Good Work

Good Work September 21, 2008

I just finished reading “The Gift of Work – Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace” by Bill Heatley. Bill had visited my Blog a couple weeks ago, and was nice enough to direct me to his recently published book (see Bill’s comment on “About Me”). What’s interesting about Bill is that he is much more than just an author — he is a full-time manager of an IT department for Kaiser Permamente. So he’s really a working stiff just like me, who also happens to have a passion and interest in writing about the connection between his work and his Christian spiritual life.

Overall I was inspired and challenged by this book, although at times I felt it was a little too preachy about the spiritual disciplines (more on that in a bit). But, hey, that’s just me being my usual skeptical and resistant self when I hear someone else sounding like they are the spiritual authority on life. The other thing that bothered me a bit was the book’s assumption that everyone who works falls into either one of two categories: (1) you hate your job and are oppressed and cursed through your work which is experienced as a “daily humiliation,” or, (2) you are so consumed by the pursuit of “success” and getting ahead that all your actions are motivated by ambition and greed and materialism. Therefore you have completely abandoned God, your family and any valid relationship with people. This may have been Bill’s personal experience, but it certainly does not accurately reflect the many paths that fall outside of these two extremely negative scenarios. I know many, many good men and women who have experienced great career success while maintaining a vital and sustaining relationship with God, their family, their church and community. I mean, isn’t that the mark of a quality leader? No nervous breakdowns to report here. In fact, I really can’t say I know any professionals whom I associate with in my age-cohort (forty-something), who fall into either of those negative categories. Oh well.

That being said, The Gift of Work is filled with some incredible nuggets of spiritual wisdom – the kind that hits you between the eyes — because it frames work as directly integrated with our relationship with God. Bill Heatley tells us what that is like, because he is living it. And that, frankly, is inspiring.

The basic premise of the book borrows heavily from the writings of Dallas Willard (who, let’s face it, is brilliant) which says that God has designed an inherent goodness and value in all work. We are made in God’s image – to create – and “our work should be an outlet for creative goodness as well.” Once we look at our work through the lens of God’s Kingdom, then we can make our work an active part of the expression of our spiritual lives. That is pretty much the lesson to be learned here, and Bill does a good job of expanding on this through his perspective of a working professional.

As the by-line suggests (“Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace”), a good chunk of the book encourages us to embrace the lifestyle of becoming spiritually disciplined. And for good reason. Bill suggests that if we are practicing spiritual disciplines, then we will be ready, open and willing to incorporate God into our work lives at every moment. And Bill sounds like he has a lot of practice with the spiritual disciplines. After reading the book I would say that Bill’s practically a saint. I mean it. Compared to me and most of the Christian guys I know, Bill sounds incredibly spiritually disciplined: he fasts, he meditates, he quotes scripture, he teaches bible studies, he prays – about 100 times a day, and basically walks with Jesus at his side in everything he does. He is very, very disciplined. No wonder he is teaching and writing books and getting Dallas Willard to write a very nice introduction for him! For example, Bill tells a story of how he says a prayer before every email he sends, which, to me, sounds a little over the top. How can anyone do that? I am like on auto-pilot when I go through email: here’s an email, what does it say, who sent it, what does it mean, what do I need to reply, what’s the decision, bam. No prayer necessary. Bill, however, would say that the prayer over every small detail in our work lives opens us up to a higher quality of spiritual response.

At first this super-preachy-discipline-hype just plain intimidated and annoyed me, because I seem to struggle and wrestle with God quite a bit more than Bill does, and I just didn’t see how I was going to ever meet his high standard of godly living at work. But that’s Bill’s whole point – that God is the most important thing in your life, and if you don’t humble down and get on board with that then you’re never going to be truly fulfilled. I only wish that Bill had used more personal stories and examples. He has a few, but spends most of the book teaching and preaching and quoting scripture to drive home his points about the value of becoming more disciplined and godly.

Here are some of the most inspiring and instructional points in the book:

1. Make space for God at work. This sounds so basic but it is entirely profound. How much conscious effort do we make to invite and include God in our daily work lives? For me, I mostly forget about God once I get to work. I start thinking about, well, my work. Bill gives some great examples of how opening up our hearts and minds to God at work, during work, while we are working, allows God to move in all sorts of new ways. This concept alone is worth the read. “When we bring our job into the kingdom of God, by aligning it with His divine purpose for work and inviting Him in, our efforts unite with His in miraculous and supernatural ways.” This I have found to be true.

2. Work is created and ordained by God. Another little point that many of us don’t ever think about, because we think of our “spiritual life” as separate and distinct from our “work life.” But by giving our work the dignity and value as something that God is interested in, our work then becomes a way of fulfilling God’s will for our lives. That gives much more meaning to what I do every day.

3. Caring is central. Bill compares our jobs to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where God has given us the ability to tend and care for it, as a fundamental part of how our work is to be performed. That applies to people, our environment, customers, shareholders, employees, everything. And to think we can be the instruments of this caring. If our work is likened to carefully tending a garden, what kind of difference might that make in our workplace? This book has some excellent, thought-provoking content on this subject.

So give it a read, and let me know what you think. And, as for my bad attitude towards the spiritual disciplines – Bill, I’m working on it.

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