Unearthing a Sense of Purpose in Your Work: Jordan Raynor
“Ministry” stands superior to secular work, right? Author and host of Word before Work Jordan Raynor isn't convinced. Uncover a powerful sense of eternal purpose in your work—whether you drive a bus or drive a business deal. And learn how to excel, serve others, and bring glory to God in every task.
About the Guest
- Connect with Jordan Raynor and catch more of his thoughts at JordanRaynor.com, or his podcasts, Mere Christians, Redeem the Day, and The Word before Work.
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Author and podcast host Jordan Raynor helps uncover a powerful sense of eternal purpose in your work—whether you drive a bus or drive a business deal.
Unearthing a Sense of Purpose in Your Work: Jordan Raynor
Unearthing a Sense of Purpose in Your Work: Jordan Raynor
Jordan: I think if you’d ask Jesus about His spiritual life, He’d look at you like you had three heads, and say, “You’re talking about my life?” I hear a lot of people use this term “secular work.” Here’s the deal: secular literally means “without God.” That’s what it means. If you are a Christ-follower, you believe that the one true God literally dwells inside of you everywhere you go, and so the only thing you have to do to instantly make your “secular” work place sacred is walk through the front door or log on to Zoom.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So early, in the first five years of being a Detroit Lions chaplain—I don’t know if you even knew this—there was a belief among owners in the league that teams should get rid of their chaplains, because chaplains are telling their players that what they do as an athlete in their work is not important. Only God is important.
Ann: I remember this, because you were worried, and you were also frustrated because it was a misbelief.
Dave: Yes, but it sort of swept across the league, and it’s a league of copycats. I remember thinking, “They are thinking if you have a spiritual influence in your locker room, they’re going to tell your players playing football isn’t important. Only worshipping Jesus and church is important.” I was like, “That is not what the Bible says. Work really matters.”
Ann: Well, think about the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy and peace. An owner is probably thinking “This is what we do not want, somebody that has those principles in the locker room.” So you can understand their fear, but they don’t get it.
Dave: They don’t get it, and we’re going to get it today, because I think that belief isn’t just at one time in the NFL. It’s all over the place. We have Jordan Raynor back on Jordan Raynor day.
Jordan: Jordan Raynor day.
Dave: Because it was a year ago we had you--I didn’t know this--but the exact same day, talking about some of your other books. But Jordan, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jordan: Dave and Ann, I love hanging out with you guys. Thanks for having me back.
Dave: I didn’t know this: you’ve written seven books in three years.
Jordan: Something like that.
Dave: So you like to work.
Jordan: I love to work. [Laughter] You have to, to write a book called The Word before Work, right?.
Ann: The Word before Work. What a great title.
Dave: A Monday Through Friday Devotional to Help You Find Eternal Purpose in Your Daily Work. I don’t know if I’ve met a person more passionate than you.
Ann: On this topic.
Dave: Yes, and your energy, but man, when you bring up the topic of work and God’s perspective, you light up. Why?
Jordan: I spent the first ten years of my career as a tech entrepreneur, and about halfway through that journey I was in the process of selling my second company, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Well, one Sunday we went to church, and we had a guest preacher preach a sermon I think most Christians have heard before--the sermon that made me feel so guilty about wanting to go start another business when there was a need for people to move to mud huts 5,000 miles away from home to “make disciples of all nations,” right?
Dave: Right, right.
Jordan: So my wife and I felt this tremendous guilt, and we started praying about, “Alright, maybe there’s another path. Path one is go start another business, but maybe we need to be going down path two and go start a church.” So we’re praying about these two paths. I’ll never forget it, one Sunday after church I had this godly mentor of mine pull me aside. He said, “Hey, I hear you’re thinking about planting a church.” I’m thinking, “This guy’s going to pat me on the back.”
Dave: Say “Way to go!”
Jordan: Maybe write me a check. I don’t know. Whatever. He just looked me square in the eye and said, “Yeah, I have to be honest. That sounds really dumb for you.”
Dave: That’s what he said?
Jordan: Yes. That’s what he said.
Dave: “For you.”
