Work to the Glory of God
About the Guest
Should mothers work outside the home? Or should their sphere of influence be confined to the home front? Author Carolyn McCulley takes a closer look the Proverbs 31 woman, and tells what it was about her that had others singing her praises. Carolyn asks women to consider why they do what they do, and not just where they do it.
Carolyn McCulleyCarolyn McCulley is an author, speaker, and filmmaker. She has written three books —The Measure of Success, Radical Womanhood, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? — and contributed to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and the forthcoming ESV Women's Devotional Bible. She has also written for numerous publications, including The Washington Post and Christianity Today, and her commentary has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Boundless, True Wom...more
Author Carolyn McCulley takes a closer look the Proverbs 31 woman, and asks women to consider why they do what they do, and not just where they do it.
Work to the Glory of God
Bob: Carolyn McCulley has thought a lot about womanhood—work, serving God, your vocation. So what would she like to pass on to her nieces or to the women who will follow after her?
Carolyn: I want them to be good workers. I want them to be excellent at what they do—but to understand that they will never find the fulfillment that they seek in their jobs and in the identity of their jobs—but they will find their fulfillment in the identities that carry on into eternity—of being daughters or sons of the King / of being brothers and sisters in Christ to one another. And then, even in the importance of the roles that you will have here—that end in this life, like being a husband or a wife—that those things are important because they point to the things that are eternal. Work is important because it’s part of God’s plan for us.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
When you stop and think about your life and ask the question, “Am I being successful?” do you know how to measure success? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m thinking about what we’re talking about this week, and I’m thinking about Proverbs 31. Do you think these two ideas sync-up okay?
Dennis: I think they do. I just think it always creates tension anytime you take the subject of women—marriage, and family, and work. That’s all wrapped up in
Proverbs 31. We have a guest with us in the studio who can answer any woman or any man’s question when it comes to understanding the balance of those three.
Bob: How’s that for an introduction; huh?
Carolyn: I’m sure you mean the Proverbs 31 woman will answer it for me; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: Carolyn McCulley joins us again on FamilyLife Today—the author of The Measure of Success. Welcome back.
Carolyn: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dennis: She has written three books. She is the founder and CEO of Citygate Films®. Explain what you’re doing in Citygate Films. It is storytelling; right?
Carolyn: Yes. It is a documentary film company. We do independent feature films. We do short films—branded content for clients / nonprofits—any company that has a story to tell about their brand or mission. We are a small company. I have some full-time employees / some part-time employees. In writing this book, about the balance of women and work, I got an opportunity to live my wisdom.
Dennis: After you pushed the send button on the manuscript—
Carolyn: I could have set my watch by that because, as soon as I sent in my manuscript, my key employee / my senior editor, Suzanne, came to me and she said: “Guess what? I’m pregnant.” I’m like, “Of course, you are!” So, I had to walk through this experience with her and with her husband, who’s in ministry, about: “What are we going to do here? How are we going to balance this work and life situation?”
As an employer, I kept giving her an open hand, saying: “You don’t know what kind of child God’s going to give you. I want you to know that we will tailor your job here around whatever level of faith that you and your husband have for what work is going to look like for your family.”
Dennis: That’s a great answer.
Carolyn: So we had to wait until her baby was born. Fortunately, her little daughter, Seraphina, is a very chill little baby and comes to work with us. That’s been great for the first couple of months, but who knows what it’s going to be like when she’s a toddler. So, I have to keep open hands and saying, “You do not have to feel bad if you come to me and say ‘I can’t continue this juggle,’ because I want you to know that your role, as a wife and mother, is your priority, at this time. Even as I think of you as a priority, I want you to know that you have that release.”
Dennis: Bob mentioned, earlier, about Proverbs 31. You kind of have a unique slant on the Proverbs 31 woman—the woman who did well at home, did well at the marketplace / at work.
Share with our listeners what your perspective is of this proverbial perfect woman.
Carolyn: Well, the first and most important thing to know about her is she wasn’t a real woman because, as soon as we look at her and think, “I have to accomplish all that right now?” we’re going to fail. It is a composite picture of what biblical wisdom looks like in a woman’s life, over the course of her entire life. It’s a set of instructions to a young man, given to him by his mother, so that he’s being taught what to look for in a woman who would be godly.
It is also a moment of saying “Your children will rise up and call you blessed,” which, as we all know, that usually happens when the kids are much older in life. You see her financial prosperity, her managerial experience. All of that is a picture of wisdom over the course of a life; but it points to something at the end—where it is the fruit of her works that gets her the shout-out in the city gates.
There is so much pressure right now on being beautiful and being attractive; and yet, Scripture there says that is fleeting.
But what’s going to bring an impression, what is going to change your culture, what is going to bring praise to the Lord is your faithful productivity, within the context of your relationships.
