“On January 27, 1756, God decided to write music. Then He created Mozart. And God said, ‘Let there be music!’” -Robert Winslow Shaw
“The modern heresy is that work is not the expression of man’s creative energy in the service of society, but only what one does to obtain money and leisure.”- Dorothy Sayers.
I don’t know about you, but among my Twitter and Facebook friends, this was the most talked about Superbowl commercial this year. In a sea of GoDaddy and Calvin Klein ads/striptease, did anybody think the the best commercial of the night would be Paul Harvey talking about the value of a farmer’s work?
One of the most surprising surveys about emotional health came from World War II. It was suprising because people that were surveyed during this period were happier than any other survey done like it…and it was during war! As they researched why this was, they discovered that the people were more happy for a season, because they were living for more than just their own survival, they were living for one another.
Happy to Serve
In his book, Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah talks about how the biggest problem facing the Western world is hyper-individualism. We have been taught to think in terms of individual choice at the expense of our ability to share life together.
And he suggests that we can change this:
“We don’t approach work with the primary intention of serving others in it…If our troubled world…is to be [helped, there should be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.”
The way to change our self-centered individualism is to change the way we think about our work.
We live in a world where CEO’s will slowly kill their own company just to pad their pockets and float away on a golden parachute, leaving a wake of unemployed people and betrayed investors. We live in a time where a well-known bank will launder money for a Mexican drug cartel, turning a blind eye to the deaths of the thousand teenagers who will overdose. Because, hey, it’s not their teenager.
We’ve stopped thinking about what’s best for the world, and started thinking about what’s best for me. Which is, ironically the worst thing for me.
It’s also quite dumb.
Right now, I’m sitting at a desk, in a chair, typing on a computer. And in order for me to do this, thousands of men and women were working in other jobs like cutting trees, polishing and shaping wood, transporting furniture, and all the farmers it took to feed those workers.
I heard a TED talk the other day that said, just to make one computer mouse, over 100,000 people are involved.
We stand on the shoulders of our neighbors who work and service has made it possible for us to work and serve.
But the Biblical view of work is that it is how we serve our neighbors and help to bring human flourishing.
Which brings me back to what they found during World War II.
The reason that people were so happy, even during wartime, was because for the first time in their lives they felt like they were serving their neighbors. This is what Dorothy Sayers was writing about in the above quote. She goes on to say:
“The reason men often find themselves happy and satisfied in the army is that for the first time in their lives they found themselves doing something, not for the pay, which is miserable, but for the sake of getting the thing done.”
Now think about this for a second. We live in a world of work-a-holics and self-promoters. We work our lives away to get sucess and then find that our success doesn’t bring us the happiness we had hoped it would.
This is why the number 1 recorded regret of dying men is that they wish they wouldn’t have worked so hard.
But what if the problem isn’t work, but why they worked.
God is Calling
The word Vocation is Latin…it just means calling.
I love living in a college town. Leslie and I get to rub shoulders with young adults who are trying to plan out their lives. They’re idealistic and hopeful, they talk a lot about their careers, but they have little idea of the Christian idea of “Calling.”
And that’s a shame, because God hasn’t stopped calling, we’ve just stopped hearing Him.
In his incredible book, Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller points out that a calling is something that someone else must do for us. A job is only a vocation is someone else calls you to do it, and if you do it for them. If this doesn’t happen then our jobs become less about the work, and more about us. So we will pursue jobs for their status or their pay, and not from any sense of God calling us.
That’s not just working for a church (although that is a great calling!), it’s working for your neighbor toward the common good. It’s creating music and chairs and laptop batteries, and car engines. It’s being asked by your neighbor to serve the world, and doing it for their sake rather than for yours.
This is why that Superbowl commercial moved so many of us. We want to sense that God is somehow involved in our work, and that our sacrifice matters. We want the bottom line to not just be about money and prestige, but for the good of our neighbor.
And that’s exactly the story the Bible is telling. This is God’s goal in Creation. He wants to partner with us in our work in his world.
Or in the words of Paul Harvey…
God made the world in 7 days, and on the 8th day God created the Farmer.