Acton Institute Powerblog

From Success to Service

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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.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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