Saturday 29 November 2008

The glory of God: 25,000 orchids have their say!

I’m currently in Asia doing work on behalf of my college. The trip started in Singapore where I had the chance to visit The National Orchid Garden. I’m an amateur orchid grower so when I noticed the garden was close by I had to visit. Orchids are an amazing flower. The Orchid family (Orchidaceae) is the largest family of the flowering plants. It has been estimated that there are 880 genera and nearly 22,000 accepted species. However, the exact number is unknown and has been estimated at 25,000. This is four times the number of species of mammal. The variety is incredible; orchids vary in size, colour shape, number of blooms and frequency of flowering.

As a Christian I believe that God created these flowers. But why? Why 25,000? Would 2,000 have done, or even 20? Genesis 1 is helpful and helps us to understand that God takes pleasure in his creation. In Genesis 1 we not only have recorded the order of creation, we see here that God looks at it with pleasure. He stood back (so to speak) and “..saw that it was good" (Gen 1:4, 12, 18, 21, 25). And when he had finished all of his creative work he declared that “…it was very good."

God seems to be delighted in his work; it gives him pleasure. The Psalmist also helps us to gain a sense that God takes pleasure in his creation, indeed, he rejoices in it.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works (Psalm 104:31)

The works of God are an expression of his glory, and as long as God’s glory endures (and Psalm 104 suggests this will be forever), he will take pleasure in his works. And the wonderful thing is that the 25,000 varieties of orchids, and in fact all of creation, brings ongoing praise to God. In fact the Psalmist (Psalm 148) calls on creation itself to praise the Lord:

Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens,
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for he commanded and they were created.
He set them in place forever and ever;
he gave a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and maidens,
old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
He has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his saints,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD.

God’s 25,000 varieties of orchids bring praise to him simply by being what they were created to be in all their amazing variety. As well, they reveal the wonder of his knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 104:24):
How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

And God’s creation should also move us to look to the one who created them (Is 40:26):

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

As I marvelled at God’s orchids I was moved to consider how great God must be. If his work in one family of flowering plants is so amazing, just how amazing must God be himself. Again, the Psalmist (Psalm 104:31-34) has some words that point us in this direction:

May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works-
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the LORD.
Related posts

The wonders of space: Seeing the creator in images of the universe (here)

Friday 21 November 2008

Freedom to choose: A biblical perspective

Is this fish free?

Freedom is a word on everybody’s lips. It seems everyone places high priority on personal freedom. However, the focus of individual desire for freedom often finds expression in varied ways:

• The economist wants free trade
• The feminist wants to be free from male oppression
• African nationalists want freedom from colonial rule
• The capitalist wants to be free from government control
• The teenager wants to freedom to make their own choices

Don Carson in his recent book “Christ and Culture Revisited” suggests that the desire for freedom is one of the big 4 cultural forces in secular western societies (along with secularisation, democracy and lust for power).

The freedoms people are seeking involve freedom from something – from oppression, control, fear, traditions, poverty, social institutions or values and so on. But as Tim Keller points out in his book The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism:

Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.

Freedom and God's purposes

The picture of the fish above alludes to this idea that human freedom is related to God’s purposes for our lives. Tim Keller uses this illustration to make this point about freedom.

“A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we take it off the hook and put it on the grass, its freedom to move and even to live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honour the reality of its nature.”

Keller goes on to argue that freedom isn’t simply the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, confinement and constraint can actually be a means to liberation.

But talk to non-Christian friends and you will see that the image of Christianity today is not freedom but bondage. Christians are the fun police and Christianity is a religion of don’ts. Many show their opposition in varied ways: “I want to do what I want to do.” “My sexuality is my business.” “It’s my body, I’ll decide what I do with it.” “Don’t tell be how to behave.”

Where can we go in the Bible for help in responding to our friend’s challenges in this area? Gal 5, Romans 6, John 8, and 1 Peter 2 are all good places to start.

Freedom from the law

Paul tells the Galatian Church (Gal 5:1-15) that they are free from the law and must avoid the temptation to believe that more is needed to experience true freedom.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”

Because tells the Galatians that because Christ has them free, that they are to enjoy the glorious freedom that it brings. They must not drift back into thinking that they can win favour with God by their own obedience or observance of the law. The law won't help the Galatians or us. Like them we can never be good enough in the eyes of God to earn his favour, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

Freedom from sin

But Paul tells the Galatians that there is a second form of slavery that they had escaped. They are not just free from the law, they are also free from sin.

