealers, there are producers and processors and grocery stores. The farmer relies on many people beside themselves to get the crop in the ground and then to the table. And even when you produce for a farmer’s market rather than a grocery store there are other people involved in your growing process. There are the other people who produce the seeds, there are the people who organize the market, there is the person who built the truck that you drive to the market, the kid that you hire to help you harvest and pull the weeds in the fields. All these people are participating in the process of vocation. That’s what is referred to by Luther as the masks of God, all of those working together to provide provision for the larger organization.
Andee: Yes, that’s very true which means every job in the organization deserves our respect. We see this beautifully illustrated in 1 Corinthians 12. We need to translate that to the marketplace. We need to think about that in terms of our own calling, our own vocation. Whatever it is that God has created us and equipped us to do, it’s important. It has value. We have to own that for ourselves. We can’t expect anyone else to own it if we aren’t going to own it for ourselves.
Rhonda: That’s true and there are parts later in the book where we talk about that also but yes, that is such an important piece of information to know that whatever your role, whatever that is, whether it is a high profile role or whether it is a behind the scenes role. Perhaps your role of behind the scenes today will have a high profile impact down the road. We don’t know. We have no idea what’s coming next from that standpoint but we just know that we are called to do well the part that we have now and to recognize that it has importance.
As you were talking about the fact that Paul talked in 1 Corinthians 12, about that model was talking about the church, that’s so very true. Unfortunately, we’ve kind of gotten into a place where we see our life as being very separate spiritually and our working life. And we can see our work as drudgery, as being fruitless or pointless or selfish. It can even become idolatry.
Rhonda: And our perspective of our work shapes our attitude about it. In today’s culture, we’ve gotten this expectation that work provides our meaning in life. But then, work is just a J.O.B, which Ken Lazar, who is a really wise man used to referred to it, if that work is just a J.O.B that we want to escape from, but we feel chained to it, we can feel like it’s just fruitless or pointless, or only for the money and there’s no meaning in what it is that we’re doing. We’re just cranking it out.
Andee: That is so true. For many people, the initial lure of the big paycheck just leads them into the bondage of materialism and before they know it, they’re living beyond their means. So then when God calls them, even if in the beginning, if initially, they were sensing God’s call to something, their focus shifted from God’s calling and they began to live beyond their means and they became dependent upon that large paycheck, then what happens when God issues a new calling. They’ve become enslaved to that big paycheck.
Rhonda: Yeah, that’s the golden handcuffs. A lot of people that I used to work with called it that, they referred to that as trapped by the golden handcuffs.
Andee: That’s exactly what happened to me and in the context of ministry. I was working for a large church, I was making a good income and yet God was calling me to begin consulting with smaller churches with much smaller budgets. In other words, they wouldn’t be able to pay me what I was used to earning and because I couldn’t see how my household could manage with less income, I wouldn’t let go of the paycheck even though the connection between my work and my ministry had become severely compromised. So, in time God took care of that for me. When the recession hit I lost the job at the big church. Well, there went the big paycheck.
Rhonda: That’s such a fun experience. Yes.
Andee: It is, but interestingly it was such a growth period for me because even though our household income was cut in half, we managed just fine. God provided and I was able to begin to step into a new season of ministry. He was calling me into something new but I could have done that much sooner and probably with a lot less angst had I not become so fixated on that paycheck.
Rhonda: It’s funny how that paycheck can become the place where we focus because we measure things in terms of financial success as opposed to having a more holistic view of what our success might look like and success in Gods’ eyes very rarely is measured in financial terms. I’m not saying that money is the root of all evil, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. But when we talk about what was just going on there, it was a love of money. We kind of get into this place where our work is not connected to our spiritual life and in the book this is called dualism. It’s a fallacy of our culture that this book exposes and they define that as the rules that we live by in the marketplace are an either/or proposition. Either we aren’t allowed to express our faith or speak of our beliefs for fear of offending someone or we’re leading the Bible study before work or we’re writing for a Christian audience.
