Jeff Haanen

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The Prayer of Awareness


Several weeks ago I sat down to breakfast with my friend and spiritual mentor Barry. Since Barry is the CFO of a publicly traded company, I’m always wanting to talk business. Turn arounds, strategies, stock price, leadership. Yet he continually takes the conversation back to a moment-by-moment relationship with Christ.

“My spiritual director shared with me a practice that I’ve found very helpful,” Barry said. “And it centers on the concept of awareness. The first step in this prayer is just this: (1) Recognize that Jesus is aware of you in this moment.”

Awareness. Interesting thought. One of my unspoken barriers to prayer is that Jesus is high, far off, and mighty – and that I need to get in the right room, position, or posture to pray. But the truth is that Jesus, who is with us to the very end of the age, is aware of me right now. At a computer. On the way to the bathroom. In a meeting. In the car. Putting on my socks. That means he’s aware of my body, my feelings, and my innermost thoughts.

“From there,” Barry continued, “simply do this: (2) Say to him one thing that’s important to you.” For example, it could be an email you’re waiting on from a prospective client, the stress of your kids not listening to you, or the pain of an ongoing addiction. It could be anything. But it makes sense: if Jesus is aware of me right now, the first step in a simple conversation between friends would be to share one thing that’s important to me.

“Finally, after you’ve done this,” Barry said, “(3) Listen for one thing that’s important to Jesus that He wants you to know.” As I started to apply this to my own work day, this final step was surprisingly easy. “Trust me. I will provide,” was the answer I got to a lot of my own worries about money. I also felt like Scripture would pop into my mind from my time reading the Bible in the morning. “I am with you. Don’t be afraid. Bring your anxiety to me and I will give you peace.”

I’m just starting to practice the Prayer of Awareness. But there’s two reasons why I’m hopeful that this practice can grow my relationship with Christ:

(1) It only takes about 15 seconds. I can do it while pumping gas, nodding off on a conference call, or after a conflict with my wife. It works just as well walking to the bathroom at work as it does at home with my kids.

(2) It doesn’t require much holiness! Just honesty. Christ is aware of me right now, in this moment. I don’t have to do some kind of elaborate preparation for prayer nor find just the right words to pray. (Often, when I pray in groups, to be honest, only half of it is actual conversation with God. The other half is performance for others in the room.)

As I type this article, he sees, listens, and cares for me. Because this is true, I can share simply what’s important to me, and listen for what’s important to him, as anybody would do with a friend.

If you decide to practice this prayer this week, I’d like to hear from you. Contact me with your story, and, with your permission, I’ll share it here.

Photo: Walking to Work 

The Prayer of Awareness

  1. Recognize that Jesus is aware of you in this moment.
  2. Say to Him one thing that’s important to you.
  3. Listen for one thing that’s important to Jesus that He wants you to know.

The Miracle of the Reformers: Why Teaching Your Kids Hymns is Good for the Economy


Perhaps the songs we teach our children is one the most important legacies we can leave for posterity.

This morning I sat down to breakfast with my wife and four daughters. After eggs and sausage, we listened to the classic hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” My wife educates our kids (and really our whole family), and this year we’re memorizing classic hymns, with the hunch that our ancestors have new light to shed on our 21st century lives.

Amongst the sound of chattering kids and clanking forks and knives, my wife turned on the iPad at the breakfast table and flipped on the speaker.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Written in 1680 by Joachim Neader, a German Reformed Calvinist, I couldn’t help but notice that this song begins not only with worship, but by affirming that God is the King of all creation. He is provider for both our bodies (our health and material needs) and our souls (salvation).

It’s kinda funny to listen to my four-year-old Alice pronounce the Victorian English of the translation, so I kept listening while sipping my coffee.

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Our desires have all been granted by “what He ordaineth?” Could anything be more different from the version of capitalism we see today, so well summed up by Andrew Carnegie: “The art of capitalism is turning luxuries into necessities.” Wouldn’t this Puritan view of God’s provision – even for our desires – lead to radical contentment? And even thrift, since we have all we really need and even desire in what God has given us?

Now Cora is rocking back and forth to the tune, Sierra has paused from eating her hard-boiled egg (she won’t touch those blasted scrambled eggs), and we sing the third verse:

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

“Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee.” And here’s the miracle of the Puritans: the doctrine of vocation. All of life is to be lived for God, even our “secular work.” And when our work leads to prosperity, and even wealth, it’s a gift from God. It’s evidence of his daily “goodness and mercy.”

This is truly an incredible view of creation, money, work and contentment.

Some have argued that Reformed theology led to a magical combination: hard work, wealth creation, thrift, honesty created the explosion of wealth from 1500 to today. It was Christian theology that led to excess wealth (who needs to spend more if you’re content with what you have?), which led to capital investments, and, eventually, capital markets that built the modern economy.  Not all agree with that view. But some do.

