Human beings are sit­u­at­ed in a world struc­tured by small and large sys­tems of hid­den pow­ers. On the phys­i­cal side, the wheel and the lever, heat (fire, steam, inter­nal com­bus­tion engines), elec­tric­i­ty, and the atom are all illus­tra­tions of the unfold­ing des­tiny of human­i­ty upon the earth. That des­tiny is, in bib­li­cal lan­guage, to have domin­ion” (Gen­e­sis 1:26). That is, we are to be respon­si­ble for the earth and life upon it. Human inven­tions or dis­cov­er­ies are all relat­ed, in straight­for­ward ways, to work. Work is the pro­duc­tion of val­ue by the actions of our thoughts and bod­i­ly efforts upon avail­able resources. 

What’s more, work is a good thing, and it is a nat­ur­al dis­po­si­tion of human beings from ear­ly child­hood on. Work is sim­ply human cre­ativ­i­ty. It is a spe­cial type of cau­sa­tion through which good­ness and bless­ing can be pro­mot­ed in our surroundings. 

Except in the rare desert island” kinds of cas­es, the val­ues pro­duced by work, and the par­tic­u­lar activ­i­ties involved in work, are social or com­mu­nal in nature. They are strict­ly incon­ceiv­able except in a com­mu­nal set­ting, from the fam­i­ly on up. They depend upon oth­ers for their exis­tence, and they are for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers as well as of the indi­vid­ual work­er. This too is a good thing” and part of God’s arrange­ment for the virtue and pros­per­ing of human beings. With­out a divi­sion of labor” and suit­able human rela­tion­ships in com­mu­ni­ty, human life can bare­ly rise above the lev­el of ani­mals. So the great ques­tion is: What is the resource” that will enable human beings, devel­op­ing the pow­ers of nature, to live in a com­mu­ni­ty where there is dig­ni­ty, love, and pro­vi­sion for everyone? 

We know very well some of the human answers to this vital ques­tion, and we have the bit­ter expe­ri­ence of their fail­ures. The mod­ern answers all focus upon the mat­ter of own­er­ship.” That is, upon the ques­tion of who shall have the right to say what will be done with the resources.” One says that the state or gov­ern­ment should own the means (includ­ing mon­ey and human labor) by which goods are pro­duced. That is Social­ism. (But the state” turns out in prac­tice just to be cer­tain peo­ple, who may be nei­ther wise nor com­pe­tent nor good.) Com­mu­nism says that no one should own those means of pro­duc­tion. (But then it turns out that cer­tain peo­ple do, for all prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es — regard­less of the offi­cial” arrange­ment.) Unre­strained Cap­i­tal­ism says that enter­pris­ing indi­vid­u­als should own them, catch as catch can in fair” com­pe­ti­tion. (But then fair” gets defined by those who have the goods.) 

None of these answers,” we should now know, pro­vides a moral solu­tion to the human prob­lems posed by work. In sim­ple terms, this is because none of them deal with the fine tex­ture of human moti­va­tion: with what men and women care about and live for. They are a form of the prover­bial brain surgery with a meat cleaver.” The pop­u­lar the­o­ries of human action now taught in our best schools of man­age­ment” do lit­tle better. 

We must address the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem of find­ing appro­pri­ate com­mu­ni­ty-in-work for human beings. That com­mu­ni­ty is the resource with­out which all oth­er resources lan­guish or become dan­ger­ous. Find­ing this com­mu­ni­ty must be addressed at the lev­el where work is done in a world not real­ly struc­tured around doing what is good and right, but around doing it my way and for my ben­e­fit. That is the lev­el of the job. (Spelled, inci­den­tal­ly, just like the name of the all-time leader in suf­fer­ing, Job. What a coin­ci­dence!) The only mean­ing­ful solu­tion is that of Jesus Christ and His fol­low­ers. It is the recog­ni­tion of, and intel­li­gent reliance upon, the com­mu­ni­ty (King­dom, Fam­i­ly) of God. That com­mu­ni­ty is already there at your job, wait­ing to turn it back into rich and reward­ing and mean­ing­ful work, cre­ativ­i­ty, shared pro­duc­tion of goods to be shared. You don’t make God’s com­mu­ni­ty, of course — you receive it, by count­ing on it and act­ing with it. 

The acces­si­bil­i­ty of life in the com­mu­ni­ty of God to every per­son was the mes­sage of Jesus, in His words and in His deeds. Every­thing else fits into that: for­give­ness of sins, redemp­tion from sin, trans­for­ma­tion of char­ac­ter into right­eous­ness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spir­it” (Romans 14:17), trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety, and the devel­op­ment of his­to­ry into ever­last­ing life. In His efforts to help those around Him under­stand the mes­sage and real­i­ty of the com­mu­ni­ty of God, Jesus on one occa­sion remarked that the com­mu­ni­ty of God is not rec­og­nized by eye­sight. It isn’t some­thing local­iz­able in the world, like a human social group, a gov­ern­ment (build­ings), or an army. Rather, He said, it is already there, in your midst” (Luke 17:21). That is to say, it is already where you are, wher­ev­er that may be, right now. 

