This blog is a little different from other blogs I’ve written. Typically, I try to draw a practical lesson from a business or leadership book I’m reading. This blog follows that pattern (it is based on a book I’m reading), but it’s also more of an intersection between business and faith.
Back in my December blog post I mentioned the pastor of a New York City church named Tim Keller. Keller has written several books, and his most recent book, Every Good Endeavor, focuses on the topic of “work.” Specifically, Keller takes on the question of what was work designed for, and how can we find meaning and purpose in our work. Both employers and employees face this question. Employees want their work to be meaningful for obvious reasons. Employers know that satisfied workers are better, more fulfilled workers, and therefore want their employees’ work to be meaningful. Today’s millennial generation is asking the “meaning and purpose in work” question more than ever. In this context, Keller draws on the book of Genesis, part of both the Christian and the Jewish sacred texts, in search of answers to the question of how our work can be about more than just drawing a paycheck.
Keller focuses on two passages from the book of Genesis (Genesis 1:28 and 2:15) in developing his thoughts about work. These passages come directly after the creation account. One contains the instruction to “fill the earth and subdue it” as well as to “rule over the fish … birds … and every living creature.” The other exhorts Adam to “work and care for” the garden in which he was put. Sometimes the words “till” or “cultivate” are used instead of “work and care.” So what could these passages from a book written a few thousand years ago possibly have to do with us today in the 21st century, in the world of Apple, Google and Mixed Martial Arts?
Keller has a very interesting take on what it means to “work and care for” (or till and cultivate) the garden. According to Keller, this text calls us to “rearrange” the raw material of creation in a way that helps people around us to thrive and flourish. The materials we’re given to work with on this earth are good, but not complete. Our job is to shape these raw materials into things that enhance people’s lives. We’re tasked with serving others through building things that make their lives better. Considered this way, we end up with a totally different perspective on our work, one that brings meaning and dignity to any type of work we do, particularly physical work.
Let me try to make this as practical as possible. In Genesis we see God as a gardener; later in the scriptures we see him as a carpenter. Both of these jobs involve physical as well as mental labor. The fact that God engages in these physical jobs infuses them with meaning and dignity. In the hardwood lumber industry, we can think of what we do as cutting logs and processing boards, or instead we can see our work as rearranging the raw material of creation (trees) into useful products (chairs, tables, cabinets, floors) that help people to live better and more productively. For me, viewing our work as rearranging creation’s raw materials is more motivating and inspiring, and brings dignity and meaning to all kinds of work.
So do you think of your work as just a way to draw a paycheck? If you’re an employer, do your employees think of it that way? Regardless of your faith background, the first few chapters of Genesis provide a framework for making your work, and the work of your employees, meaningful and full of purpose. This is eminently modern and practical for a generation that craves more meaning in their work. Follow this blueprint and it will make your work, and the work of your employees, more meaningful and purposeful.