Dennis: Yes. I just want to read that passage. Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.” This is speaking of her character, not the exterior and not the appearance only.
Carolyn: And her crowning virtue is her fear of the Lord—the love and respect that she has for His glory and honor. That’s what makes her productive to the glory of His name.
Dennis: The thing that I liked, as you counseled your employee, that I thought showed real wisdom, Carolyn, is that you didn’t put your employee in a box that she had to fulfill some kind of ideal that you might have had about what a woman does when she gets pregnant.
We may all have our feelings about what we would wish for a mom and a baby in an ideal world—perhaps to be able to go home and to be able to excel there, and nourish, and cherish a child as it grows up. But there is a real world that we live in. We may not be able to always achieve what we hold in our own hearts or minds as some ideal.
Carolyn: And it’s important to know that there are different seasons in a woman’s life. So, this open-handedness that I can give Suzanne now may change when her daughter is a toddler. If she has two children, it becomes more of a juggle; and I recognize that. But she and her husband view their life like many families did in the past, which is: “Our household / our home is trying to generate productivity. We have a mission together.” So, she sees her income as something that helps support her husband in ministry, as he has been supported in ministry, raising finances.
Dennis: And what I would want to say to that mom, who says there is no way they could go do work in addition to being a mom; that’s okay.
Carolyn: Exactly. It’s not the location of our work that matters. It’s why we do it and how we do it; but it’s not where we do it. Whether we’re in the home or the marketplace, the standards from God are the same—you love others through your labors, you live for His glory, and you’re aimed at what you take into eternity.
Bob: The sad thing is—there are a lot of women today who, when their first baby arrives, don’t really have an economic choice about what they want to do because they have college loans, or they have a mortgage, or those together—that pretty much have taken the option of investing at home and being productive at home taken off the table for them.
Carolyn: In fact, that’s one of the things we talk about in the book. My collaborator, Nora, and I have two different life experiences. Nora is younger; she’s married. She’s pregnant now with her third child. She and her husband have experienced a lot of the turbulence of trying to establish their careers during the Great Recession.
She came to me with all these questions about: “How do I do this? What are the resources? What do you see out there? What do you recommend?”
Because of her interest in this subject, and her life experience that was different from mine, we ended up collaborating on this book together. But we were intentional in dividing the book into thirds—that we wouldn’t get to the life-cycle issues of work until we went through the history of the story—so we would understand why we think the way that we do / the theology of work—why God has called us to be productive, why that’s part of His gospel message—that work is important because it’s something that we do with Him.
Then it’s only there that we start to get into “How do you juggle this in today’s day and age?” and give ideas for different seasons of different lives. For younger women, one of the things we say is: “Think through the implications of debt. Think through these choices that you’re making. It’s very hard right now when you have a hope for a future that you don’t know what’s going to happen.
That’s why you need to be listening to the Lord and following His leadership in your life.” But there are some choices that we can make, early on in life, that do end up hindering us or helping us in later years.
Bob: I’m thinking about a young woman, who is 24 years old, and has always thought, “I think I’d like to be a doctor.” She’s about to go to med school. It’s going to be a quarter of a million dollars; okay? She just needs to be thinking ahead—that to make that decision today may have implications if she becomes a wife and a mom—both for paying off the loans and then for saying: “Well now, wait. I invested all those years in training. Is it really right for me to be home, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, when I’m trained to be a doctor?”
You’re not saying there is a right answer and a wrong answer. You’re saying: “You’d better think and pray those issues through, early, rather than going, ‘Boy, I wish I’d thought about that before I signed on for med school.’”
Carolyn: And in reverse, younger women, who have been waiting to get married and haven’t done anything in particular to invest—in the church, in their careers, in ministry, whatever God call them to do—they’re in a holding pattern—and then they hit their 30s and then they say: “I wish somebody would have told me what to expect in the future. I’m not prepared.” Then, they’re kind of angry that they didn’t invest those years.
Bob: So, if there was a single woman—and we’ll make her 26—and she’s ready for med school and she doesn’t have a boyfriend. She’d like to be married and have kids, but there’s no prospect of that in the future. She’s going: “So, do I take out the loan and go to med school, knowing I might meet some guy my second year, and then what? Or do I just continue to work at Starbucks?”
Carolyn: My first piece of advice would be: “Go do informational interviews. It’s important to make sure you’ve done your research—that you know what people 10, 15, 20 years ahead of you would say about the costs of their careers—and to get the advice that you need to understand ‘These are the limitations of the choices I’m making.’”
Bob: I think that’s great counsel because, if you could go to half a dozen women—who are 10 or 15 years ahead of you, who made the choice that you’re contemplating—and saying, “If you could do it again, what would you want to consider?” Just having that community speaking into your life will help you weigh out “What does the Lord want me to do here?”—don’t you think?