If we can’t speak the name of Christ we therefore can’t practice our faith. That’s kind of the false line that we’ve developed in our mindset as Christians a lot of times about what we are doing. We’ve been taught that practicing our faith is either leading the Bible study at work or it’s reserved for Sunday and maybe a weeknight here or there but that really is not what practicing our faith is always about. It’s not always about our words. It’s about our perspective. It’s about our worldview. It’s about our way of interacting both at work and with our work mates. It’s the way that we approach our work, honoring it as a way of serving God through our contribution to the world. If we can change that perspective to looking at what we’re doing in our time at work which is a good eight hours a day for most of us, if not more, then we can look at how our spiritual life impacts the world in a much broader way.
And then there’s the fact that we have this expectation that work provides meaning in life. Well, if we’re in this dualism situation where our work is separate from who we are as a child of God, that’s making our work an idol because we expect it to provide everything that we need. So, then we get to this underlying struggle of measuring my value by my output and when I think about that I realize that that really makes me a machine, versus a person. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t outcomes to the actions that I take, there are. However, if I’m looking at my work as providing output, as in widgets, then I’m really looking at myself as not God’s creation, as not God’s masterpiece, but as a machine that is there to produce the widgets that then are used in whatever it is that those widgets are used for.
Andee: You know, our culture perpetually asks, have you produced your widget today? I mean think about it, that’s measuring our value by our output but God’s question is more along the lines of are you being who I created you to be? Are you honoring the masterpiece that I have created in you?
Rhonda: That is a very different measuring stick. If I’m measuring based on how many widgets I put out, I’m measuring by the world’s measuring stick. Now, that does not mean that in my job I do not need to be productive because the reality is we do need to be productive in what we’re doing.
Andee: Well, He designed us to be productive.
Rhonda: Exactly, but when we’re being productive in a way that is based on who God created me to be there’s so much freedom in that. Which comes down to meaning through work versus freedom through self-forgetfulness, which is a concept that Keller talks about in another really cool little book called, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, that you told me about.
Andee: I love that book.
Rhonda: I know you do and when I first read it, you knew that when I first read that about that book that I was going to fight against that book didn’t you? And I did. OK.
Andee: We all do.
Rhonda: Well, that’s probably true but, I just love the way that he defines self-forgetfulness now that I’ve come around. It took a while but I have come around on that. But freedom of self-forgetfulness is not thinking less of myself as often is defined in traditional cultures or more of myself as in modern cultures but rather it’s just thinking of myself less because I’m doing the thing.
Andee: And I just want to say, we all need to be more self-aware I think, but there’s a fine line. We need to learn to maintain the balance between self-awareness and navel gazing. That’s kind of the clue or the key to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. You have to be self-aware enough to know that it’s OK to think of yourself less often.
Rhonda: That’s true because in order to think of yourself less often you have to be comfortable in the person, in being the person God created you to be.
Andee: You know we hear so much today about the passion. I don’t know about you, but in my circles I do. I hear so much about “My passion is this,” or “I want to be passionate about my work.” And I think it is important that we are passionate about whatever we are doing, but Keller points out that sometimes passion generates this frenetic activity that is really rooted in fear of failure than the pursuit of success. It is more rooted in fear of failure than the pursuit of success. He calls it the work under the work. I love that. I think that is such a great, the phrasing of that is so perfect, the work underneath the work. And it is truly unsustainable.
Rhonda: How true. When we are doing that frenetic activity that’s rooted in fear of failure as opposed to pursuing success that means we are trying to get our meaning out of our work. That’s become the idol, as opposed to our work being part of our being. How ironic that I said it that way, which is knowing our masterpiece work, knowing who we are created in Christ and living in that space. He talks about that as the work under the work and he also talks about a term that as we’ve discussed this Andee, I’m so fascinated by the concept that he uses of acedia versus rest. And acedia is really a life driven more by a cost-benefit analysis of what’s in it for me. We get caught up in that machine concept and our work becomes acedia. It becomes only about what’s the bottom line and then rest is lost. He talks about this as being the sin of the empty soul that believes in nothing. There’s nothing bigger than the self and even in today’s culture, especially when we’re talking about millennials, you’ll hear them talking about something greater than themselves that they’re connected to. And for those of us who are Christ followers, that thing that’s bigger than self is being a Christ follower. It’s being connected to God. It’s knowing who we are created anew in Christ Jesus. It’s that masterpiece that we understand that He’s put in us when we are created anew in Him.
