I finally checked Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor off my reading list this week (good grief – I got it for Christmas!) and it was excellent! This is a must-read for anyone who is wondering what the reason for work is. Keller writes the book with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the director of the Center for Faith & Work at his church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and you can definitely tell that between the two of them, they have an exceptional understanding of the questions their congregation is asking about the meaning of work.
I want to share just a few of the things that I found most encouraging:
The book starts with a retelling of Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle” in which a painter fails to realize his dream of painting a tree during his lifetime. He completes only a few leaves by the time he dies and is saddened to think his dream will never be realized. Imagine his joy when he sees the very tree he has always envisioned, real and living, as he enters heaven. Keller writes, “But really – everyone is Niggle. Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him-or herself largely incapable of producing them.”
Later on Keller returns to this theme, writing: “What do we mean when we say work is fruitless? We mean that, in all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us.” A few pages later he adds, “You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation.”
This might not seem encouraging to you but it should be. Leaf by Niggle, “was Tolkien’s way of saying, to us as well as himself, that our deepest aspirations in work will come to complete fruition in God’s future.” What could be more encouraging than that? “The wonderful truth is that, “If the God of the Bible exists . . . and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” This is the perspective I cling to as I move through the frustrations and failures of my work in the present.
Please read this book if you’re wondering about your reasons to work, the reason for work in general, what your calling is and how to be a Christian in your work.