Lesson 1 - The Unified Life

Souls Shaped through Work

In this introduction, Barry poses a perennial problem for Christians working in the marketplace: Is it possible to connect our faith to our work? And, if so, how do we do it?

But behind this question lies a still more important question: Where do we derive the meaning of our lives? As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life.” In other words, we won’t be able to find purpose in our work—or anywhere else, for that matter—until we know where our ultimate meaning comes from.

As Barry will show, we’ll only be able to find joy and purpose in our work, and in our lives, when we recognize how God is using our work to forge our character:

In my experience, not only can we bring our souls to work, but God will shape our souls through our work.

Barry Rowan

But, as Barry explains, if we’re going to bring our souls to work and then let God shape our souls through our work, we’re going to have to learn to surrender our ambitions and desires to God so that we can receive them back again in an entirely new way.

  • Where do you derive the ultimate meaning of your life? How does this impact the way you think about your work?

  • Think of a time that you’ve struggled to connect your faith and your work. What is the root of this frustration? Why do we get stuck when trying to think Christianly about our work?

The Divided Life

“The word 'surrender,'” says Barry, “was not in my vocabulary.” It’s a safe bet that many highly-driven business people feel the same way. In our culture of rugged individualism, we’d rather talk about control and power than surrender.

But how are Christians supposed to negotiate their ambition and their allegiance to Jesus Christ? For many years, Barry tried to compartmentalize ambition and allegiance, and the result is what he memorably calls “a divided life”—work during the week, God on the weekends.

The problem with the “divided life” is that it’s not sustainable. As time wore on, Barry grew tired of trying to balance his work and his faith instead of integrating them: “I wanted to give myself completely to something.” As Barry will explain as the course unfolds, the unified life cannot be found without surrender.

This idea has ancient roots in the Christian tradition, stretching back to Jesus himself, who reminded the bustling Martha—who “was distracted with much serving”—that “only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:38–42, KJV). The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard expressed it quite famously: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

  • “Surrender” isn’t a popular word in the marketplace, because it signifies weakness and lack of resolve. Name an ambition in your work that you aren’t quite ready to surrender.

  • Barry describes his spiritual journey as a quest for unity—the quest to “will one thing.” Take a quick inventory of your professional life. In which areas are you living a “divided life”?

Life from the Inside Out

“Why am I alive and by what measure will I judge the success of my life?” These are the kinds of questions that hounded Barry as he began his professional career. And by all appearances, it was an extremely successful career. And yet, while he knew that somehow he was supposed to be “living for God”—which is itself a fairly vague notion—he didn’t know what that actually meant.

It took a complete paradigm shift for Barry to recognize that he had been using the wrong categories to think about the purpose of his work:

I was just looking at work completely wrong. The fundamental mistake I was making was I was looking at life and work from the outside in instead of from the inside out. . . . I was trying to derive meaning from my work instead of bringing meaning to my work.

Barry Rowan

Better thinking about work will require a change in motivation—from extrinsic motivations like acclaim, achievements, and accolades, to intrinsic motivations like self-giving love and service.

  • What motivates you to do your work? The answer probably isn’t as easy as it appears. To put it another way: Why do you get up each morning and go to work? What keeps you going when work is toilsome, difficult, or unenjoyable?

  • What are some of the extrinsic factors that motivate you in your work? What are some of the intrinsic factors?

Have you ever felt a sense of angst and restlessness regarding your work? Have you ever wondered if you were doing what God has called you to do?
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