Listen to this perspective from a Chinese scholar.  Dr. Peter Zhao Xiao is a high ranking economist in the Chinese Communist party. In 2002, he was sent by his superiors to the United States to research why the American economy had been so prosperous. After visiting the USA for months, he concluded that the secret to the American economy was their churches.

He penned an essay entitled “Churches in the Market Economy”, which would subsequently be read by over 100 million people.

“Americans are not idiots,” he wrote to his Chinese countrymen.

“Their need for churches is overwhelming, and churches provide something in answer to their call — there is definitely some principle at work. During my time in America, the relationship of churches with America’s economy, society, and politics became the issue that most often occupied my mind…At its heart the problem could be stated as a comparison between market economies with churches and market economies without churches.”

So what was his conclusion? Christians who attend church drive the market economy because their faith encourages them to spurn idleness, be honest, and discourage “injury” (cheating, lying, stealing). Here’s the logic of his argument:

  • A market economy alone may encourage industriousness, but it also might encourage industrious lying, cheating, and stealing.
  • This is (as of 2002) the problem with the Chinese economy: Getting wealthy by any means necessary creates collusion between government and business rather than accountability. Personal profit rather than doing what’s right damages everything from upholding contracts to funding businesses that extract wealth rather than create it.

The problem? It’s one of faith, says Dr. Zhao Xiao.

“These days Chinese people do not believe in anything. They don’t believe in god, they don’t believe in the devil, they don’t believe in providence, they don’t believe in the last judgment, to say nothing about heaven. A person who believes in nothing ultimately can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies that anything is possible — what do lies, cheating, harm, and swindling matter?”

  • Market economies with churches, however, tend to uphold the rule of law and ethics like integrity and honesty.

“It is people who turn their eyes to church spires who generally respect financial norms and integrity… Puritans, though they may be called the most fervent people in the world in their drive to accumulate wealth, nevertheless do not pursue wealth for personal benefit but rather ‘to the glory of God.’”

Divine reward and punishment caused Reformed Christians not only to create wealth, but to also be honest, thrifty, and committed to the public good rather than merely private benefit.

  • Zhao Xiao’s conclusion: “From the perspective of human society, the most successful model is church + market economy. That is to say, the happy combination of a market economy that discourages idleness together with a strong faith (ethics) that discourages dishonesty and injury.” As you can imagine, coming from a high ranking Communist party economist, this perspective was wildly controversial.

Going back to “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation,” you can see how this kind of theology might create a society of both honesty and prosperity.

(1) God is King over all of creation, including the natural world, the social world, and our economic affairs.

(2) God provides for the needs of his people, which means they can be content with what they have. It also means we’re accountable to God for how we use what he’s given us, including our wealth.

(3) Work is a gift of God, and so are the fruits of our work, such as profit. As such, wealth is to be used for the public good, and not only personal benefit. And our work should be dedicated to living for “God’s glory” rather than personal success.

It’s unfashionable today to say that the market economy is fundamentally dependent on the ethical system derived from Christianity. But there’s strong evidence that this is the truth – and that economies are fundamentally dependent on ethics like trust for growth.  There’s also strong evidence that a secular economy, like we see emerging in Europe and America, is weaker and more stagnant. (See for Harvard President Larry Summer’s “The Age of Secular Stagnation.”)

On a personal level, there’s also strong evidence that teaching my kids reformation-era hymns is not only good for their souls but also for the world. A brief point of application: Let’s start sharing songs that affirm God’s activity in creation, his provision for our needs, and the gift of work. Here’s a good place to begin.

Discussion: Would you leave your favorite creation-affirming or work-affirming hymn or contemporary song in the comments section below?

Faith and Work Movement

Work, Profession, Job, Vocation, Occupation, Career or Calling?: Getting Clear on Language About Work


“I think I’m gonna quit. I just don’t feel called to this anymore.”

“You don’t just have a job, you have a vocation!” Really? It feels more like I need a vacation.  

“Some people have a calling,” my father said to me. “But most of us just have a job.”

“Profession? Sounds like what rich people do. ‘Round here, we just work.”

This is just plain confusing. Work, profession, job, vocation, occupation, career and calling. What exactly are we talking about here?

Does vocation and work mean the same thing? When is a job a career, or just a job? Am I working if I’m not getting paid? Do I really have to be called to every task I do at work? Or is it ok to be called to something completely different than my 9-5? Why does it feel like the hardest work I do is at home, and I go to work to rest?

The language we use around work – especially among Christians – can be mystifying. And a mist in the pulpit usually means a fog in the pew. Defining terms would help. But Webster can’t tell us how we use these terms in relation to one other.

In this short video (6:16) I take a stab at trying to get clear on both how we actually use these terms, and how we ought to use language around the idea of work based on Christian revelation.

