Book Review: “Every Good Endeavor” by Timothy Keller – Dr Samara Thambar

Connecting your work to God’s plan for the world


From Luke’s Journal Jan 2023  |  Vol.28 No.1  |  Evolving Professionals

The morning I finished reading Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavour” I was sitting around a table on the balcony, overlooking the leafy Noosa National Park with my dad and older brother, two weeks into our annual family holiday. We had been discussing work. I was about to move from full-time study to my first year as an intern. My dad, who very much loves what he does and is nearing the end of his medical career, said “I think work is just a distraction from living life”. My older brother responded, “That is grim”. This conversation made me curious as to what full-time work would really be like.

After reading Keller’s book and having worked for just 10 months, I would disagree.

My current perception may be coloured by my youthful innocence and childlike optimism. I may well feel different after thirty years of working.

Keller provokingly explores the different facets of work. He highlights its powerful purpose in individuals growing to know Jesus, serving Him and His people, and ultimately being refined by Him.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”. Colossians 3:23-24 NIV

This scripture calls us to question our heart’s motivation. Keller calls this “the work beneath the work”, imploring us to question why we are doing what we were doing and what we really are ‘working’ for. Is it because we want the approval of our bosses? Approval from our parents? To be seen as a good person? For the prestige or social status that comes with our job? Or financial security? If we are ‘working’ for these fleeting things, we will surely begin to worship our jobs and the sense of security that work gives us. Work gives us an identity that we are happy to subscribe to. Since starting full-time work, I have found this to be true in subtle ways. Sure, there is a great sense of purpose in helping others and serving them. However, how have I measured my level of success? Admittedly I know it should be by serving God through caring for others with compassion, grace, and excellence. But in reality, how often have I defined success by how my boss perceives me? Or what my fellow interns think of me? Is it by not making any mistakes? Is it by being the ‘perfect’ intern doctor (whatever that means)?!

I have not been able to shake this picture of “the work beneath the work” that Keller described, from my mind.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British physician then preacher, once said, “There are many whom I have had the privilege of meeting whose tombstones might well bear the grim epitaph ‘Born a man, died a doctor’“. What a great tragedy to assert all our worth and value in what we do – to the point that we can’t walk away from our profession, to the detriment of significant relationships and family life, and ultimately warping the purpose of our profession, which is to heal and serve others, and ultimately to please God. Once our motivations are aligned with God’s, we can experience the deep satisfaction and meaning that comes from walking with God.

Keller reassures us that we can be liberated from our destructive motivation by seeing God’s perspective of work. This is found through what, or rather who, we are worshiping. If God is the one we worship, He gives supernatural power and energy to the work that we are doing. Subsequently, we work more productively, with absolute excellence and diligence. It is no longer about creating security, but rather, worshiping our King, and being a good steward of the gifts and talents He has given us – working for His approval above all else. It means having integrity and doing the right thing when nobody’s watching. It means not scrolling Facebook during work hours – not just because you’re wasting your employer’s money, but because God is your boss. Not only does He see your actions, but He sees the motivation of your heart. It also frees you from the prison of perfectionism because we have had the radical experience of God’s grace, which covers every situation and helps us to have the right perspective. Additionally, it means because our identity isn’t in what we do, mistakes are no longer punches that knock us down. Rather they are opportunities to learn, grow, be humbled, and trust God above all else.

Probably one of the most meaningful revelations I received from Every Good Endeavour was when Keller expands our perception of the purpose of work and the role of evangelism. It is not enough to actively tell people about Jesus. I am in no way understating how important this is. However, to see that as the only means of evangelism (as most evangelical churches, mine included, do), is to undercut the power of our witness and its multifaceted nature. It completely limits our perception of the ways God can use us as his vessels to influence others. Our character and our competence shine bright in a dark world.

Keller tells the compelling story of a boss’ response to an employee who made a significant error, one that should have cost her her job“.

Keller tells the compelling story of a boss’ response to an employee who made a significant error, one that should have cost her her job. Her boss, being a man of faith, took the blame instead. He defied what most bosses would do, that is, take the credit when their employee does something good, and let their employee take the blame when mistakes happen. This single act impacted her so greatly that she confronted her boss and asked him why he did that. After he reiterated multiple times that it was part of his job, the boss eventually let on that he was a Christian and integrity was important to him. As a result, this woman started to explore Christianity. It is not only our words but our actions, our presence, our awareness, our excellent and equitable healthcare services, that evangelise and bring the hope of the gospel to the world.

As Keller puts it,
“In short, work—and lots of it—is an indispensable component in a meaningful human life. It is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose. But it must play its proper role, subservient to God.

Every Good Endeavour by Timothy Keller
ISBN 978-1-444-70260-6
2014 Hodder & Stoughton, UK.

Dr Samara Thambar 
Dr Samara Thambar is currently an intern in Brisbane and an aspiring pediatrician. Outside of medicine she enjoys spending time with friends and family, running and going to the beach. She has a strong belief in bridging the gap between medicine and faith, starting a branch of Red Frogs in her medical school. She strongly believes in the power of God's peace and joy in all situations and our role in bringing that to our workplaces.


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