Now that was not a new thing in the time of Jesus, though it was for Him alone to man­i­fest and to be its full mean­ing. In Deuteron­o­my, we read that God’s word, and doing what He wants and sup­ports, is not too dif­fi­cult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heav­en, that you should say, Who will go up to heav­en for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe [do] it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea… . But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe [do] it” (30:11 – 14). The twen­ty-third psalm is a poet­ic cel­e­bra­tion of this life in the Ever­last­ing Arms” (Deuteron­o­my 33:27).

Paul, taught by Christ Him­self, reclaims and enlarges this vision of our life in God (Romans 10:8). He tells his Philip­pi­an friends: Our cit­i­zen­ship” (πολίτευμα) — our socio-eco­nom­ic” order, if you wish, or our com­mon­wealth” — is in the heav­ens (3:20). That means it is right around us (“in our midst”), not some­thing far away and at some lat­er time. We are now, as dis­ci­ples of Jesus, mem­bers of a divine com­mu­ni­ty that, when we seek it, we find with us in our job and through­out life: and there­by we turn all that we do into work for and under God. Thus, Paul advis­es: What­ev­er you do, do your work hearti­ly — lit­er­al­ly, from the soul’ — as for the Lord rather than for men, know­ing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inher­i­tance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colos­sians 3:23 – 24). We are not to try to look good (do eye ser­vice”), as men-pleasers, but on our job we sim­ply do the will of God from the soul” (Eph­esians 6:6 – 8). 

So how do we apply this King­dom com­mu­ni­ty truth in the real-life con­text of the job: on what real­ly goes on there, and how, for our part, we can turn it into divine work? It requires a life that is spir­i­tu­al through­out, full of mean­ing, strength, and joy. We must seek to find a way to stand in the sol­id tra­di­tion of Chris­t­ian teach­ing through­out the ages. We must do so with the fresh­ness of per­son­al expe­ri­ence and with the force­ful­ness of care­ful thought. 

Phillips Brooks was a great Amer­i­can pas­tor and teacher of a cen­tu­ry ago. He was for a long time the pas­tor of one of the great­est church­es in the Unit­ed States, and some­times the Angli­can Bish­op of Mass­a­chu­setts; but he was also a man of nation­al promi­nence and influ­ence. In his ser­mon, Best Meth­ods of Pro­mot­ing Spir­i­tu­al Life,” he acknowl­edges the role of spe­cial reli­gious prac­tices, activ­i­ties, and expe­ri­ences. But he goes on to empha­size that to lim­it spir­i­tu­al­i­ty to these is to omit most of our life from spir­i­tu­al liv­ing. To pro­mote spir­i­tu­al life, he says, is not to be more reli­gious where one is already religious: 

It is to be reli­gious where he is irre­li­gious now; to let the spir­i­tu­al force which is in him play upon new activ­i­ties. How shall he open, for instance, his busi­ness life to this deep pow­er? By cast­ing out of his busi­ness all that is essen­tial­ly wicked in it, by insist­ing to him­self on its ide­al, of char­i­ty or use­ful­ness, on the lofti­est con­cep­tion of every rela­tion­ship into which it brings him with his fel­low man, and by mak­ing it not a mat­ter of his own whim or choice, but a duty to be done faith­ful­ly because God has called him to it… God chose for him his work, and meant for him to find his spir­i­tu­al edu­ca­tion there.1

Brooks closed his ser­mon with these words: The Chris­t­ian finds the hand of Christ in every­thing, and by the faith­ful use of every­thing for Christ’s sake, he takes firm hold of that hand of Christ and is drawn near­er and near­er to Him­self. That is, I think, the best method of pro­mot­ing spir­i­tu­al life.” 

This steady stream of Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty through voca­tion flows down through the ages, and it alone is suf­fi­cient to the soul and to the world of human­i­ty today. We have only to step into it, to set our­selves to learn it, and we will see its radi­ant pow­er at work on the job” where we are. If one will sim­ply learn from Jesus how to do our work we will find the promise, I am with you always,” to be the sure basis of abun­dance of life, what­ev­er the job.”

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Excerpted from Called to Business: God’s way of loving people through business and the professions. Dallas Willard Ministries. Kindle Edition. First published as the Foreword in Bill Heatley, The Gift of Work, NavPress, 2008.

[1] Philips Brooks, Best Methods of Promoting Spiritual Life, (New York: Thomas Whittaker 2&3 Bible House), 12-13, 35.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

Originally published December 2007