My friend is fond of saying, “Change the language, you change the culture.” That’s hopeful. Maybe we can at least get a little less confused.

Work, Profession, Job, Vocation, Occupation, Career or Calling? – Getting Clear on Language About Work from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

(The text below is a transcript of the video above.)

Let’s start with the basics: vocation and calling. These two words mean the same thing. Calling comes from a Greek word, kaleo, and vocation comes from a Latin root vox, meaning voice. Each was intended by Protestant Reformers to point to an entire life lived in response to the voice, or call, of God.

Clear enough.  But there are two confusing parts: one secular, one religious. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when American culture began to secularize, vocation became divorced from reference to God, and vocation become synonymous with work, particularly manual labor and the rise of “vocational education.” So for most people today, vocation and work mean the same thing. But this isn’t necessarily true for Christians, who see these ideas as overlapping, but distinct.

The second confusion: inside of Christianity, generally there are two meanings behind ideas of vocation or calling. The first order usage is the “call” to love God and love your neighbor. This is the highest calling and is common to all people in all places. The second is specific: God’s call to specific people to do specific tasks at specific times. This is generally where we use the word in relation to work, though not exclusively.

Clear as mud. But let’s at least agree, that vocation and calling is the biggest category, and encompasses the entire life of the Christian, whether that be career, family, hobbies, or friends. Each of these activities belong to God, and should be done for him and with him.

So, then, what is a career? For most, it’s your life work, or the aggregate of all or your jobs or occupations. This is why I chose it as an umbrella category.

However, people see their careers very differently. Some see their life’s work as series of jobs or occupations (which, I think are the same thing). Both jobs and occupations are a set of tasks I do for money.

Others, see their career as a profession. This word has a rich heritage. A profession can be seen as a community of people who profess and uphold a set of moral standards that hold together their industry. Generally, we think about doctors, lawyers, or business professionals here. But the point of this word is about disinterested service to others, not just personal gain.

Fair enough. In today’s economy, where people change jobs on average every four years, it may be tough to describe what your career is. But most do their work as either an occupation or job, or a profession.

Great. Then what on earth does the word work mean? Well, that depends on who’s asking! I think there are three basic options:

  1. Work = Job = $. The question “Where do you work?” means for most “What is your job?” Who pays your bills? This is the probably most common view.
  2. Work as defined by Christian faith. Two examples are definitions from Dorothy Sayers and John Stott.

Dorothy Sayers says, “[Work] should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

Now, John Stott says this: “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.”

What’s interesting about both of these definitions of how influenced they are by the Protestant vision of vocation or calling.  Work may be what you get paid for. But the emphasis is on service of others, fulfilling our role as co-creators, and giving the credit to God. This is what I call “the heavenly view of work.”

  1. Work = Non-rest, Any task. Here, work is basically everything you’re doing, or any task you define as work, as long as you’re not sleeping. (Even watching TV could be work if your job is a TV critic.)

I think this definition is too broad, and makes life about work, rather than about God. Work is not just a job, but neither is it everything! When Joseph Pieper says that Leisure is the Basis of Culture (he’s wrong of course – work is!), he’s responding to this totalizing view of work, which was nearly salvific in Marxism. But that’s beside the point here…

So, of course, I opt for definition #2, which means work could be paid or not paid. The vocation-infused definition of work is where we ought to aim.

The challenge is, of course, The Fall. For most people, work sometimes seems divine, but more often is toil. Work is hammering away in the factor or at the task list, and just something I need to do for money. Occasionally it’s a profession, but in an age “beyond good and evil,” agreeing on the moral codes guiding, say, law or health care, can be tricky business – and is often hotly contested.

So, work is caught between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, with echoes of heaven but often laced with the pain of hell. Sometimes job, sometimes calling, always work. The key is to draw even the “jobs”, with all of their pain, into a sense of vocation. The magic isn’t in an ideal career, job or profession – the magic is in our motivation.

So, work, profession, job, vocation, occupation, career or calling? Well, that depends if it’s raining, and which umbrella you choose to pull out for the day.


The Missing Piece of Colorado’s Pension Crisis: Rethinking Retirement on Labor Day


Labor Day, the federal holiday dedicated to honoring the dignity of work, is a fitting time to take a fresh look at Colorado’s pension problems and offer a new perspective.

This June, news outlets were in an uproar when Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) CEO Gregory Smith praised a paltry 1.5 percent return on 2015 investments as “good” news. With 500,000 Coloradans depending on PERA for their retirement, the $28 billion gap between assets and what is promised to retirees has hard-working men and women simmering.

The fear and frustration is understandable. But to face this challenge, we need more than clever accounting tactics or scapegoating nervous fund managers. We need a better story about ageing, retirement, and the purpose of our work.

Three simple truths can help.