But instead with acedia, the driving passion is our own needs, our comfort and our interests. It doesn’t look lazy, it looks like a lot of activity. So, that’s that frenetic activity that you were talking about earlier, in that work under the work but what is the purpose of it at the end? So, when we say that, there’s a subtle idolatry there that’s the cynical-self that’s at the center of life. It’s not that you’re self-aware but that cynicism of you at the center of your life.
Andee: That just doesn’t sound at all inviting. It sounds like a miserable existence.
Rhonda: Well it’s chasing after the wind, really. And there’s a quote from the book about this and it says, “In the world it calls itself tolerance but in hell it is called despair.” That is just overwhelming in the lack of meaning that’s behind that. That just comes back to the meaning that there is something bigger than the self that has to have meaning in the world.
Andee: So then how do we claim, or reclaim, Christian perspective of passion? How do we actually live and work out of our God-given vocation?
Rhonda: Well that is the beauty of the final part of the book. After writing about all these struggles that we have and the disconnect that we have from what work and rest were created by God originally, we talk about the fact that there’s a new perspective of work. A work that we see as related to who God created us, which can be rewarding and productive. And, talk about freedom of self-forgetfulness when you’re in that place of doing your masterpiece work which is rewarding and productive. I just got so much out of this last section. This was one of the places where we kept wrestling with, oh my gosh, how do we pick what we’re going to talk about because there is so much richness in it.
As I read this last part, it became obvious that true passion, that passion that flows out of Christ in us, that is true selflessness. That is opposite of acedia which is false passion. In acedia, there is no rest because it’s all focused on the self and the self is a bottomless pit of need. There is no end to what the self will have you chasing after if that is your measuring stick. There just isn’t. But you know what it takes trust to rest in that rhythm that God created of work and rest and what. Personally, what I like about that, I believe that is a very Bold & Courageous stand to take because when we’re safe enough to rest, we rest well and we return to the work refreshed and able to create. The science now says that if we constantly are sitting there at the desk eventually we will burn out and eventually the ideas will no longer continue to come and we need to see our work with new eyes because we’ve stepped away from it for a period of time. That could be a lunch hour. That could be a night of rest or it could be a weekend away. In any of those models, creativity comes back because we’ve stepped away from it for a time.
Andee: We need to have a whole other podcast on the Sabbath, you know the Sabbath is a day. It’s the seventh day. It’s Sunday. It’s the day when we just take a whole day of rest, which that’s one way of looking at Sabbath but it’s not the only way. I think every day we can take moments of Sabbath rest and I think like you just pointed out, through our lunch hour or even when we think about a good night’s rest. That it’s a cessation of work and a turning of our thoughts and our energies towards God as opposed to the computer screen or the widget that we’re making.
Rhonda: When you’re saying about the widget that we’re making, I’m thinking about my husband out in the shop working on a project. He may get to a place where he’s stymied because he can’t figure out, well how does A fit into B and how am I going to fix this so that it fits into the space that I need to create this for. Usually, that’s because, and how the heck did Rhonda think that that was going to go together? What was she thinking? And often if that is the case, if he continues to just sit there with it, he’s going to make himself crazy. Whereas if he moves away from it for a little bit. Usually, in his case, if he goes and hits a couple of golf balls, practices his putting for a little bit, he can come back his brain has been in a different space and he can come back to it.