Jordan: “For you.” He said, “Jordan, you’re a talented entrepreneur. You’ve created a lot of jobs. You’ve served your employees and your investors really well, and I’ve seen you come fully alive when you do that work. Why in the world do you think you have to go plant a church in order to do ministry? Don’t you get that your work as an entrepreneur is ministry?” And I looked at this guy like he had three heads. I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He said, “Here’s what I want you to do. With this conversation in the background of your mind, I want you to go reread Genesis 1, which you’ve probably read 200 times. In the context of this conversation, tell me what you find.” What I found changed my life forever. I saw that long before God reveals to us that He is holy or omnipotent or loving, He tells us that He is a God Who works, a God Who is productive, a God Who creates.
And then, fast forward to Genesis 1:28, long before the Great Commission, we find the very first commission to humankind, which P.S. is never rescinded, even through sin, to fill the earth and subdue it, to take the raw materials of creation and just make it more fruitful for others’ benefit and enjoyment. So I didn’t go start a church, spoiler alert. [Laughter] But that message changed my life, and it’s why I’m so passionate about it today.
Ann: So go back to that Genesis 1, to subdue the earth. What does that mean, because we’ve all read that scripture, but not all of us have taken it to that point.
Jordan: Yes. So there are a lot of components of this first commission, right? First is “be fruitful and increase in number.” We know what that means. Have lots of babies, fill the maternity ward. Then you get to fill the earth. This is different. Most scholars agree this is not just have babies; it’s to create culture, alright? We treat the sixth day as the end of creation. Day six was the beginning of creation. It’s when God passed the baton to us and told us to fill the earth, like He did.
Then you skip down to this word, “subdue,” and this is where things get really interesting. “Subdue the earth,” what does that mean? Wayne Grudem, famous theologian, editor of the ESV Bible—
Dave: We’ve had him on.
Jordan: Wayne’s great.
Jordan: He says that subdue literally means “to make the earth more useful for human being’s benefit and enjoyment.” Isn’t that what players in the NFL are doing every single day, making this world more useful for human being’s enjoyment? Doing it in a God-honoring way, obviously.
Ann: Most people would say “No,” but yes, the enjoyment—
Jordan: But Dave Wilson would say yes! [Laughter]
Dave: It wasn’t really enjoyable in Detroit. [Laughter]
Jordan: That’s right, that’s right!
Dave: Should have got a win to be—[Laughter] It’s entertainment.
Jordan: But this is what we’re doing every day. We are imaging our Heavenly Father, Who first and foremost, before He shows up as a Preacher, shows up as a Creator, and are taking this world and making it more useful for our fellow image-bearers. That’s the very thing we were created to do. Keep in mind, we’re still in Genesis one. This is prior to sin entering the world. Sin comes on the scene in Genesis three, and work becomes difficult.
But even after that, even after work is cursed, God still reiterates the first commission after sin over and over and over again. In Genesis nine, after the flood, first words to Noah: “Fill the earth again.” It made the Ten Commandments, for crying out loud. Yes, the fourth command is a command to Sabbath and rest, but it’s also a reminder that we’re called to work six days a week, right?
Jordan: Work is God’s first gift to humankind.
Dave: So where do we get this idea, and it’s a prevalent idea, that spiritual work is better and more important?
Jordan: I think there are a couple of roots to this. One is this false divide between the spiritual and the material, right? The word “spiritual” doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. Do you know why? Because all of life is spiritual.
Dave: All spiritual.
Jordan: I think if you’d ask Jesus about His spiritual life, He’d look at you like you had three heads, and say, “You’re talking about my life?” I hear a lot of people use this term “secular work.” Here’s the deal: secular literally means “without God.” That’s what it means. If you are a Christ-follower, you believe that the one true God literally dwells inside of you, everywhere you go, and so the only thing you have to do to instantly make your “secular” work place sacred is walk through the front door or log on to Zoom.
Ann: Oh, that’s so good, Jordan.
Jordan: That’s it. Instantly sacred.
Dave: Yes, you’ve just brought God.
