Chapter 14 - Real Work for Real People: The Ongoing Journey

Book / Produced by Individual TOW Project member
Real work

Remember our characters from the beginning of the book? In writing about them we have altered names and some of the details, but in each case they’re modeled on one or more real people that we have had personal contact with.

What kind of issues do you think have been raised for these folk and how are they doing on the journey of connecting their work with God’s work?


Perspectives that have been helpful

Roger, with his academically trained mind, had no difficulty understanding the theological meaning of the word vocation. He easily coped with the idea that he was not called to be a lawyer, but to follow Christ … and that one outworking of that call was serving Jesus through his profession.

From there it wasn’t a big step either for Roger to see that his role as a parent was not just an add-on. In fact, this insight was a freeing one to him. He had nursed guilty feelings about his “absent father” workaholism. Theologically and theoretically, he jumped at the chance to value parenthood – to see it as central to his efforts at this stage of his life, a wonderful opportunity for discipleship.

Habits that are changing

Roger has even managed to translate a little of this into action. He sets himself the task of getting home regularly for the evening meal (though he fails as much as he succeeds in this goal!), and he has deliberately scheduled into his diary a slot on Saturdays for accompanying his children to their sport. Again, it doesn’t always work out, but he has made some effort.

Unresolved issues

However, Roger still has a long way to go. The problem is his drivenness. Secretly he genuinely believes he is indispensable. He doesn’t yet have a big enough view of God’s sovereignty. He still has to learn that this is God’s work and that he is a junior partner.

Unanswered questions

Until he recognizes his egocentric thinking, he will still struggle with the questions that bother him, and that he frequently expresses to his wife Colleen. Like…

  • How do I keep all the balls in the air? I feel like it’s a perpetual juggling act.
  • How can I put some limits on the time and energy I need to give to my paid employment?
  • Where can I get the energy to spend time with the kids at night? By the time I get home I just want to crash in front of the screen.
  • How can I decently get out of some of the church jobs I’ve accumulated?
  • How do I learn to say no?

More important question he still has to grapple with are: How do I learn to rest biblically? How do I recognize that God’s work is best served if I see that my role is more in relating with people (including my children), and less in the tasks I undertake?

Possible directions for Roger to pursue

Roger could profitably undertake some sessions with a counselor who could help him identify and deal with his compulsion for seeking affirmation and approval. This will certainly have its roots in a childhood need to perform for one or more of the adults in his life. When he recognizes this problem he can then devise strategies for dealing with it, and will finally discover the freedom to say no.


Habits that are changing

Karen has worked through the issues in this book with a small study group to which she and her husband Steve belong. Encouraged by the others in the group, she is determined to tackle head-on the people who leave her feeling put down because of her fulltime role as a mother. She has borrowed Peggy Campolo’s idea, and has worked out several replies to the “What do you do?” question.

Perspectives that have been helpful

The idea of partnering God has begun to radically alter the way Karen thinks about her daily tasks. She feels motivated to take even more seriously the challenge of raising her sons, relating to her unchurched friends, and helping out at school. Karen has also been inspired to see that if God himself has taken on mundane, maintenance tasks, then even the dirty washing and the constant cleaning up after the family is of value.

Unresolved issues

Karen faces the problem of many fulltime mothers. She often feels isolated and trapped in an unstimulating environment. She yearns for the intellectual and social growth that her husband Steve enjoys as a teacher.

Unanswered questions

What happens when my children grow up? What can I do long-term in God’s service? Should I think about training myself for a future career? I enjoy the children and helping people through my church contacts, but does that sort of practical assistance help me for the next stage of my life? Am I allowing myself to be sidelined?

Possible directions for Karen to pursue

Karen might usefully engage in part-time training to enhance her people-caring skills. This training might be in health areas (like nursing), or educational or practical, depending on where her interests take her. She might, for example, consider equipping herself to eventually become a teacher, or a counselor, or an aid worker, or a staff member in a service organization, or an advocate for disadvantaged people…


Perspectives that have been helpful

Joseph has caught on to the idea that work is much bigger and broader than “paid employment”, but unfortunately that’s as far as he has travelled. This inadequate understanding has just reinforced for him that his “job at the bank” should be treated as a means to an end.

Habits that are changing

For Joseph nothing has changed. A certain glamour still attaches itself in his mind to the idea of “fulltime Christian service”. He can’t help thinking that if he were to find some such position, it would give an immediate lift to his spiritual maturity. Then at last he wouldn’t feel so ineffectual in his life for God.

Until Joseph’s understanding of what God is about in this world begins to change, there’s unlikely to be any deepening of his contribution to the world of his employment.

Unresolved issues

Joseph still can’t get his mind around the false division between secular and spiritual, and the resulting value judgments over what tasks are particularly important to God. That sort of thinking is just so deeply embedded in his psyche.

So he continues to struggle with the apparent futility of his banking job. He hasn’t yet been able to explore the range of opportunities his employment offers, the ways that he could make a difference here and now.