1. We’re not getting any younger, but we are living longer. The Denver Office on Aging forecasts that by 2035 the number of Coloradans older than 60 will swell from one-in-six today to one-in-four. Actually, the entire developed world is aging – and living longer, too. In 1900, most didn’t live past 50. Today, American life expectancy is 78. For the first time in world history, Americans who retire at 65 must think about how they will spend 10-20 years of leisure time.

2. The idea of retiring at age 65 needs retiring. In the late 1800s, Otto Von Bismark established a retirement age of 70 for disabled German workers – even though life expectancy was only 47. During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt feared that unemployment among youth could create conditions like those under Hitler and Mussolini. So his administration offered pensions to older workers to incent retirement and open jobs for younger workers. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 and set the retirement age at 65 (when life expectancy was still only 63).

You can see the problem. Today we encourage productive, able, bright citizens in their 60s to stop working and start collecting a pension. This is misaligned with a Boomer generation that’s often more interested in meaningful contribution than sipping piña coladas on a cruise ship – and expensive.

3. We should honor the contributions of public employees at any age. To solve the pension crises, we need to decide between two stories about our work.

One story says work is about toiling for 35-plus years until retirement, when you take it easy, play golf and enjoy long trips to Arizona. After all those disagreeable years of labor, you deserve a vacation—for two decades.

The other story is that work is about creative service and making a satisfying contribution to our world. In the words of English writer Dorothy Sayers, “Work should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction.”

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach medical students, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike 20 miles a day. You’d think the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved, might finally hang it up and retire. When I asked him why, he said with a broad grin, “I believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’m enjoying myself too much to stop.”

What if we stopped encouraging retirement in our 60s, and began to publicly praise the contributions of snow plow drivers, police officers, and educators who serve with excellence well into their 70s, as some do?

It would mean more men and women might “long enjoy the work of their hands,” as the Hebrew prophet Isaiah once said. The desirable side effect is people pay into PERA for longer and draw fewer benefits, thus helping resolve Colorado PERA’s funding crisis.

We could start this Labor Day by finding a public employee at a backyard cookout and thanking her for serving.

Photo Credit: Retire

EconomyFaith and Work MovementWork

The Top 5 Struggles of Christian Business Leaders

Behind the veneer of confidence, bold risk-taking, and decisive leadership, all of us in positions of influence struggle – especially CEOs.  Considering these challenges tend to be perennial challenges for Christian business leaders, what experiences and/or resources can pastors, para-church leaders, and other business leaders provide for the executives in their network? What still needs to be done in the faith and work movement to serve leaders in this area?

Recently I grabbed the phone and called my friend Greg Leith, the CEO of Convene, a group that serves other Christian CEOs, to ask his opinion on the topic:

“Greg,” I said, “Based on your experience serving Christian CEOs around the country, what do you believe are the top areas that Christian CEOs struggle with?” 

“I’ll tell you,” Greg said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Turns out, they had recently just polled hundreds of CEOs connected to Convene about the tension points they feel on a daily basis.

“The first one is universal and common among everyone we polled,” he said. The #1 challenge facing Christians CEOs is:

1. Loneliness in leadership. 

If there’s any experience common to all executives, it’s loneliness. In whom do you confide when all complaints go up the chain of command, and not down? When you’re expected to make the decision, set the example, and lead the way? When revenue is down and you sense being in over your head?

It’s tough to share these challenges with other people at church, many of whom can’t identify with the responsibility of leading large staff teams or deciding on major budget issues. Even spouses can sometimes be hard to confide in for wisdom on actual business decisions.

If there’s any one place the Church can start in serving executives, it’s in providing a safe place for relationship among decision-makers.

2. Complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world. 

Opportunities come and go at the speed of the 24/7 news cycle. Big data (and little data) pour into our pockets through iPhones. No information is inaccessible, yet almost all information is incomprehensible without a larger story or framework into which it fits. Filtering the wheat from the chaff is an ever-present challenge in the Information Age.

The truly scarce commodity in today’s business culture is not knowledge, accurate metrics or access to markets, but wisdom.

3. New technology.

Only a decade ago, CRM software or mass communication tools were so expensive only the biggest corporations could afford them. Now every start-up has free access to high quality email communication tools (like MailChimp), event registration (like Eventbrite), or shared calendaring or data storage (like Gmail).

This is great. But new technologies just keep coming. From manufacturing improvements to new software programs, companies are born each day that aspire to be the next unicorn (start-up valued at over $1 billion), offering the tool that will ensure business success for their customers.

So which ones are necessary, and which are simply noise? Who can help here?