Carolyn: It is. It’s the Titus 2 principle at work—that older women train younger women—and even listening to what the culture has to say. I was fascinated that, at the end of her life, Betty Friedan, who was a leading feminist—who helped kick off the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 60s—before she died, the thing she said she regretted most was that she was divorced—that she had ruined her marriage. She was so glad that her children had gotten married and had families of their own.
I think, by the end of life, a lot of us understand the importance of relationship in a way that we don’t when we’re younger.
We see how fleeting any accolades you get, professionally—how fleeting those things are in your life. You might be at the top of your game in your 30s, your 40s, your 50s; but it doesn’t last. So, you have to be thinking about: “What does last in this life and in the life to come?”
Dennis: I think we’re expecting work to deliver something to us and for us that is really misplaced faith.
Carolyn: It is. In fact, I’ve even read some mainstream commentators, who were talking about the issues of identity and calling that we’re experiencing in workplace issues as being fundamental issues that are spiritual—that need to be answered through a spiritual lens: “Why am I here? What is the purpose of what I’m doing?” Those are spiritual questions.
So, when we look at Scripture—if we don’t understand, one, the importance of productivity in the Lord’s plan—and two, the reality of the illustrations that we have in Scripture—like Paul, who would counsel younger pastors to say, “Hey, tell your younger widows to marry, manage their homes, and bear children so that the enemy has no room to slander God.”
He is not saying that women are unimportant in the workplace or shouldn’t be in the workplace because the home was a small business unit of the economy. What he was saying is that women’s work is strategic—in the sense of the gospel—and that means strategic in the home—both rearing children and in terms of productivity—which it was easier, at that time, to do both in one location. It’s much more challenging now.
But Paul would write those verses and then partner with tradeswomen like Lydia when he started a church in Philippi or with Priscilla and Aquila as tentmakers. He did not live contrary to his advice. He saw that women’s work was important—but not aimed at self-maximization—but aimed at advancing the gospel.
Dennis: You’re an aunt.
Dennis: What is it?—six nieces or something like that?
Carolyn: Six nieces and nephews.
Dennis: What do you want them to know, practically, as they grow up, about work in this culture, from God’s perspective?—just practically.
Carolyn: I want them to be good workers. I want them to be excellent at what they do but to understand that they will never find the fulfillment that they seek in their jobs and in the identity of their jobs. They will find fulfillment in the identities that carry on into eternity—of being daughters or sons of the King / of being brothers and sisters in Christ to one another. And then, even in the importance of the roles that you will have here—that end in this life, like being a husband or a wife—that those things are important because they point to the things that are eternal. And work is important because it’s part of God’s plan for us to love others.
Dennis: I’m sorry Barbara is not here because she would be pounding the table with you. She really believes strongly in teaching our kids how to work, but not finding your identity from your work. Barbara also believes in something else that you preach—and that’s the importance of, after work, comes Sabbath and rest.
Dennis: Comment on that because we have a lot of listeners who desperately need some rest in the midst of their busyness.
Carolyn: I am probably the worst person to comment on this. I have just come to you after working two to three weeks of 70-, 80-hour, 90-hour weeks. But I am so eager to have a relaxing weekend after this is over, resting in the Lord, because He has carried me through all of this. I understand it to be a season and I try not to practice an under-Sabbath-ed life.
But it was Tim Keller who talked about the fact that, if you work like a slave, it means you’re enslaved to someone or something. We’re given freedom in Christ so that we don’t have to be enslaved to our materialism, to our job identities, to our budgets. That was revolutionary to me—and to see that work is a gift, but to see that rest is also a gift—is so important.
We can rest because God has promised to provide for us. We don’t have to work like slaves seven days a week to generate income or to get something done because He gives us the provision that we need to take a day off and worship Him and to enjoy others. That is such a gift. When I don’t receive it from Him, I feel it in every bone of my body.
Dennis: What does Sabbath rest look like for you?
Carolyn: I feel most rested on the Sabbath—not when I’ve been lying around on the couch, watching movies or being mindless—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but when I am pursuing something that’s avocational—in the sense of I love being on the water / I love being around art. I love doing things—anything that doesn’t remind me of what I have to do for work is a blessing to me. So, if I can, I will get out and kayak, or canoe, or walk, or something that is not typical of my job. And to be with people—to fellowship, to have no agenda, to just sit with somebody and not have an “Oops, we gotta get out of here,” time schedule—is a blessing.
Bob: I have to ask you, in the middle of this, because it’s one of the things you talk about in the book. Is it okay for a woman to be ambitious? In the culture, that is something that men are encouraged to. The culture kind of looks at women who are ambitious as pushy. What’s the Bible say?