“13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13)

Paul has more to say in Romans 6 on our freedom from sin in Christ.

15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Choosing slavery

Paul makes the point here that we aren't just free from sin and the law, we replace one form of slavery with another. You become slaves of the gospel (v17), a slave of righteousness (v18) and finally a slave of God (v22).

The imagery here is of the voluntary slavery – self-surrender leading to slavery (v 16). The voluntary slave was one often living in poverty who could offer themselves as slaves to someone simply in order to be fed and housed.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16)

Like voluntary slaves we have a choice – slavery to sin or righteousness. Jesus taught that no-one can be slaves to two masters (Matt 6:24).

There is a wonderful progression here: conversion involves self-surrender; self-surrender in turn leads to slavery; and slavery demands uncompromising obedience.

17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6:17-18)

John Stott reminds us that: “We have here an exchange of slaveries. Each slavery is a kind of freedom (one authentic and the other spurious) and each type of freedom is a kind of slavery (one leads to death and the other life)”.

We were made for slavery to righteousness in accordance with the manufacturer’s design. It is possible for the fish to be free of the restraint of the pond, but if this freedom is not consistent with the way he was designed, it is a false freedom that leads to destruction. So too, for humans. If the freedom we seek is not in accord with God’s purposes then it is pointless freedom. No, the fish isn't free, and neither are we when we try to live our lives separate from God. We were made to give our lives in obedience to Christ, there can be no true freedom outside Christ. Jesus said:

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

Related links

A review of Tim Keller's The Reason for God can be found here.

Thursday 13 November 2008

The Redemption of Children's Literature

1. The importance of children's literature

Some readers of this blog know that I also write a blog called "Literacy, families and learning". This blog aims to "to provide practical, timely and sound support and advice for parents, teachers and teachers in training". It isn't written with a specifically Christian audience in mind, but if you read it I hope that you will see the influence of my Christian worldview. This has been perhaps most evident in some posts that I've been doing on Key themes in children's literature.
These posts intersect with two posts I wrote on this CASE blog in August about Christian Writing for Children (here and here). I suggested in my posts on writing that in the Western cultural tradition the gospel of Christ is the central narrative to which virtually all other narratives have some relationship. The central focus of the Bible is Salvation History; with its central narrative tracing both the history of Judaism and Christianity and God’s redemptive plan for his people. In the beginning God created…and it was good. But sin entered the world, man rebelled against him and so God placed a curse upon his creation that one day would end in judgement. But God always had a plan for such rebellion; a plan of redemption motivated by love. An amazing gift of grace; his own son sent to die and three days later to be raised from the dead to defeat sin and death. A plan that provided a way for his creation to be restored to a relationship with him.

In my first post on Christian writing for children, I suggested that while there are many legitimate forms of writing for children (I suggested at least five types), I urged Christians to consider writing good fiction for the secular marketplace. In a sense, I was arguing for the redemption of children's literature for the sake of the gospel by having more Christians writing good narratives for children.

2. The place of God's redemptive plan for creation in literature

In this post I want to go further and suggest that much literature is already suitable for parents to use as an extension of the biblical education of their children. While I'm not suggesting that literature can be a replacement for the Bible as the key text for life, what I am suggesting is that the gospel inhabits literature in stories that echo the central redemption narrative of the Bible. I've written three posts in my Key themes series:

