Shundrawn A. Thomas’s Discover Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation into your Vocation is a new little hardback from IVP USA that is aimed squarely at every Christian who works. With the exception, perhaps, of children and those medically unable to work, that’s a pretty big market! I like to read books about work from different Christian perspectives, and this one caught my eye not least because it’s author is’president of a trillion-dollar global investment management business’. I don’t know many of those. For those worrying, Thomas doesn’t talk about that much – this is a book that I found resonated with me as mid-level, early career person.
Discover Joy in Work is a nice little hardback (unless you buy it digitally, I suppose!) divided into three parts: ‘Your Workplace’, ‘Your Work Ethic’ and ‘Your Work Life’. Thomas weaves a blend of personal story (including some failures, which is good), biblical reflection and good common sense. This is not a theology of work, per se, but rather a reminder of the Christian’s call to follow Jesus wherever they are.
Some of the seemingly practical observations he makes have stayed with me – impacting what I think about work:
- “provide a level of service that exceeds your level of pay” – this has become a daily question in my own mind, what am I doing that points towards this?
- “Whatever your task, big or small, be the right person for the job and commit your work to God. When you adopt this attitude toward your vocation, you are truly doing God’s work. The best of who you are can be revealed through your work, and the best of who God is can be revealed through you. And the world will see you, too, are one of the beautiful ones” – this is a particular challenge to me for the parts of my job that I don’t enjoy, and a rebuke to previous versions of me in roles/tasks that I’ve complained about!
- “God is glorified through our work when we demonstrate clarity of purpose, maturity of character, and excellence of acheivement” – for Christians, God’s glory must be our ultimate aim. I can pay lip service to that – or I can learn (slowly!) to inhabit and exhibit clarity, maturity and excellence, not for my sake, but for God’s glory.
The central message of the book relates to finding meaning (though not ultimate meaning) in the work that you do. Thus, Thomas writes things like:
- “Individuals yearn for meaningful work. Their motivations extend beyond simply earning a living. If workers devote most of their waking hours to the workplace, it should come as little surprise that they want that investment to truly count” – amen!
- “Transforming your occupation into your vocation requires you to rise above selfish ambition” – this is a challenge, both regarding seflishness, and ambition. Perhaps we need to bear in mind a Jesus-focused form of ambition, as Emma Ineson explores in her excellent book.
- “A sound philosophy toward work helps reveal three truths. First, your choice of vocation does not define you… Second, your choice of vocation does not determine your value… Third, and most important, your choice of vocation does not define your purpose. It is more of a means to a greater end. You discover your calling or purpose by doing purposeful work” – this is a really important reminder, and something that those of us who are fortunate to be passionate about their present employment must remember especially (And, when things aren’t going so well, too!)
- “You can lead from whatever position you are in.An important aspect of developing the skill of leadership is recognizing the situations that call for our special brand of leadership. Equally important is recognizing the situations that call for us to be effective followers“- this is a good challenge, unpacked more in the book, that applies to us all, whatever ‘level’ we are at in our company/organisation/career.
- “Work is not intended to be an aimless endeavour” – amen!
I really enjoyed this book. It is perhaps more conversational and less theological than some books I’ve read on the topic – but that makes it readable, digestible, and memorable. I think this could be a useful tool for pastors working through work with their congregations, as well as something for those in their late 20’s/30’s to read. I can’t speak from experience, but I wonder if it might also be a good read for those entering the later stages of their ‘working lives’. Whoever, this is a helpful book on what most of us do for most of most days, and I’m really glad to have read it.
If this review has got you interested, then I’ve reviewed/read a few other books that would ‘work’ well alongside Discover Joy in Work.
- Daniel M. Doriyani’s excellent Work – a really helpful, thorough theology of work.
- William Taylor’s Revolutionary Work – a readable, biblically-infused book from an English pastor.
- Healthy Faith and the Coronavirus Crisis has some helpful tips on working from home, and two chapters about work, as well as a whole host of resources that will likely help think about work in the present time.