Unanswered questions

For Joseph, these relate mainly to issues of guidance. What do I do with this strong “call” I feel I have to “the ministry”? And if I don’t pursue that leading, then won’t it mean disaster for the rest of my life – because I will have missed God’s perfect will for me?

Possible directions for Joseph to pursue

If Joseph’s friends could steer him into some such service opportunity as hospital chaplaincy, or industrial chaplaincy, or as a counselor on a crisis phone line (like Samaritans or Lifeline) – a short term of “volunteer service” might do the trick – he could be brought to see what huge contributions Christians can make alongside ordinary people.


Perspectives that have been helpful

Mark has wrestled with his difficulties as an over-worked middle manager, and is beginning to get a handle on his problem. His thinking has gone like this: God has me working in the company for a real purpose – not just for earning money and the occasional sharing of my faith with others.

So much for step one. Mark has really caught on to the concept of working with God to be an agent of change.

Habits that are changing

Step two. He’s made an agreement with his wife that he won’t bring work home during the weekends. Having drawn this line in the sand, Mark has been able to come to terms with the risk of losing his job. There’s more to his life than his well-paid employment, he’s decided.

Step three. So he has taken the step of talking (cautiously) with his manager about acceptable limits to his workload – and found the manager surprisingly receptive. Between them they’ve agreed that 50 hours of full-on effort is reasonable.

Unresolved issues

The emotional stress of the above three steps occupied Mark for some time. He’s only now finding himself ready to look at the next question. While he sees clearly how unredeemed his employment environment is, he hasn’t yet worked out how he can make a difference to the atmosphere of mistrust, low morale, and straight-out dishonesty that exists in the company. Significantly, he also hasn’t been able to find other Christians who will help him work through appropriate responses to the myriad of issues he is becoming aware of.

Unanswered questions

For Mark there is still no clear connection between Sunday and the rest of the week. He finds the worship service frustratingly irrelevant.

Possible directions for Mark to pursue

Mark can profit enormously from finding like-minded friends among his Christian acquaintances. Joining a study group that wants to investigate these issues would be a huge help.


Perspectives that have been helpful

For Julie, thinking biblically about work and God’s call has been a breakthrough. “Unemployed at 58” has given way to “a future of service for God wherever he takes me”. She doesn’t just see the potential of what God wants to do in the world … she sees potential in her own abilities and experience for being part of God’s work!

Habits that are changing

With impressive speed, she has abandoned her past mood of procrastination and inadequacy. She has looked at herself in the mirror (literally, because that’s how she made the determination to change) and said: “Julie Irvine, God has so much that you could be doing with him. You don’t have time to sit around and mope. For the next month, watch what crosses your path, and see how you can get involved as God’s agent of change!”

Unresolved issues

For the most part, these are just the question of how to discriminate between all the things she sees that could be done, and the practical sense of how much she can take on. (“Julie Irvine,” she said to her mirror just the other day, “Don’t be an idiot. You may be a child of God with a brilliant eternal destiny … but you are 58. You’re not going to be able to sort out the whole world this year. Now sit down carefully before you go promising your support to every organization under the sun. You have to make priorities. Which one – or maybe two – will you commit yourself to?”)

Unanswered questions

“Julie Irvine, how long have you got? Better add an exercise program to your daily schedule!”

Possible directions for Julie to pursue

As you can see, Julie’s new sense of freedom has released a bubbly enthusiasm! There’s not much to add to Julie’s good sense. Except to suggest that she might find others in the same situation she’s in. She would be a marvelous model for them, and would help them find a whole new realm of service for God.


What about you? Now is a good time to reflect on what you’ve absorbed during the course of reading this book. Why not take some time to think about:

Some perspectives that have been helpful

Some habits that are changing

Some unresolved issues

Some unanswered questions

Some directions you might pursue

A Prayer for Our Work

Dear Lord,

We thank you that you are a worker, and you invite us to share in your work – as your partners.

We confess that sometimes we work in ways that ignore what you are doing – pretending we don’t need you or that we can make a difference without you.

Forgive us for when we work compulsively – as though what we’re doing is the most important thing on earth.

Forgive us when we treat our work as little more than a means to an end.

Forgive us when we fail to see that all work done in cooperation with you is good and worthwhile.

And so as we enter a new week of work:

We acknowledge afresh our dependence on you in all we put our hands to.

Help us to find dignity and purpose in every task. Particularly, Lord, in the things we find mundane or hard.

Give us vision to see where you are already working – in our homes and families, in our neighborhoods, in our places of employment, in our church life, and in our surroundings.

Fuel us with imagination to see what you want us to do.

Give us humility to serve without complaint, in whatever tasks are before us.

Transform us, as we work.

Help us to make this week of work an act of worship.

May your kingdom come, here on earth (particularly in our places of work) just as it is in heaven.

We ask this all in the name of the One who modeled what it is to work with and for you.