Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World – Jeff Haanen

Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World by Jeffrey Haanen
Published by IVP on December 12, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Work, Theology
Buy on Amazon

Many today are experiencing social isolation, deep anxieties about the future, and various difficulties in the workplace. For too many of us, work seems tedious, painful, or meaningless. And we don't know what to do about it.

Working from the Inside Out pulls back the veil on the deep emotional and vocational challenges faced by the majority of workers and shows how work can become a way to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel to the world. Bringing together emotional, relational, vocational, intellectual, and civic health through the seamless thread of vocation, Jeff Haanen offers a way out of the disintegration of our culture and toward a reintegrated life lived in response to God's voice.

The inner work of transformation leads to external transformation of our relationships and our work, and that good work influences our cities and the culture around us. Living from the inside out can change our work and heal our world.

I have started reading more books about work and vocation recently, and Working from the Inside Out stands out as a particularly thoughtful and practical one. Jeff Haanen encourages Christians to recognize the importance of their secular jobs, rather than feeling that their work is second-class to vocational ministry, and he explores different struggles that people often experience with work. He includes current data and social reflections related to workers’ changing expectations and attitudes after the pandemic, and he writes about different social issues that affect people’s experiences with work, acknowledging that many people suffer under deeply broken and unjust working conditions.

After Haanen explores age-old and current frustrations and challenges with work, he then moves into exhortation, highlighting key ways that Christians can improve their working lives. He never suggests that an attitude shift is enough to fix the brokenness of modern life, but he shows how people can better engage with vocational work by digging into important inner work. Different chapters focus on pursuing true spiritual health, viewing work theologically, cultivating relationships inside and outside of work, creating good work, and using jobs as an opportunity to serve and bless others. The final part of the book shares additional ideas for how to implement these ideas in real life and pursue genuine, lasting change. There is also a thoughtful chapter about ways to navigate expressing your faith in different types of secular job environments.

Haanen also shares a variety of stories from people in all kinds of different jobs, showing how they have seen restoration and blessing in their vocational lives. In all of this, he emphasizes that good work serves others and makes the world a better place, regardless of how spiritual or glamorous a particular job appears. All throughout the book, Haanen shares insights and practical applications for people in a variety of different situations and job roles, from rank-and-file employees to people in leadership positions, and he strikes a good balance between warning against idolatry and despair. He encourages people who feel a sense of frustration and futility in their work without making light of their difficulties, and he also warns others against investing their entire identities in their jobs.

I sometimes felt that this book skimmed over a broad surface without going deep enough, since the author was covering so many topics and themes in a fairly short book, but I like how he kept things relatable to such a broad audience. He also includes occasional reflections on professional versus working class perspectives, and he mentions in the acknowledgements that his next book will focus on working class laborers. I appreciate this a lot, since most books about work only address office jobs.

Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World is a great book for Christians who want to think more deeply about their jobs, whether they are the CEO of a company or are working their first job out of college. This book is great for personal reflection and group processing, and it could be a great discipleship book for church groups, especially since it covers so many different experiences and themes. Even though this book sometimes sacrifices depth for breadth and brevity, it is a nuanced, practical, and encouraging guide to a variety of important issues.