Blog - Grasping Vocation

Book Review: Taking Your Soul to Work

Monday, June 11, 2012

What do you do if your work is suffocating your prayer life? That’s how Alvin Ung described to Paul Stevens what was happening to him. "Paul,” he said, "do you really think it’s possible to grow spiritually while I’m working in my crazy, relentless job?” When Stevens assured him that his faith could flourish in the work world, Ung wanted to know how.

So began a two-year conversation between these two men on "what it means to grow spiritually in the workplace.” Out of that dialog grew their co-authored book, Taking Your Soul to Work. The workplace experience of Ung, who grew up in Malaysia, included finance, journalism, and telecommunications. Stevens, from Canada, had served as pastor, carpenter, businessman, and marketplace theology professor at Regent College.

Part One identifies and explores nine "deadly work sins.” These include the historically recognized seven deadly sins—pride, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth, and envy—plus two particularly troublesome in the work world, restlessness and boredom. In a conversation about workplace envy, Ung asks, "Why is it that I feel displeasure when someone else is succeeding?” In the chapter on restlessness, the writers observe that, "Most jobs that involve continuous stress, repetition, or solitary work will drive us to distraction or induce in us the urge to run away and do something else.”

Part Two counterbalances these deadly sins with an equal number of "life-giving resources for workplace spirituality,” the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit found in Gal. 5:22-23. The authors emphasize that that the spiritual battles of the workplace are won not through self-effort but through faith and trust: "We surrender our minds and bodies to Jesus Christ.” In the chapter on love, Stevens and Ung say, "In the workplace, we give the most powerful evidence that we are loved by God when we show practical care for the best interests of others. Lust looks to be serviced; love serves.”

Part Three shows what results when those in the workplace allow the Spirit of God to deal with the deadly sins and produce his fruit. The desirable consequences include such things as continuous prayer, surrendered contentment, life-giving rhythms, neighbor-love, and vocational confidence. In the introduction to this section, the authors point out that, "The key thing that safeguards our work from becoming futile, meaningless, and worthless is that we perform the work in faith, hope, and love for Jesus Christ. In this way, work is like an evangelist that draws us closer to Jesus Christ, if we have the right motivations and attitudes.”

In a world that mostly associates work with brains and bodies, it’s refreshing to read that our souls not only belong on the job but can thrive in that pressure cooker. The book reminded me of a statement by Eugene Peterson in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: "I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.”

Peterson, in the Foreword to Taking Your Soul to Work, says, "If you are among the growing number of Christian men and women who want to take your souls into the workplace, this is the book for you. . . .This is a major work for restoring dignity to the laity and infusing vigorous health into the Christian community.”

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