The environment
Being different

3. Making better use of literature

I wrote in one of my books written for academics and university students (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature can act as:
  • a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
  • a source of knowledge
  • a source of ideological challenge
  • a means to peer into the past, and the future
  • a vehicle to other places
  • a means to reflect on inner struggles
  • an introduction to the realities of life and death
  • a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues
I'm pushing the above claims one step further. My point is simple. For many books, there are links or parallels at the thematic level with the biblical redemption narrative. Many stories demonstrate or echo biblical teaching (e.g. salvation narratives, stories of salvation and redemption, parallels to biblical narratives or parables). Others simply distort these biblical themes and require comment and critique. Such stories can be read at one level simply as nice tales, but at another level the key themes that parallel biblical themes can be discussed with children. In many cases, the authors are not Christians, but Christian teaching has indirectly influenced their writing. Many children's stories:
  • offer knowledge that for the Christian affirms that God is in control of his world and is unfolding his purposes for it;
  • act as a mirror allowing the reader to reflect on life and their future in the light of biblical teaching;
  • lead us to consider aspects of the human condition (life and death, fear, loneliness, pain, loss, frailty, brokenness etc) that once again relate to biblical wisdom and teaching;
  • point to the central redemption narrative of the Bible.
Alternatively, literature can offer perspectives that are at odds with biblical teaching and require comment. This type of critical reading of literature against the grain is a vital skill for children to learn, so that as independent readers they will be better able to read books, view movies, listen to songs and read texts of all kinds with a biblical lens. This type of biblical engagement with literature can begin very early (albeit in modest ways!).

4. An example - Teaching our children about death, human frailty and judgement

The topic of death is not a very popular one for some parents. Many parents make the mistake of trying to hide the reality of death from their children with the result that when their children do encounter it they may have difficulty coping. At this point I should confess to telling my eldest daughter when she was about 3 years old that our pet yellow budgerigar ("Mr Hooper") had got out of the cage and flown away, when in fact he had died. As non-Christian parents at the time, we weren't ready to deal with the topic so we simply lied about the bird's death (sorry Nicole!).

While there is little point in deliberately raising death prematurely for the child before they have the emotional maturity to deal with it, it's hard to artificially put a time frame on when it's a good time to speak of death.
While thankfully few children will have to deal with death and dying at too young an age, some will, and of course we have no way of knowing when and if this might be the case. Furthermore, from an early age they will be on the 'edges' of conversations and discussions that will give them their first hints that this life is not permanent for any living creature. An awareness of death may emerge very early with the death of a family member, or more commonly, through the death of an animal (typically a pet like Mr Hooper). However, more often the child's first awareness that all living things will one day might be through a book or a film, DVD or television program. As the child grows older the chances of some first-hand experience of death will increase. By the teenage years a close experience with the death of a friend or loved one will be more common, and might well come in tragic circumstances.

That's where literature (and film of course) can help parents, in particular, to discuss the reality of death with their children. Books that address death can be read with children and by children themselves as a source of insight, comfort and emotional growth. Once again, I stress that this isn't a replacement for the Bible's discussion of death, but is a complement to our discussion of the Bible's teaching about death. At this point, I should stress that I am not deliberately ignoring classic works of Christian fiction that are more allegorical in their approach such as Bunyan's "The Pilgrims Progress", The Chronicles of Narnia written by C.S. Lewis and even new works like R.C. Sproul's children's book, The Prince's Poison Cup. This genre has a different place in our literary traditions that I won't address in this already long post.

Let me offer a few examples of how some books raise the theme of death and dying.

5. Some books that deal with death

a) Traditional fantasy and fairy tales

Fantasy has always been a common introduction to human frailty and death. Fairy tales from many different cultural traditions have not been afraid of death as a theme. Traditional versions of 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'The Three Pigs', 'Jack and Beanstalk', 'The Gingerbread Man', 'The Little Match Girl' and many other tales, all dealt with death in graphic detail. However, today it is common for such tales to be sanitised and death expunged or pushed into the background of the narrative. But traditional fairy tales, myths and legends still offer a rich array of stories that deal with death. In contemporary literature there are also many good examples of books that deal with this important theme.

b) Some books for younger readers (0-6 years of age)

I’ll always love you
, Hans Wilhelm – a delightful picture book that tells of the death of a little boy’s dog called Elfie and the impact of the death on him. This would be appropriate for children aged 3-7 years. There is so much to talk about in this story of devotion and loss. Be warned, children ask the most challenging questions about stories, e.g. "Do dogs go to heaven?"

Granpa, by John Burningham - This moving book provides an insight through simple words and pictures of the relationship between a little girl and her grandfather and the impact of his death on her. Some struggle with the staccato nature of the text (that mirrors the disconnected nature of adult/child conversations) but I believe that this is a wonderful book. The story shows how the Grandfather who holds the child's hand, teaches and protects eventually faces his own frailties and death; and yet life for the child goes on. But what about Granpa (something on which the book is silent)?