I look at my friends in the corporate space right now, the ones who because of the corporate culture that they live in, they work through their lunch hour. And this was going on back when I was in the corporate space. We’re not going to say how many years ago that was but it hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse and the grind of that does not improve productivity. It makes it worse. So, we could go on about this, and you’re right, I think a podcast around Sabbath and what Sabbath means and what Sabbath can look like is a great idea. We will definitely pursue that. But let’s go back to the book for a little bit because in the book there are some examples from the life of the Disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. The process wasn’t completed. It was during the time after Jesus had risen from the dead but the Disciples hadn’t had all their interactions with Him yet. Those relationships weren’t necessarily restored. In particular, I’m thinking about, this is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 21 when the Disciples went back to what they knew. They were continuing their work because they hadn’t really moved into their space from being the Disciples to being the Apostles yet but they were looking at their work in a different way. They started getting the freedom of looking at their work in a different way which gave them rest from their work and freedom to see their work in a different way which gave them freedom from their work and freedom in their work. So, their identity and their significance was not tethered to their job or their financial status.
If you think about the Apostle Paul, he never stopped being a tent-maker. That was his profession and every time he went on one of those journeys, he kept being a tent-maker because it was his way of interacting with people. Well, what a great model for us in the marketplace. The way that we interact with people is through doing our work. So, what does this mean for us? In the absence of integrating the Gospel into our life, we go back to what is familiar. We really just don’t know where we need to go, so our fallback is in the familiar.
Andee: It reminds me of that old saying, “The devil that you know is safer than the devil that you don’t know.”
Rhonda: Oh, there’s a lot of truth in that. That’s very true. But instead, God calls us to be Bold & Courageous which equals that self-forgetfulness model. So identity is not in the work but our identity is in Christ. That requires the courage to be bold enough to say no to drudgery so that we can say yes to what God is calling us into. Whether that be doing the same thing we’re doing today but with a different perspective or whether it be what you were talking about where you had to move from the work in the large congregation to the model of consulting and working with the smaller congregation where you now are.
Andee: The point is to begin to shift your concept of work and the way that you are, your perspective on work. It means incorporating the Gospel and how you live that out as a Christian, while you are planning and preparing for the time when you can truly step out of the situation that you are in now and step out of whatever God has for you. In our case, I was forced into that and so what I immediately had to do was start looking at how do I make adjustments in our current standards of living in order to accommodate this shift in our income. It worked for us but we tend to get stuck in that thought process of I can’t do it. We’re so stuck. You might not be able to do it today, right this minute, but you can start preparing and planning and moving towards that. But in the meantime, incorporate that Gospel message of what work really is into what you are doing now. Surprisingly, you might find that what you’re doing now takes on a whole new significance, a whole new life. And you find that it’s much more enjoyable than what you had been experiencing.
Rhonda: That’s true. Those are very wise words. Jumping when you’re not prepared can be jumping from the frying pan into the fire and you may be in worse shape than you were originally. Good point and really glad you clarified that. Thank you, Andee. Thank you for making that point. Here’s the bottom line on this book. We love it. It very thoroughly addresses the concept of work. That’s why it took so long to figure out how we were going to address that. It talks about a history of how the church has looked at work as well as the Bible and whst Jesus himself taught about work. It gives us a real perspective of our culture’s perspective on work from a historical perspective and what we look at right now. And it sure tells it like it is. There’s no sugar coating it. None whatsoever. It gives us an opportunity to think differently about work, about its place in our lives and how we can integrate our faith and our work in a way that doesn’t make it an idol but it makes work a place where we can live out our faith on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean you have to work in a church. The huge majority of people in this world do not work for a church and truthfully that is the mission field, the marketplace. Our take on the book Every Good Endeavor is…
Andee: Get it, read it cover to cover and then read it again.
Andee: Find other people to share it with but most importantly don’t just read it and put it back on the shelf, integrate it into your life.
Rhonda: Thanks, Andee. It’s been a great time having a conversation again and I think we’ve shared something that people can really sink their teeth into.
Andee: I hope so. I pray so.
To find out more about today’s topic, get downloads of our previous podcasts or to learn more about how you too can become a Bold & Courageous leader, visit rhondapeterson.com. Our ever-growing community is waiting for you. If you liked today’s show, there are three things you can do. You can subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher. You can give us a rating or a review on iTunes. The subscriptions and ratings help others to find us more easily. And you can help us get the word out by sharing the podcast with your friends. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader Coach. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you for the next Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast.