How to read your work well

Whether a book, the news, or someone’s facial expression, we all read things regularly in our daily lives.

But have you ever considered reading your work? This type of reading requires discovering wisdom about what practices and principles best apply to your unique job.

This skill of reading our job can lead to flourishing and prevent impoverishment.

Mis-reading our work

When we lack the specific insights over the structures, skills, and processes most appropriate for our type of work, we often swim upstream and impede progress.

We all have examples of this from our lives:

Over systematize our business and we get bogged down in bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, driving overhead out of line and threatening profitability. Under systematize and we lack the structure and organization to manage the complexities of daily work and provide clear direction on how to get essential things done.

Learning the principles of what works best in a given work environment is reading our work well.

In addition, applying principles that work well in one area indiscriminately to other areas can cause disastrous results.

Reading creation

Daniel Doriani, in his recent book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, provides some excellent explanations and examples of this concept. As Christians, we learn in church that God provides two ways to understand ourselves and the world: special and general revelation.

We are given special revelation (the Bible) to teach us about God’s unfolding plan, purpose, and redemption in the world and general revelation (the created world) to learn the nature of what he has made and how we can shape and use it to fulfill God’s purposes.

We intuitively know there is a treeness to trees, a wetness to water, and flightness to birds of the air simply from observation.

God has similarly made human work with a built-in nature. There is a schoolishness about an institution of learning, a scientific method for doing research, a need for composition while creating a painting, and proper stakeholder considerations in conducting business.

How does God teach us these built-in principles and align our fields of work for his good purposes? Unlike reading the Bible, learning to read the nature of our work requires experimentation, observation, and discovery.

Whether it’s learning to farm through soil preparation and care, proper seeding and irrigation, and timing the cycle of planting and harvest, farmers must apply their accumulated learning and ongoing improvements to farm well.

Reading our jobs well

Maybe you’re wondering: Is this something we do independent of God so we can get on with the more important tasks of church activities and serving our neighbor?

Farming, some might say, is just farming, after all, and there is no “Christian farming” to learn.

The hole in this statement is that even though it is true, as Doriani points out, that “there is no Christian potato, and there is no Christian light bulb,” we love our neighbor best and worship God the most when we partner with him to discover and creatively leverage the resources and principles of our work to further his ongoing plan and work in the world.

Doriani rightly directs us to the words of Isaiah 28:23-29:

Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech. Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? Does he continually open and harrow his ground? When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill, sow cumin, and put in wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and emmer as the border? For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him. Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. Does one crush grain for bread? No, he does not thresh it forever; when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses, he does not crush it. This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, as Doriani points out, “…God instructs farmers so they know how to raise good crops in their time and place.”

It is God who is instructing us when we discover how to do our job in the way that both works well and honors him.

This is the reading of creation or, more specifically, reading the job that we desire. Sin and the lack of a manual for individual areas of labor make this a much more difficult pursuit than reading Scripture alone. Yet, Scripture guides us in the purpose and direction for our work.

Doriani continues, “…each sphere of life has its expertise. Each needs to keep others from intruding, yet each needs to learn from the others, since every aspect of life is connected.” This view allows us to connect the presence and desire of God to every type of work as we strive for a job well done.

Thoughtful Christians reflect on God’s heart and learn to enjoy exploring his design for their sphere of work. They iterate on improvements and learn to ask better questions as they seek to best apply their efforts at work.

Are we selfishly seeking to run our schools like a business rather than having the student’s best interest the top priority? Do we sit back and expect the government to be the primary agent in loving the poor instead of taking up the mantel as a church for our local community’s needs? Do we design buildings to maximize leasable work areas rather than promote an ideal mix of functional and beautiful work space suited to the nature of users?

As Doriani illustrates well, “For Michelangelo, The Pieta is sacred because of the subject matter. But Vermeer’s milkmaid is sacred because he respects her and her labor, and he adorns her with light and color.”

Let’s adorn our work today with the respect, light, and color the nature of our work deserves, knowing God is partnered with and instructing us each step of the way.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at faithandworkla.com.

Topics: Christian Life, Issues Facing Workers

About the Author

Steve Lindsey is the executive director of the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. As an engineer at Boeing for nearly 40 years, he often worked toward seeing how his work served God’s greater purpose for the world. He and his wife, Margaret, established the CFWLA in 2017 to help people reframe vocation and understand how all work, no matter the industry, has meaning and purpose.