Blog author: jballor
by on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In my Acton Commentary this week, “Good Work Never Ends,” I look at the example of two local personalities, John Izenbaard of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Fred Carl Hamilton of Wyoming, Michigan, to argue that “the good work of service to others ought never end as long as we live.”

Izenbaard in particular is a striking example of perseverance in serving others. The 90 year-old Izenbaard has been working at Hoekstra’s True Value Hardware for 74 years, and has no plans to retire.

During his conversation with Rev. Sirico at Acton University last week, Michael Novak observed that at the heart of every business is an idea, some new good or service that is produced. In my talk on “The Church and God’s Economy,” I outlined what I call the 4 P’s of God’s economy. The P for the realm of work is that of “production,” precisely in the same sense used by Novak. Work is the realm of productive service of others. When work is defined in this way it causes us to rethink from the ground up the worldly notion of retirement.

In this week’s piece I also refer to the formula “from success to significance.” As I point out, a good way of understanding this formula is not necessarily as a temporal transition from career into retirement, but rather as a shift in perspective. On that score, we might also talk about moving “from success to service,” or even defining success in terms of productive service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a helpful insight into what this might look like in relation to the challenge of being faithful in the midst of the daily grind:

The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because finding the You of God behind the It of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day, and in so doing, it does not hinder the work; it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great significance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes a prayer, not in the unreal sense of being constantly distracted from the task that must be done, but in a real breakthrough from the hard It to the gracious You.

I also note Lester DeKoster’s fine book on work in the context of this week’s piece, and his argument helps us realize that the dynamic of serving others and serving God is not an either/or proposition. As he writes, work “gives meaning to life because it is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others, and thus to God.”