Jordan: Everywhere you walk is sacred, so that’s number one. I think the source of this is this false divide between the spiritual and the material. I think the second one, and this is going to open up a bigger can of worms I’m not sure you guys want to really unpack, but in the last 200 years of church history, for the first time in church history, we have treated the Great Commission, to make disciples, as the exclusive commission of followers of Jesus.
It is very new in church history. I have many, many theologians who have said, “Prior to 200 years ago, nobody interpreted Matthew 28 as the exclusive mission of the church.” Is the Great Commission commanded of every follower of Jesus? Absolutely. Non-negotiable. All of us are called to make disciples. But we have a dual commission. We are called to the first commission, to fill the earth and subdue it, and the Great Commission as we go about that first commission.
And oh, by the way, in our increasingly post-Christian context, guess what? It’s not pastors and full-time missionaries who are making the most disciples. It is mere Christians, entrepreneurs, baristas and accountants, who are working alongside people who are never going to darken the doors of a church, so we have to bring the church to them.
So ironically, by making the Great Commission the only commission, we are becoming less effective at the Great Commission, because we’re making people feel guilty about going to work in the very places most likely to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples.
Dave: Yes. I get fired up because—
Ann: Well, I wish Jordan would get fired up.
Dave: Yes, you know? He’s got to bring a little energy. [Laughter]
Ann: You are awesome! I’m thinking, “I need to listen to him every single morning along with my Bible, of this perspective of work.”
Dave: Jordan, I’d love to hear your comments on this. When you talk about the Great Commission, I remember in seminary, so 20, 30 years ago, maybe 40, [Laughter] studying Matthew 28, and for the first time realizing that the word “go” is actually a participle. Again, if you don’t know English, you think “Well, so what’s the big deal.” Most of us think, “Oh, participle. That’s an ‘-ing’ word.” So what he’s really saying is what you just said. “As you are going, make disciples.”
Jordan: Yes, 100 percent. This doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in churches. Most biblical scholars that I’ve read agree that the NIV translation, “Go and make disciples,” is a really poor translation of Jesus’ words in the original Greek, right?
Jordan: Dramatic ramifications for you, because as you said, Dave, the better translation is “As you are going, make disciples.” And by the way, Jesus Himself didn’t go more than 200 miles away from His home town and He was the greatest disciple maker of all time. So we’re telling our people that we have to go away from our current vocation and location to make disciples? That’s a slap in Jesus’s face, because Jesus didn’t go very far and He changed the world forever with the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Ann: It’s so interesting, Jordan, because especially as Americans, we work to retire. Work is like, “Oooh, I have to go to work.” The way you’re living feels like, “Oh, I get to go to work.” We have this mentality that work is this terrible thing, and it sounds like you’re saying, “No, work is the gift that God has given us.”
Jordan: Yes, and listen, we have to be careful here, right? The three of us love what we do.
Jordan: I have a lot of friends who don’t, and they feel more of the effects of the curse in this specific area than we do, so I try to be—
Dave: It’s hard. It’s toil.
Jordan: It’s hard, it’s toil, and listen, that’s the reality. What’s been lost, though, in the conversation is that there’s still creational goodness in all good, God-glorifying work. All work was created to be perfectly good. And oh, by the way, one day it’s all going to be perfect once again.
Any time I have a buddy who hates his job or her job, I point them to Isaiah 65. It’s one of those beautiful promises of Scripture. Isaiah is talking about the new earth and says so explicitly. I think in verse 17 he says, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” Then he goes on and says, “My chosen people will build houses and live in them. They will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain.” Right?
Contrary to this American caricature of heaven as a glorified retirement home, our eternal reality on a new material earth that is not exclusively “spiritual” contains work. What that means is if you hate your job today, look forward expectantly to the day when you will long enjoy the work of your hands. And if you love your job, may that fuel your anticipation for eternity. Heaven isn’t boring. Heaven is the most epic adventure of all time, because we will be ruling and reigning forever and ever—Revelation 22:5—with Jesus the King. And that includes good, perfect work that we will long enjoy.
Those who claim that saving souls is all that matters, that’s a slap in the face of Jesus, because Jesus came to make everything new, and the curse of Genesis three broke the spiritual and the material realms. So unless Jesus returns and restores every part of this material world, this earth, and makes it like new again, then His redemption is incomplete. But His redemption isn’t incomplete.
