For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Glynn Young leads us in discussing Part One: God’s Plan for Work.
In last week’s book club discussion I said I would summarize Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor in one word: selflessness. I found selflessness again as I read Part One: God’s Plan for Work (chapters 1-4):
Work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others, rather than just living a life for ourselves.
Our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world.
God provides purpose for our work by calling us to serve the world.
Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.
… and, my favorite:
We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor.
– Keller, pages 38, 61, 65, 66, 67 (emphasis mine)
Besides selflessness, other concepts resonated as well. Keller mentions that “God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor” (page 36). That is, my work can tap into the God-created potential for cultivation.
This idea goes hand in hand with my “intrinsic need to be productive” (page 37)—or, to use the word I use more frequently, my need to be fruitful. Yet I’ve gotten so hung up on fruitfulness, desiring it to the point that it has become an idol. (Interestingly, Keller addresses a full chapter (the eighth) on idolatry. But that’s for next week’s discussion.)
All these ideas fit together in my work of parenting, don’t they? God purposely left His creation (my children) undeveloped to a certain degree, in order that His creation (me, the parent) may have the privilege and opportunity of being colaborers with Him (astounding as that is!) to cultivate the children into the people God wants them to grow into. And the purpose of our work is to serve others in love and selflessness (certainly required for a parent who seeks God).
We are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil. . . . And that is the pattern for all work. It is creative and assertive.
&ndash Keller, pages 58-59 (emphasis mine)
I like that. One way to work with God to selflessly serve others is to mine our God-given creativity.
But I got into trouble when I got to page 78: “The very best way to be sure you are serving God in your work is to be competent.” I read that, and everything fell apart. Me, a competent parent? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more incompetent than in bringing up children!
I remember when I was twenty-four and dressed in my only suit, the same one I wore as I job-hunted from one Silicon Valley start-up to another. I had just survived most of an all-day interview complete with grilling technical questions from different groups. Hours later, my last interviewer sat on the other side of a polished conference-room table. Almost done.
Then, in that room with bright, white walls came The Worst Interview Question. “What makes you think you’re qualified for this position?” he asked.
What do I say to that?
“That’s your job to decide,” I answered, and he did decide. I did not get an offer from that company.
Lucky for me, midwives and obstetricians never ask the question “What makes you think you’re qualified to be a mother?” Because once I became one, and the more children I had, and the older they got, the more I thought that the parenting task is above me.
I get overwhelmed. Parenting is a gigantic task much larger than I imagined. Who am I to have spiritual oversight over these three boys? How many times have I felt inadequate as a parent? I feel unfit.
Whenever I feel this inadequacy, I turn to these Scriptures:
For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.
. . . and my feeling is confirmed: I am unfit to be a mother.
Yet here I am, a mother; three undeniable evidences sit around our dinner table, drink five gallons of milk per week, and throw their dirty socks in the laundry basket. I am, in fact, a mother. This means that God has made me what I am not fit to be. Every time I try to understand that, I can’t, really. God gave me this job, even though I am underqualified. Counterintuitively, this realization that I am unfit to be a parent—strengthens me as a parent. My best parenting credential is God’s grace. “By the grace of God, I am what I am…”
. . . and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
(above quotes are from 1 Corinthians 15:9-10)
The parenting role is overwhelming, but I strive and try harder to be a good parent, even while recognizing that I am a parent only by God’s grace. My efforts and striving only follow in the wake His grace makes. Paradoxically and wonderfully, God’s Word which makes me understand that I am unfit to be a parent is the very same Word that gives me utmost confidence to be a parent.
Maybe feelings of inadequacy can be healthy. They actually give me confidence and better ability, for what is more enabling than God’s grace?
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(2 Corinthians 3:5-6)