Love You Forever, by Robert N. Munsch -- this book tells of the cycle of life as a child grows to be a man and a mother grows to be an old lady; and of course of the relationship between a boy and his mother as they both grow old. Some find it a little unusual but it is an intriguing treatment of the topic from a great children's author.

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, by Tomie de Paola - Four-year-old Tommy enjoys his relationship with both his grandmother and great-grandmother, but eventually learns to face up to their inevitable death.

c) Primary Readers (7-12 years of age)

Charlotte’s Web
, E.B. White – It’s hard to go past this classic tale of survival, hope, life and death. Even if it has been seen first on DVD it is worth reading with your children. In his masterly tale E.B. White shows through Wilbur (the pig), Fern (the little girl) and Charlotte (the spider) how death is part of life; and yet, how death is not the end. Life goes on.

Number the stars, Lois Lowry – This wonderful book tells of the escape of a Danish Jewish family by boat from the Nazis in World War II. It is a novel that touches on numerous themes such as human cruelty, life, death and survival.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
by Eleanor Coerr - this book is based on the true story of an 11-year-old Japanese girl diagnosed with leukaemia as a consequence of the bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako Sasaki was just 2 when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The author does not hide the horrors of death providing vivid descriptions of her pain, weakness, sadness, and loneliness. The book also shows the impact on a family of the tragic death of a child. For the Christian parent there is also the opportunity to talk about pain, suffering and judgement.

The machine gunners
, Robert Westall – This one is for the boys! Guaranteed to interest any boy. The tale of a group of boys living in Britain through the Blitz, their war souvenir collecting, their brushes with death and of lots of moral choices along the way.

d) Teenagers

Death of a Princess, by Susan Geason - When the Pharaoh's beautiful eleven-year-old daughter, Isis, dies under suspicious circumstances, the beautician becomes the prime suspect! This mystery is set in Ancient Egypt during the reign of the mighty Ramesses II. For the older reader there is a lot to get your teeth into here, particularly the contrast of the stories treatment of death and the Bible's

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson - This brilliant book won the Newbery Medal in 1978. It is the story of two lonely children who create a magical forest kingdom. Paterson drew inspiration for the novel from the death of a friend of her son, who was struck by lightning at a beach. It is the story of fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who befriends his new neighbour Leslie Burke after losing a race to her at school. The touching story ends in tragedy.

6. Some final comments

The purpose of this post wasn't to encourage Christian parents to put the Bible to one side and present the gospel according to literature. Rather, the purpose was to highlight how literature has much to offer in terms of the discussion of biblical themes as part of narrative encounters in books and even film. As well, I'm not suggesting that parents and teachers ruin the reading of literature by dissecting books to such an extent that children are not given the opportunity to simply enjoy the narrative themselves. And I'm not suggesting that we become bibliotherapists, although some psychologists use some of the books I've mentioned as part of their clinical work. You can read a little about Bibliotherapy here and here.

But I do want to stress that literature offers many possibilities for rich discussions with our children that have significance for their developing faith in Christ.

Thursday 6 November 2008

The Case for Pro-Life Advocacy

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has an interesting interview with Scott Klusendorf, President of Life Training Institute, who offers his thoughts on how pro-life advocates should respond to the election win by Barack Obama and his plans to support Pro-choice legislation. Klusendorf has a forthcoming book titled, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage Culture (to be published by Crossway in March 2009). His comments on Obama’s support for the Federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) have direct relevance for other nations with liberal abortion laws like Australia.

Klusendorf states that:

“FOCA creates a federally guaranteed right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy that goes way beyond Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Should the federal courts ever reverse or otherwise gut Roe and Doe, FOCA would enshrine abortion rights into law at the legislative level. Parental consent, informed consent, restrictions on tax-funded abortions, and physician conscience laws would be swept away, along with federal and state bans on partial-birth abortion.”