We know that He’s won back every square inch of creation, and that gives value and meaning to the material things that we do today, doesn’t it? Because He has redeemed this earth, He has redeemed our souls, and so working with both souls and the material world, whether you’re working grinding coffee beans, or making laptops, or creating spreadsheets, whatever it is, that is good work because God never once renounced His claim that this material world in the words of Genesis one is “good.”
Dave: That’s interesting. That leads me to ask this question: If I’m a Christian and I understand this right perspective, how does it change the way I work?
Jordan: If you get this high level concept, that work is a gift from God, a good gift, and whatever work you’re doing today, so long as it’s not explicitly out of line with God’s commands, is good, then the practical out workings of this are endless.
Jordan: We claim to be image-bearers of God. Amen?
Jordan: Look outside your window. How does God work? How does God create? I was just in Zion National Park. “Excellent” falls so far short of describing the God of the Bible, but that’s what we can ascribe to. So if you believe your work matters, and you’re an image-bearer of God, you’re going to work with excellence. You’re going to work hard. You’re going to work with care for people beyond their productivity.
You’re also going to work with rest, because you know that the God of the universe loves you on your most and your least productive day, and that you can rest and still find favor as His child. I could go on and on and on, but when you get this, when you understand that your work matters to God, the practical outpourings of what that means shape at a very practical level how you do your work. That’s why I wrote what I think is the first daily Monday-through-Friday devotional.
Ann: Which is really cool.
Jordan: Yes, to help people connect the Word to their work, because the implications of this are legion.
Dave: I did a whole week of your devotional last night. [Laughter] I did, because I wanted to read through—
Jordan: Me too. I was doing prep.
Dave: I bet you were. I wanted to read through what you wrote. I remember the first year we started our church in Michigan, I was at a restaurant near where we started it. The owner comes up. I didn’t know the guy. He said, “Hey, this is my restaurant. Can I talk to you a minute?” I think, “Oh no.” He pulls me sort of aside, and says, “Hey, I heard you’re Dave. You have this church. Blah, blah, blah.” He says, “One of your guys, he’s a high school kid, works for me as a busboy.”
And then I think, “Oh, what did he do?” And then he said, “He is the best worker I’ve ever hired.” I said, “What?” I didn’t know this kid, but he said, “He shows up early. He cares for people. He goes way out of his way. He’s so caring. He’s a model.” I looked at him, like “Well, that’s great. Why are you telling me that?” He said, “Are all your people like that?” [Laughter]
I wanted to say, “Yes,” but of course not. I thought, “What a picture of the way a Christian works in what many people would call a secular job.” A busboy. That doesn’t matter. To him it mattered.
Jordan: A hundred percent.
Jordan: There’s lots of talk about exile right now. In the West we feel increasingly like we’re in exile. I Peter is a letter to exiles, right, and what does Peter say in I Peter 2? He says, “Do good. Live good lives amongst the pagans, not retreating to your Christian subculture, engaging the city, rushing into dark places, going and working in that industry that you think is god-forsaken, for the glory of God, so that people could see your excellence and your love and your genuine care, and they get glimpses. You’re scratching off little glimpses of the eternal Kingdom of God and the God Who is King of all things.”
Ann: This is so good, and now I’m thinking as a mom of the stay-at-home moms or dads that are feeling like, “I want to get back to work, but my husband and I have committed to being home with the kids.” I remember that stage, when our kids were little, and I felt like, “I have no life. I have no value. I have no value because so much of my value was in my work.” So I was trying to get a perspective of, “God, I know this is a gift. I know You’ve given me these kids, and they’re a gift to us, but it feels like it’s nothing.” Jordan, what do you say to those parents that are home?
Jordan: I’ve been so encouraged that those parents have found this devotional book to be helpful, because I make very clear in the book, listen, we define work as the thing we get paid to do. That is not how God defines work. God defines work so broadly that His definition of work in Exodus 20:10 includes animals working. Right? That’s called work. I think it’s more helpful—
Ann: What do you mean by that? Explain that.