4. Balance between profit, people, excellence and God.

Greg shared that this challenges is such an issue among executives that they formed their last national conference around the subject. We pretend like answers for Christian business owners are easier to come by than is really the case. In all honestly, questions abound:

  • Should we return more profit to our shareholders, or raise the wages of our employees?
  • Should we spend more on manufacturing in efforts to build a higher quality product, or will the market bear a similar price using less expensive materials?
  • Should I extend grace to my manager who just yelled at his employees – or fire him?
  • Should I spend time praying or hustling to land the next deal?

To say that the purpose of business is to serve the needs of the world is easy; to make actual decisions on what needs get prioritized often is not.

5. Integrating Christian faith with day-to-day business practices. 

“So many don’t have a clue as to how to integrate their faith into daily business practices.” Greg shared that so many of his CEOs are wonderful men and women who desire to bring God into their business, but often don’t know where to start. They lack, according to Leith, a theology for their actual work life. What’s really lacking are resources that are accessible (“They’re not going to read a tome by Tim Keller”) and directly applicable to what Christian faith says to day-to-day decisions on hiring, firing, profit margins, strategic planning, supply chains, prices, marketing or HR policy.

To this end, Leith and his team are creating more short video resources on topics like “theology for hiring” for busy business leaders eager to learn, but without the luxury of extensive leisure time for academic study.

Moving forward, I wonder what kind of experiences, resources, and communities are needed to address this growing need among the influential, yet often lonely, business leader.

A version of this post first appeared on the Green Room blog. Image credit. 


The Christian Retreat from the World: Chatting with Hans Rookmaaker on the Back Porch

Hans Rookmaaker - 1.001We all struggle to explain what we do. I’m no different. Actually, I have rehearsed a set of responses for when people ask the inevitable question: “What do you do for work?”

“I lead an educational nonprofit in Denver.”

If I can get them to bite with this amorphous answer, they’ll often ask, “Oh, really? What kind?”

“I direct an organization called Denver Institute for Faith & Work. We offer educational programming on how Christianity can shape and influence a wide variety of work we do, from business to law to art to education.”

At this point, they pause, tip their head sideways, and say, “Oh, how interesting.”

And…I lost them.

It’s not that they’re uninterested. But there’s really no category in most people’s minds for this kind of work. It’s just strange. Perhaps esoteric. Sheet metal manufacturing and folding clothes at The Gap — these kinds of work make sense. We need metal. We need clothes. But why on earth do we need Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

Fair question.

While sipping coffee this past week, I picked up Hans Rookmaaker’s slim 1970’s book Art Needs No Justification. After reading the second chapter, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the shortest, easiest way to explain why we do what we do at DIFW.”

So, imagine the three of us, me, you, and Hans, are in my backyard, sipping a glass of wine after dinner as we watch the sun set. He starts right in the middle of a train of thought to explain the Christian retreat from the world in the past 300 years:

Hans: If, as we have said, in the 18th century our world began to change, as its inner direction was set on a humanistic track, where man is the master, and pleasure (through money) and power are the ultimate values, where were the Christians?

Jeff: Good question, Hans. You’re referring to that period in European history called The Enlightenment, when a small group of intellectuals declared a new age of reason and progress, in contrast to the tradition and faith of the Church. Man became the center of the universe and individual autonomy replaced God as the center point for all questions of society and meaning. But Hans, there were certainly many Christians at that time, weren’t there?

You: Of course there were! Wasn’t this the age of America’s Great Awakenings and John Wesley’s preaching and revivals throughout Great Britain? There were lots of Christians in Western society at that time, right?

Hans: They were not few in number, and some people even call that same period one of great revival. The mainstream of Christianity turned to a kind of pietism in which the idea of the covenant, as preached in the books of Moses and through the whole of Scripture, was by-passed. The Old Testament was often neglected, and the meaning of the Christian life was narrowed to that of the devotional life alone.

You: Narrowed? From what?

Hans: Too easily, large areas of human reality, such as philosophy, science, the arts, economics and politics were handed over to the ‘world’, as Christians concentrated mainly on pious activities. If the world’s system was a secularized one, missing true spirituality, the Christian’s attitude also became a reduced one, missing its foundation in reality and uninterested in the created world. It became sometimes a ghost-like spirituality without a body.

Jeff: Interesting way to put it: “a ghost-like spirituality without a body.” You know, you should come and give the introduction at DIFW events. I often struggle to explain that Christianity was once a cultural system, leading to everything from the birth of science to the concept of universal human rights. Today, so many of us Christians, especially Protestants, seem content to go to church, have “quiet time,” and let our public world be ruled by another set of values completely…

You: Not so fast. Christians even today are incredibly active in the world. We have mammoth para-church organizations like Compassion International or World Vision. We have churches who not only preach the gospel, but have cared for so many of the world’s most vulnerable. This is a huge witness – even in a secular age.  We’re still active today…

Hans: Christians have indeed been active. But they have often optimistically believed that it was enough to preach the gospel, and to help in a charitable way.