His most interesting comments concern what Christians should do about the possible threat to make abortion on demand easier and less controlled in the US. He suggests that action is necessary and that we must not give up on the Pro-Life agenda. He also suggests that we need to equip more Pro-Life advocates to engage the culture, not shrink back in defeat. He outlines four ways to do this:

1. Christian leaders should purposefully preach and teach a biblical view of human value, and do it often.

“…the biblical worldview explains human dignity and equality: All humans have value because they bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 9:6, James 3:9). At the same time, the science of embryology establishes that “human life” is not a “label we confer,” but a biological reality we discover. From fertilization forward, the unborn are unquestionably human. Hence, biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life (Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:16-19) apply to the unborn as they do other human beings. Like everyone else, they have the image of their creator.”

2. Christian leaders must not only preach about human value; they must equip their people to engage the culture.

He argues that theology gives church members a biblical foundation for their pro-life beliefs and that Apologetics will provide the tools to take biblically informed beliefs into the marketplace of ideas.

3. Pro-life Christians must hold their churches and parachurch organizations to account.

However, while holding people to account he argues that we need to “….equip Christian leaders rather than criticize them.”

4. Pro-life Christians must recruit more full-time apologists.

He suggests that we need people dedicated to educating and challenging others. He reinforces this view with a confronting quote from Gregg Cunningham of the “Center for Bioethical Reform”:

There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. That’s because killing babies is very profitable while saving them is very costly. So costly, that large numbers of Americans who say they oppose abortion are not lifting a finger to stop it. And those that do lift a finger to stop it do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.

It seems to me that the strategy he outlines for the USA has relevance for other countries like Australia. As I concluded my previous post on the recent Victorian Legislative changes to the abortion laws we need to act in his country as well.

We need to be arguing against abortion, not in a self-righteous way, but on moral and ethical grounds supported by hard facts and biblical truth, that present the case for the rights of the unborn child and the sanctity of life. We need to avoid being judgmental and simply taking the high moral ground.....history will judge us badly when it considers that in Australia alone up to 100,000 abortions are performed each year.

Links of relevance to this post

Full post from Justin Taylor, "Stayin Alive: Pro-Life Advocacy in the Obama Era. An Interview with Scott Klusendorf" here

My daughter Nicole has some great posts on abortion on her blog 168 Hours that you can read here.

A previous post from Justin Taylor with comments from Don Carson on practical ways forward can be found here

Related material on Medical Ethics from CASE Scholar Dr Megan Best can be found here.

Advance Notice

a) Conference

CASE will be running a conference on Medical Ethics at New College on the 21st March 2009. More details will be posted on the CASE website soon.

b) Next issue of Case on Medical Ethics

We will also be focussing on medical ethics in the next edition of Case magazine.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Seeking a better theology of work

1. The dilemma and the challenge

How do you see work? An inconvenient separation of weekends? A way to earn money for life? Something you do when you can't be in 'full-time' ministry? A result of the curse that we need to endure? The means God has given me to change the world? A staging point in life and a means to earn income before going to Bible College?

In the Evangelical Church there has been a tendency to place such a high priority on full-time Christian ministry (I'll call this vocational ministry in this post) that all else is seen as of lesser importance. While I understand (and agree with) the desire to encourage more men and women to consider vocational ministry, I have witnessed some unfortunate consequences; for example:

(i) Sometimes people leave secular work to attend Bible College with a view to vocational ministry only to discover that they aren't equipped for the task.
(ii) There is a tendency for unhelpful status hierarchies to develop between vocational ministry, secular employment and unpaid work.
(iii) Often secular work is insufficiently thought through theologically and is seen as separate to gospel work - a false separation of the sacred from the secular.
(iv) Some areas of secular employment end up with less Christians than one would hope with unfortunate consequences for the gospel (e.g. teaching has been losing Christians). We end up arguing that there are some jobs where it is more strategic for Christians to be to the neglect of others. There is some truth here when considering missionary work in foreign countries or engagement in difficult communities, but it is unhelpful to draw up a list of 'good' secular jobs. This misses the point of how we are to see our work.
(v) The place of unpaid work (e.g. stay at home parents, carers, charity workers etc) is relegated to such a low level of importance that those who do this work feel discouraged and are not helped to see the value of their work as equally part of God's purposes.