Jordan: In The Ten Commandments, we’ll get to the Fourth Commandment, and He issues the Sabbath command. God says, “Let the animals rest from their work.” It’s the same word described as human labor. So this term is very broad in Scripture. To me that’s very encouraging, because I think we can define work very broadly as not the thing we get paid to do, but basically the opposite of leisure and rest.
Dave: Were you able to grab that perspective when you were a stay-at-home mom?
Ann: Yes. Well, I can remember being at home, and I can also remember cleaning toilets like, “This is my life, now. This is it.” But I remember praying, “Lord, do you see what I’m doing down here? This is nothing.” I felt like God was saying, “This is a worship moment, Ann. As you’re wiping bottoms and you’re wiping noses and you’re cleaning toilets and no one sees, and no one is applauding, I’m applauding every one of those little and big tasks. No matter if you’re speaking before thousands or if you’re all by yourself cleaning your toilet, I see it and we’re applauding it in the heavenly realm.”
Jordan: Psalm 37:23 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly, and He delights in every detail of their lives.”
Jordan: Not just when you’re sharing the gospel, not just when you’re donating money to church, although He certainly smiles upon those things. Every time you change a diaper with excellence and love in accordance with God’s commands, every time you make a latte and create a spreadsheet and land a deal with excellence and love in accordance with God’s commands, our Heavenly Father sees it, He delights in it, and His delight is eternal.
Hebrews 6:10: “He will not forget the work that we do for Him. He is not unjust. He will remember it forever. It contributes to His eternal pleasure,” and so that should fuel our purpose and pleasure in the present.
Shelby: What? God delights in every detail of my life? I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that truth blared to me over a loudspeaker when I’m walking through the slog of my everyday routine sometimes. I want to hear more, and Dave Wilson will be back in just a second to continue to remind us of what it means to work unto the Lord.
I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jordan Raynor on FamilyLife Today. Jordan has written a devotional, a week-to-week devotional, but it’s actually a year-long study. It’s called The Word before Work: A Monday through Friday Devotional to Help You Find Eternal Purpose in Your Daily Work.
If your heart is led to come alongside us in the mission of developing godly families today, you can partner with us and we’ll send you this devotional that Jordan has written as our free gift. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
And you know, books like Jordan’s can really help us not only absorb daily truth from God’s Word, but also really train us on how to communicate that truth to other people. Is there a chance that you, you, yes you, could lead a small group growing healthier families and deeper knowledge of God in your own personal community?
I think the answer is “Yes.” We’ve stuffed FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting® small group study with key principles and practical advice on shaping your kids’ character, relationships and identity, issues every parent in your neighborhood or your church faces, because every one of us, if we’re honest, is pretty much winging it.
We’ll help you facilitate meaningful conversations about messy parenting, and help you dig into God’s Word through this video-based, zero prep study, so you can have time for driving your kids around and being a homework tutor this fall. You can grab 25 percent off for a limited time and preview it in today’s show notes.
Alright, now let’s hear more from Dave Wilson on what it means to work unto the Lord.
Dave: I remember when I was coaching high school football, I’d be walking down the ramp to the high school field. I was just a volunteer coach, but every time I made that walk I prayed and I remembered what I’m doing here. It isn’t trying to win football games. I’m a light for the Kingdom; I’m loving these boys; I’m modeling to them what a man looks like. I think, “I am working unto the Lord and this is a beautiful thing.”
But I had to remind myself as I walked, because I get caught up in football, and that’s good, too, because it’s part of the work, but I think, “No, this is what I’m about.” You just did that. Man, if somebody’s listening, it’s one of those “I’m going to play Jordan’s words over again before I go to work today, because I need to be reminded. It’s going to be hard; this is not an easy job, but it matters because God has put me here.”
Ann: Or you could get his devotional.
Dave: Or you could get his devotional and read it every day! That’s good.
Shelby: Coming up tomorrow, culture tells us we need to be passionate about what we do. But actually passion sometimes comes later when you get good at something. We need to ask the question, “What’s the work behind the work?” Jordan Raynor will be with Dave and Ann Wilson again tomorrow to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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