Love the Gift-Giver, Not the Gifts

Tim Keller, internationally renowned pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, includes this piercing thought in his book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work,

“If God’s purpose for your job is that you serve the human community, then the way to serve God best is to do the job as well as it can be done.”

I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite verses in the Bible, found in St. Paul’s letter to an obscure church in a small Phrygian town known as Colossae:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23–24 ESV).

In much of Western Christian thought, there is much ado about work and rewards, races and prizes, and the pleasure of the ultimate, to be found from within the walls of the New Jerusalem. It is said that we’ll be together reaping the rewards of our spiritual prize in the heavenly city.

In historian and critic John Berger’s critically acclaimed book, Ways of Seeing, the author makes a point about the interrelatedness of publicity, advertising, and the thoroughly modern impulse to acquire that which is visually triggering; in other words, that which acts like a sensory ambrosia that strokes our inner ego, much like Narcissus’ reflection,

“Everything publicity shows is there awaiting acquisition. The act of acquiring has taken the place of all other actions, the sense of having has obliterated all other senses.”

I forward, in what appears to me to be, a clear connection between Berger’s analysis of the publicity-acquisition complex and our relentless work-drive in contemporary post-industrial Western societies. Our illness is quite unique: we have witnessed and are accomplices to, the spiritualization of the work-drive — the natural human impulse to get things done. We have lifted to the level of the transcendent, so to speak, God’s many gifts on earth, rather than God himself.

Our crime is the negligence of the real for the simulacra: the representation of the thing is not the thing itself, but its shadow made tangible. We reify God by diffusing his relevance into the things he has given us, and in so doing “defang” His power to transform our lives, to conform to the pattern He has set for us. We thereby strip Him of the glory only He can handle, and of which only He is deserving.

We can not rest for a moment to reflect on our week’s work because we are, as Kevin DeYoung has said, “crazy busy.” Our anxiety leaks into horrifying pangs of self-doubt as we run away from the rest only Christ can provide. We work, and work, and work… until all that is left are armies of automata surrounding us. Machines that clock in, do mediocre work, and clock out, driving home into the abyss of the numbing caress of a dying media-industrial complex. Its appeal is poison, as we are sucked into non-being, if only for a few hours until we sleep — needing not to worry about our dying inner life.

I propose a small rebellion, an incremental revolution of the heart back to God, rather than to His many gifts. Our “work and rewards, races and prizes, and the pleasure of the ultimate,” is but dust before the scope of human history. Our work is meaningless apart from the God who makes it happen, and our prize is God’s self, alone. He is with us, and is for us, and lives within us. Our communally shared spirit of hope and life is a collective breath of relief from our worries and troubles and the inhalation of God’s breath. And that is the thread of our ultimate prize, regardless of its location.

Heaven will be wonderful, but we will be spending it with, “the stranger [we already] know,” to paraphrase Michael Horton’s three-fold model of knowing God. We will have met who already lives inside our hearts within the walls of the heavenly city. The golden crown placed upon our heads will be worthless compared to the peerless worth of being in God’s company.

To prize his gifts, to earn the global currency to pursue his enjoyments, is not wrong at all. But to worry about the things of the earth, as they slowly grow dim, is to waste the precious time we have with the one who has rescued us from a darkness too deep for words.

Will you rest in God this day?

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