In concentrating on saving souls they have often forgotten that God is the God of life, and that the Bible teaches people how to live, how to deal with our world, God’s creation. The result is that even if many became Christians, nevertheless our present world is a totally secularized one, in which Christianity has almost no influence. Our society’s drive is determined by the world and its values, or lack of values.

Jeff: I see what you’re saying. It’s wonderful to preach a gospel of personal salvation and help charitably. But the set of values that shapes everything from art to science to politics to economics today, is now driven almost completely by another “religion,” namely, secularism. Or more accurately by millions of religions that go by the name individual choice and consumer preference.

You: If Jesus is Lord – really, Lord of all the universe and the earth – then what would it look like to infuse our work and our culture with the divine life of Christ the Savior and Redeemer of all things?

Jeff: Another good question. We should start an organization in Denver to address just that very question…


Guest Column for the Boulder Daily Camera: “Moving west for meaningful work”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Boulder Daily Camera on January 27, 2016. 

Erik Nelson, a former VP with a large financial service company, is on the hunt for meaningful work.

He recently moved from Texas to Colorado to find a job in the nonprofit sector, hoping to discover a career with more than monetary benefits.

But after a few months, his search became a maze. He recently asked me, “Honestly, can work be anything other than mundane, routine,  and pressure packed?” In other words, isn’t there more to life that working a 9-5—and then escaping to the mountains for the weekend?

Like the 19th century gold rush, Erik is one of thousands of people are flocking to Colorado. As the economic center of the United States shiftswestward, cities like Boulder are brimming with new faces – especially millenials. We seem to be following Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic words, “Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go free. This is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen.”

But why come to a city like Boulder? Why did Colorado gain over 100,000 residents last year? Is it our snow-kissed slopes? Our booming craft brewing industry? Dreams of trading the congestion of New York for a leisurely bike ride to work in the Colorado sunshine?

Certainly those perks play a role. But I have a thesis: what we’re really longing for is meaningful work. And for most, that search is riddled with anxiety. 

In generations past, many took jobs merely as a means to a paycheck. Sign on with a large company, stay for 30 years, and find fulfillment on the weekend. But the new norm is to find a job with a social mission.

For example, JJ Oslund of Boulder left his job in human resources at Target to join the Global Accelerator Network, a network of short-term schools for entrepreneurs, because “I was in a system where I couldn’t effect change. I knew I wanted my work to make an impact.”

The American historian and broadcaster Studs Turkel described this longing well,“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday-through-Friday sort of dying.”

If work is just a dollars-for-hours swap, then we’re spending nearly 100,000 hours of our lives like Sisyphus — pushing a rock up hill only to see it roll down again. It’s no wonder 75 percent of young adults want to live a more meaningful life.

The trouble is, most aren’t finding what they’re looking for. The average job tenure for millennials is a staggeringly short 16 months. For the rest of the market, it’s only 4.6 years. The search for meaning in work is elusive; as soon as one opportunity knocks, thoughts creep in of a better job around the corner.

Tech entrepreneurs often have the toughest time finding satisfaction in their work. A recent survey by TINYpulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found only 19% of tech employees say they are happy in their jobs, and only 17% feel valued in their work.

Tensions with work are often hardest for women with children. Jesse Minassian, a mother of two and writer living in Aurora, says, “I love what I do. Yet working from home while homeschooling my kids makes it hard. Between working, housekeeping, mothering, teaching and being a wife, I never feel a sense of being ‘finished’ with my responsibilities.”

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, these are the kinds of tensions we explore. Tensions between faith and work, aimlessness and purpose, family and career, what is and what should be.

Denver founder and city builder John Evans (1814-1897), whose efforts to connect the Denver Pacific railway to Cheyenne saved the metro area from obscurity, once said, “It is the imperative of the Almighty that we shall do all the good we can.” For Evans, his work in medicine, business and higher education, was driven by a deeper meaning than mere personal success.

Evans didn’t just have a career. He had a vocation. A person choosing a career balances financial and psychological benefits with professional advancement. But someone with a vocation obeys a summons, even if it leads to obscurity or suffering. The good of others trumps personal comfort.

Tensions in our work will remain. But hope for the masses moving West for meaningful work won’t be found in self-actualization but instead in the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

Jeff Haanen is the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a Colorado based educational nonprofit, and co-founder of the 5280 Fellowship


Obsessed With Work – or Just Bored?: Bringing the Conversation About Work Across Acoma Street


It’s well past 1pm. Across Acoma Street, I see a woman in her early 20s, baggy sweat pants and cigarette hanging out her mouth, tossing an empty Mountain Dew bottle in a dumpster that’s been parked in her driveway for months. She squints at the sun, as if it’s an unwelcome guest disturbing her slumber.

