Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Puritan Lessons on Faith and Work - Part 2

The Puritan view of vocation not only legitimized all manner of work as service to God but also had practical implications in the way work was conducted. One such implication was exemplified in the Puritan’s motivation for his life’s work. Imagine a young man seeking to make choices regarding his career choice. What might he receive as career counseling advice from his Puritan elders?

Here’s a possible sampling of their sage advice which I’ve “distilled” into a few key takeaways –

Key advice: Have a high view of why you work

“Some man will say perchance: …must we not labor in our callings to maintain our families? I answer: this must be done but this is not the scope and the end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving of man”
William Perkins

Key advice: Don’t be motivated by fame or fortune but rather by a desire to serve.

“Choose that employment or calling in which you may be most serviceable to God. Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honorable in the world; but that in which you may do most good...”
Richard Baxter

Key advice: Carefully assess your gifts when choosing your life’s work - they are a possible indicator of God's leading

“Another thing to make the calling warrantable is when God gives a man gifts for it…When God hath called me to a place, he has given me some gifts fit for that place, especially if the place be suitable and fitted to me and my best gifts…”
John Cotton

Key advice: Be on your guard against selfish, worldly ambition as you pursue your life’s work.

“Take heed lest, under the pretense of diligence in your calling, you be drawn to earthly-mindedness, and excessive cares or covetous designs for rising in the world”
Richard Baxter

None of this is the kind of advice we're accustomed to hearing or the kind of thinking we carry to work daily. We're not often exhorted to pursue work for the purposes of service nor are we advised to be cautious of selfish ambition. Instead we are often ambitious without caution and pursue work for wealth-building rather than service. This unusual thinking is at the heart of the Puritan work ethic. I suspect it sounds strangely out of place in the corporate world today not because it's antiquated but because it's counter-culture.

For more reading on integrating faith and work:

Puritan Lessons on Faith and Work - Part 1
Ambition and the Christian

1 comment:

Alex Tang said...


I believe the key to the Puritan thinking is the sense of vocation. It is this sense of vocation that created the "Protestant work ethics" and also made the US a superpower today. Again thank you for a timely reminder.