Carolyn: The Bible says, “Be ambitious.” It says, “Be ambitious,” to both men and women—but it redirects our ambitions from what we would chase that is empty, here, to the things that last in eternity. So Jesus says: “Go for the gold. Go for the things that are going to earn you eternal rewards. I want you to be ambitious for My glory. I want you to chase after the things that matter as I build My church / as I build My Kingdom.” We are all wired to want something very much. What sin does is corrupt those desires to things are not important or even evil.
Bob: It’s all about us.
Carolyn: Right; exactly. But Jesus comes with the gospel to rewire our ambitions to be ambitious for Him and for what He’s doing.
Bob: So personal ambition may be a problem, but a holy ambition is what we’re all called to.
Carolyn: Yes. I love the way that John Stott talks about it because he talks about, if we have the primary ambition of God’s glory, all our secondary ambitions for marriage, and family, and job, and community, and artistic endeavors—all those things that can be good in and of themselves—if they are secondary to the primary ambition of God’s glory, then we’ve got them in the right order.
Dennis: You make movies and you run your own business. What does reflecting the glory of God look like, practically, as you do that?
Carolyn: There are the products of our business to consider, and then there’s the way we conduct our business to consider. The products of our business aren’t necessarily always just Christian-themed movies or Christian-themed short films, although we have the privilege of producing many for different ministries. But we also are looking at larger stories that amplify biblical themes of transparency, and accountability, and forgiveness, etcetera—that can be just part of mainstream society. So, there are projects I would not take because they are contrary to the values that I have.
But how I conduct my business is an important element:
“Am I going to be faithful? Am I going to have integrity in my finances?” but more importantly, “Am I going to be creating an environment of humility and community so that, even in the hierarchy of work, that employees and contractors feel like this is a place where I can work and feel enjoyed and valued as a human being?”
Dennis: I love your answer because you talk about, not only what you do, but how you do it, and what you do has some boundaries around it. You’re not willing to do everything to make a buck. But secondly, you’re trying to operate, with your employees and with those you serve, with excellence in the way that Jesus Christ would have you do it.
Bob: And all of that puts the goodness of God on display for others. That’s what we’re ultimately talking about. The glory of God is when others can look at how you do things and say, “That’s a good way.” You can say, “Well, it’s God who empowers me and God who directs me,” and He gets the glory for that.
Dennis: That’s right.
Carolyn: But you know, it also puts my own weakness on display.
Carolyn: I think that’s important to know because anybody, who listens to this, can think: “Oh, I yelled at somebody yesterday. I was angry,” or whatever. It is the act of asking forgiveness that is the most important in this context because we’re not going to get it right, and we’re certainly not going to get it right in the stress of a job.
Dennis: I love what you just said there. First Peter 4:10-11 is a great marker here. It says, “As each has received the gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; whoever serves, as the one who serves in the strength that God supplies, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever.”
Dennis: That’s what it’s all about. I really appreciate you. I love this book.
It’s a great book to really give, I think, both men and women a good backdrop of how our culture arrived where it did and also how we can be men and women who represent who God is in a culture that desperately needs to see Him.
Bob: Let me just ask you, related to that: “Who would you hope would read this book most?”
Carolyn: It is a book written for women; but ultimately, this is a family conversation.
Dennis: It really is because this talks about a biblical view of work. Every family needs to be imbedding their children’s hearts and souls with the concept of what God expects of them in their work for the rest of their lives.
Bob: Of course, we have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” and they can order a copy of The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, by Carolyn McCulley. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com—and order from us, online.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can order by phone—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
This is changing the subject a little bit, Dennis, but I was talking to a friend of ours, earlier today. He had just watched the video of the prison graduation ceremony that was held at the Wrightsville Prison, back in March. This was after prisoners had gone through the Stepping Up® video series from FamilyLife. You went to Wrightsville and you spoke to these guys and handed out their certificates to them.
The guy said the video was powerful—it was moving. In fact, if our listeners haven’t seen it yet, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “I Care,” and the video is right there. I just want to pause for a minute and again say, “Thank you,” to the folks who help support this ministry.
This is the kind of ministry you’re helping make possible as we create these resources with this daily radio program. By the way, I had a number of the prisoners—at the prison that night—tell me that they listen regularly to FamilyLife Today in prison. So, thanks for your support of this ministry. Any time that you make a donation, whether you’re a Legacy Partner, donating each month, or you make occasional donations to help support us, we do appreciate your partnership with us.
You can make an online donation, right now, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Or write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. When you make a donation, be sure to request a copy of our featured CD—a message from Dennis Rainey about permanence in marriage—given at an I Still Do™ marriage event a number of years ago.
Of course, pray for the upcoming I Still Do marriage events, as well, in Chicago next week, in Portland in about four weeks, and then coming up in Washington, DC, on October 4th.
And with that, we have to wrap things up for this weekend. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to meet a young man who escaped with his family from what would have been certain death in Iran, back in 1979. David Nasser joins us Monday to tell us his story, and I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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