Next door is a man, mid forties, sitting on his porch. Can of Coors Light in hand, he chats with his cat, as if expecting to hear a punch line to a joke. A broken beer bottle shimmers on his sidewalk.

Of course, being the upper white middle class office dweller that I am, I type emails furiously at my computer, staring at them both, wondering why they aren’t working. But maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked.

Some argue that our culture is obsessed with workBut is that really true?

To be fair, yes, it’s true for a narrow slice of the population. The top 10% define themselves – find their deepest worth and value – by their achievement. David Brooks describes them well. They’re often raised by “Uber moms” who give their kids Mandarin lessons at age 4, are playing Bach symphonies by 6, and refuse to eat anything other than Whole Foods veggie booty by age 8. These kids, says Brooks, “turn into the junior workaholics of America…By the time they’ve applied to schools, they’ve started six companies, cured three formerly fatal diseases, played obscure sports like Frisbee golf. When I ask my students what you are doing spring break, it’s like ‘You know I am unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.’” 

The upper crust, many of whom are left-leaning, Ive League educated, urban and areligious, are often workaholics. And though I’m none of those, I too can make work an idol. 

But truth be told, this is the minority of the American population. The majority of Americans view work as a disagreeable necessity to be avoided at all costs. 

Though I’d rather not believe it, the statistics are convincing.

Each year, Gallup does a poll on workplace engagement. Over 70% of Americans are either “not-engaged” from their work or “disengaged,” meaning that over half of Americans are either just punching in and punching out, bored with their day-to-day tasks, or are actually so disgruntled they’re actually working against their boss’s agendas.

Cross reference that poll with worker “satisfaction.” By this count, a majority of employed Americans are ‘satisfied’ with their work. Not jazzed, but embracing a it-could-be-worse attitude.

But the most disturbing labor force trend has nothing to do with either engagement or mild satisfaction. It’s the labor participation rate. Today America has a 62.6% labor participation rate, the lowest rate in nearly four decades. Though we often pat ourselves on the dropping unemployment rate, that doesn’t count those who’ve stopped looking for work. (It only counts those who want to find work but can’t.)

I have several friends who own businesses in the trades. Everyone of the them is currently looking to fill positions for middle skilled and high skilled labor. And everyone of them says nearly the same thing: “We simply can’t find enough people who want to work hard.” High pay or not, taking a look at the American workforce today, you’d think the Protestant work ethic is a relic of the past.

Often we have an image of the hard working American that’s just trying to get by if only they could get a lucky break. Unfortunately, this is largely a fiction.  Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 illustrates what our real blue collar America looks like. Consider Murray’s “Fishtown,” a statistical construct of white, blue collar America. Instead of the hard-working, industrious and virtuous American small town, today Fishtown is inhabited by women who routinely have children out of wedlock; less than a third of kids grow up with both biological parents; churchgoing rates have plummeted; and men “claim physical disability at astounding rates are are less likely to hold down jobs than in the past.”

But if this is broadly true – that the majority of America would rather not be working – we have a big problem on our hands. Why? Consider the warning about those not wanting to work in the book of Proverbs:

“I passed by the field of the sluggard
And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense,
And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles;
Its surface was covered with nettles,
And its stone wall was broken down.
When I saw, I reflected upon it;
I looked, and received instruction.
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest,”
Then your poverty will come as a robber
And your want like an armed man.” 

(Proverbs 24:30-34)

Poverty is often a direct result of not working. Work produces wealth; laziness (by and large) produces destitution.

(I want to acknowledge that a good number of those living in poverty in the US are indeed working, but can’t afford to pay the bills on the wages they make. For these people, I’ve made the case publicly that we need to create good jobs for these people.)

But contrast that dire warning again laziness with the promise connected to those who do their work well:

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.”

(Proverbs 22:29)

Work was meant to be an outlet for human creativity, a contribution to the well-being of our neighbors, the way we build a robust economy and human civilization. If a growing percentage of America sees work instead as a mere exchange of hours for dollars, a way to extract value from a community for personal gain, the entire system of our shared human civilization begins to deteriorate.

For a long time, those who’ve spoken about “faith and work” have primarily been that top 10% – those already inclined to see the value of work because they were raised with that ethic by successful parents.

But the real challenge moving forward to is begin conversations with our neighbors who live on the other side of Acoma Street. The opportunity here is to find a shared vision for work which crowns rich and poor alike with dignity, as all have been given unique skills that can be put to use to enliven families, communities and organizations.

The right view toward work can offer individuals not only a means of financial support, but a valued role in the community. Neither apathy nor idolatry need guide our view of work. Instead, a renewed emphasis on vocation, which is a life of service to God and man, can infuse our culture and economy with hope.

At minimum, it should make me quit typing and walk across the street and meet those who are not quite as “obsessed” with work as I am.

