God works in mysterious ways, which often include painful and challenging situations. I believe that this season of economic struggle, in which many Christian organizations are accomplishing their mission with a leaner work force, is an opportunity for Christian workers to grow in their understanding of how their work and their faith relate. Specifically, the original Puritan work ethic, as Leland Ryken describes it, has much to teach us about the joy and meaning to be found in our daily duties.
The Puritan work ethic has come to mean self-disciplined dedication to one’s work, but there is no joy in it. The truth is that the Puritan work ethic arose out of a deep understanding of who God is, how we can best worship Him, and consequently where we will find our deepest longings met.
Unlike our culture, which is strictly divided into the sacred and the secular, the private and the public, the realm of the heart and the mind, the Puritans lived all of life in relation to God. Every activity had sacred significance because of their understanding of calling or vocation. They understood the Bible to teach two callings of God on every man – the general and the particular. The general calling is the same for all mankind, to worship God as Lord. The particular calling, however, was how each person was to specifically worship God through the tasks and occupation that God sovereignly placed before them each day. Because it is God doing the calling, even menial tasks are dignified as means of worship. Thus any legitimate work can be done for God’s glory. Tyndale went so far as to say that in this sense there is no distinction between someone preaching a sermon and someone washing the dishes.
This elevation of work to a means of serving God should bring greater meaning and thus fulfillment to our days, especially the tasks that we may see as insignificant. For example, it’s easy for me to see how my work at Best Christian Workplaces Institute is glorifying to God as I help provide resources for Christian organizations to honor God in their relationship with their employees, but with this perspective, all the duties I have as a new mom – diaper changes, laundry, burping, etc. – are also significant.
Furthermore, the Puritans held the hope of heaven ever before their eyes to spur them on as they lived out their days on this earth. For them both worlds were equally real. And for this reason, the Puritans were the activists of their day – rather than withdrawing, they strived to order their lives and mortify their sins in order to make the most of their efforts, to redeem the time. This was the foundation for their disciplined work ethic. Each moment was to be lived in the view that it may be their last; life was to be lived as a heroic endeavor, holding nothing back.
I find the Puritan work ethic to be both encouraging and challenging and I hope that today’s trials will help us to reclaim a purposefulness in our work – a delight in excellence in all that we do because we do it all for our King!