2. Taylor on the need for a better theology of work

Justin Taylor wrote earlier this year about this topic and called for the recovery of a reformational understanding of vocation as all of life. He wrote:

"In my view, we are due for another reformation with regard to our view of work. Although it’s much more subtle, many of us can still perpetuate a sub-biblical view of work. I remember once hearing a student leader suggest that the norm was for Christians to consider themselves called to vocational ministry—and that a calling to a so-called “secular” vocation was the exception. In other words, the default for Christians should be to go into vocational ministry unless they feel compelled to do something else. But I don’t find that idea taught anywhere in Scripture. The result is that we sometimes have people in vocational ministry, not because it is where they have been called by their church, or equipped by God, but simply because they never prepared to do anything else.

We need to recover the reformational understanding of vocation: all of life—in every sphere and in every calling—should be lived to the glory of God and in obedience to his Word. Abraham Kuyper wrote, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” If that’s true (and it is!), isn’t it worth our time and effort to think through how to glorify God in the area of work to which he has called you?"

3. Piper on work

John Piper, also has some helpful advice on this topic in his book Don’t Waste Your Life on glorifying Christ in work. Before addressing how we can use our secular work for to the glory of God Piper makes three fundamental general points:

  • First, "you don't waste your life by where you work, but how and why" you work. Secular work (i.e. work not structurally connected to the church) should be strategic. God's will is that his people should be scattered like salt and light across all of life, including the workplace.
  • Second, there is always "a partnership between goers and senders". We need some to go to the very ends of the earth, and we need some to stay behind and support them (e.g Titus 3:13; Romans 15:24).
  • Third, when you are called to be a Christian it is not (necessarily) a call to leave your secular employment. This teaching of Paul's in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 was very important to me when I was converted at the age of 31. We should not jump to the conclusion that God wants us to suddenly move from secular employment to vocational ministry as soon as we are converted. Of course, later you might well see that there is wisdom in such a change.

Piper stresses that the burning issue should be how I can make my life count for the glory of God in my secular vocation. He then offers six biblical answers to this question.

(i) Our work is to be a place and a time of fellowship with God – we should sense and enjoy God being with us in our work, talking to him and casting our burdens upon him. We are to constantly “…give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:12). We are to be encouraged in the knowledge that all the promises of God apply at work just as they do elsewhere – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

(ii) Our work is to be God honouring – we are to work hard and with creativity – to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). And through this work we are to honour God.

(iii) We are to do our work in such a way that the way we do it will increase the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess with our mouths – our work is not a replacement for telling people of Christ, but it should be an effective adornment. As Paul commends the slave in Titus 2:9-10, the way we work should”..adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.

(iv) We should make enough money in our work to keep us from needing to depend on others – work is to provide for our basic needs, this was God’s plan from the beginning (Genesis 2:2). What changed after the fall was not that man must work, but that in our work there would be struggle and weariness, frustrations and difficulty. But even in the midst of struggle God can be glorified. Piper suggests that “..unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. They waste their lives.”

(v) We should use our money “to make others glad in God” – as we work we should think about how we can use all our money wisely, but Piper’s point is that we should use any excess money beyond our basic needs to help others without the same resources. The Bible offers clear advice in this direction. For example, Paul speaks to Timothy of the need to care for aged widows (1 Timothy 5:8); he refers to his own labour and his desire to help the weak (Acts 20:35); then in Ephesians 4:28 he speaks of the thief not stealing but instead working “…so that he may have something to share with anyone in need”.

(vi) Work should provide us with relationships that allow us to share the Gospel – Speaking the words of the Gospel, not just living it, is as important at work as it is everywhere else in life. However, the workplace offers a special place for us to build relationships over longer periods of time, and to have regular and prolonged contact with people. Piper also reminds us that our secular occupations can also offer us entry to other countries where the Gospel needs to be heard.

John Piper concludes his chapter on work with these words:

“If you work like the world, you will waste your life, no matter how rich you get. But if your work creates a web of redemptive relationships and becomes an adornment for the Gospel of the glory of Christ, your satisfaction will last forever and God will be exalted in your joy.

4. Other things things to read

You can download Piper's book "Don't Waste Your Life" here.

Justin Taylor's two part article "Thank God for Work" can be downloaded here (Part 1) and here (Part 2)