This post first appeared on


3 Signs We’ve Made Work an Idol


I think we were arguing about asparagus.

I had just sat down to dinner with my wife and three daughters (soon to be four), and amidst that cacophony of noise and food flying to plates, I started to eat. I love asparagus. I really do. But when I waited until half way through the meal to put in on my plate, my wife made a comment, I retorted, and before I knew it, we were arguing about asparagus.

She went downstairs and I started clearing the table, bewildered at what just had happened. My three girls were silent. So, in a vain attempt at humble confession, I said to our 6 year-old, “Sierra, there’s sin in the world. One day Jesus will come and wipe away all of our sin. You know what sin is, right Sierra?”

She replied. “Oh yeah dad. Like when you put Denver Institute in the place of God.”

I froze. What did she say? We had made no mention of work all night. And whether she hit it on the nail or God did it through here, the message was receive loud and clear: I was making my work an idol. 

I thought about the prior weeks, and my work had started to become all-consuming. I couldn’t get it out of my mind on the weekends. I’d fall asleep at 8:30pm on the couch utterly exhausted. Patience was running slim with my family. Work had ceased to become a good gift from God’s hands. Instead it started to eat me.

As I reflect on the build up to that moment, I think there are at least three signs we can see in our lives when we make work an idol.

3 Signs We’ve Made Work an Idol 

1. Exhaustion.

Always busy, and always tired. That’s the way many Americans live out their lives. Often, I’m the worst offender. Do one more text in the car (at a stoplight, of course); get in one more email; go in early; stay late. Squeeze in a bit more on the weekends.

Inevitably, exhaustion floods in. And as I started to hack out exercise and hobbies, I also started to become more irritable with everyone around me.

Oddly enough, I think this is as true for the over scheduled 2nd grader as it is for the mom juggling two part-time jobs, house cleaning, entertaining guests, and decorating a new shanty chic kitchen.

The late Dallas Willard used to start all his spiritual formation retreats with making people sleep until 9am. Their souls were as exhausted as their bodies. The reason? Work had become all consuming.

2. Fear.

What will happen if we don’t get more donors? What will happen if not enough people come to the next event? What will happen if my pitch gets rejected? What if? What if? What if?

Fear often drives us to overwork. What will happen if I don’t succeed? So we adopt the spirit of the rugged American individualist: “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”But underneath is the worry that I won’t have, I won’t succeed, I won’t (fill in the blank).

Jesus says, “Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink? Don’t you know your Father knows what you need?” At the heart of this fear is a deep loneliness. “I’m all alone in the world,” we whisper to ourselves, “and I have to do this by myself.

Praying and trusting God will provide –well, for a 21st century materialist, that’s a long shot, right?

No, I need to work harder. More. For salvation surely will come from the work of my own hands…

3. Pride. 

Tim Keller once said, “Many modern people seek a kind of salvation – self-esteem and self-worth – from career success. This leads us to seek only high-paying, high-status jobs, and to ‘worship’ them in perverse ways.”

For so many, work is not just a job. It’s the chance to prove myself. My worth and value. Why is “busy” the #1 American answer to “How are you?” It’s because we want people to know just how important we are. It’s the heart’s never-ending quest for self-justification.

For many, work is how we centrally define ourselves in modern society, the way we measure our worth and success. When we do this, we no longer see work as worship – instead, we worship work.


If you’ve ever seen these symptoms in your life, then what can me done? The biblical answer is rest.

“You shall work 6 days, but the 7th is to be a Sabbath to the Lord.” Why in the heck was breaking Sabbath punishable by death in the Old Testament? It’s because when we don’t rest, we make work an idol. And it violates the first command: You shall have no other gods before me. The very center of biblical faith is to love God will all you heart, mind, soul and strength. But when work supplants God, it immediately become destructive, just as all idols leave a trail of tears in their wake.

Sabbath reminds us that it’s not all up to us, but that God is our Provider. Sabbath reminds us that our identity comes from Him, not from our jobs. Sabbath brings a quiet rest to our soul.

Augustine recalls one of the final moments with his mother Monica that describes this kind of deep, inner peace. He says, “The tumult of the flesh was hushed. The water in the air was hushed. All dreams and shallow visions were hushed. The tongues were hushed. Everything that passes away was hushed. Self was hushed. And they moved into a sort of silence.”

It’s as if only in Sabbath can we hear that our very life (and work) is a gift from God. It is from Him that we have every good and perfect gift. And it’s from Him that we receive the peace that Jesus gave to his disciples (John 14:27). A peace that can them accompany our work days, uncertain as our jobs and professions may be.

The day after the Triune God spoke through my six year old to me after dinner, I took a long lunch. I swam a few laps at the pool. I then sat with my coffee at my office before I began to work, and said quietly to myself, “Jesus is Lord. ‘Be still. Know that I am God.’”

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