What Does the Gospel of John Teach us About Work?

(Note: This is the fourth article in a series of excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, that highlight some of the key biblical principles from the theology of work that come out of a specific book or genre.  I invite you to read the previous articles on what the book of Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and the Minor Prophets have to teach us about work.)

The Gospel of John contains many references to work in its many forms.  It shows us how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are workers themselves, supporting the idea that work is intrinsically valuable because it is something that God does.  John also shows us how God works with us, in us, and through us.  This illustrates my concept of Immanuel labor, the connection between God’s presence and human work.  In John, we also learn how to allow God to work through us effectively by abiding in Christ.  Finally, John sheds some light on how we are called to relate to the world in which we work, to be separate from it, but to live purposefully in it.

The triune God is a worker

The apostle John acknowledges the work of each member of the trinity.  He emphasizes that God the Father is a worker.  Jesus (referring to His Father) said that God is always at work (John 5:17).  Later, Jesus said, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).

Let us now look briefly at Jesus the worker.  John 1:1-3 paints a vivid portrait of Jesus being present prior to and at creation, alluding to Gen. 1:1.  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” 

In John 4:34, Jesus said that His food, that which gave Him nourishment and satisfaction, was to do God’s will and to finish the work that His Father had called Him to do.  

In John 5:17, in the account of Jesus healing a lame man at Bethesda, He stated that His Father was always working and that He also was working.  Jesus explained in John 5:19 that He does that which He sees the Father doing.  

Jesus continued in John 5:36, stating that the work He was doing was because God the Father had given it to Jesus to finish.  In John 17:4, Jesus stated in His prayer in the garden that He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do. The work Jesus finished was primarily the work of revelation and redemption.

Not only did Jesus faithfully complete the work the Father gave Him to do, but He also gave His disciples an example of how to be a servant to all by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).

Lastly, Jesus sent His disciples to preach the gospel and expand His kingdom.  He empowered them by giving the Holy Spirit to provide His presence with them in their work (John 20:21-22).

I will expand on the work of the Holy Spirit in this next section.

God is present with us in our work

The triune God works, which gives work value.  God is also present with His people as they do the work that God calls them to do.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit works with, in, and through us.

Throughout Scripture, and particularly in John, we learn that it is the third person of the trinity that indwells believers in order to empower them to do their ordinary tasks in a supernatural way. 

In John 14:17, Jesus told His disciples that the Father would give the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who “lives with you and will be in you.”  His constant presence and His still, small voice would teach and remind them of what Jesus said (John 14:26).  

The Holy Spirit would also be the one to guide them in the truth (John 16:13).  Since Jesus was physically about to leave His disciples, He wanted to assure them they would have the very presence of His Father and Himself with them at all times so that they could know Him, follow Him, and remain faithful to fulfill their calling.

Remaining connected to Christ brings results in our work

Jesus’s parable of the vine and the branches in John 15 indicates how we can remain in God’s presence at work so that we can consistently bear holy fruit to the glory of the Gardener.

Knowing that I have been called by God to be a coworker with Him in whatever task He has placed in front of me and to integrate my faith at work, at church, and at home motivates me toward holy behaviors and attitudes.  When by faith and obedience I continually abide in Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8) and am filled with His Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), I can be fully confident that God will work through me to love my neighbor and bring Him glory with maximum results.  

How do we relate to the world where we work?

In John, there is a key passage that gives us an idea of how we are to relate to this world.

Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:14-19.  He asked God the Father to protect, teach, and lead His disciples.  Jesus acknowledged that they (and we) are not of this world, but they (and we) are being sent out into the world. Why? We are sent so that the world can see Jesus.

Amy Sherman, in her book, Kingdom Calling teaches, “We are the ‘called out’ people of God for sure.  But we have been ‘called out’ to be ‘sent back’!  We are sent back as viral agents of the King to partner in his redemptive mission in the world.”  Amen!

Final thoughts

I trust these excerpts from my book will inspire you to take a closer look at these selected passages from the Gospel of John.  I am hoping that you will see them in a new light, and will understand these truths better so that you can work in the world while abiding in His presence.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How do I Meditate on and Apply Scripture?

I became a Christian over 45 years ago.  I have been reading the Bible a long time. 

I was fortunate to take two seminary classes (30 years apart) on hermeneutics, the study of Bible interpretation.  These classes were a tremendous help.  However, I truly learned how to understand and apply the Scriptures by consistent practice.  This has brought a depth to my own personal walk of faith in Jesus Christ.

I have observed that many other Christians have never learned how to meditate on or apply Scripture. As a result, those who do not know how to feed themselves have developed an unhealthy dependence on others to teach them.  They have also missed the joy of discovering God’s truths for themselves.

I would like to share a few techniques that I have learned in my own journey to know God’s Word better, how to pull some deeper understanding of its meaning, and most importantly, how to apply it.

Personalize the passage

To get the most of any Bible reading, we not only need to read carefully to understand the context and what the author was trying to get across to his original audience, but we also need to figure out what the implications are for us now.  What is it that we need to do, based on what we just read?

Let’s take Ps. 23:1.  What is the meaning of “the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”?

It means that David sees Yahweh as a shepherd and himself as a sheep.  He is expressing his utmost confidence in God’s attributes of faithfulness and lovingkindness.  David will follow God’s leading.

We cannot stop there.  We must think about what is implied for us.  Is the Lord my shepherd, too?  Is He someone I can trust as I go through my own difficult journeys?  Can I be content as He leads?

Let me share a story of what I discovered while meditating on the 23rd Psalm after we lost a pet.

I recalled David’s words of comfort.  “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps. 23:4).  I began to meditate on just that portion.  I prayed, “Lord, I have been to that valley before.”  This time, though, I began to see it in a new light.  Shadow.  I had never really paid much attention to that word before.  It almost seemed that it would have the same meaning if that word was left out, as in “through the valley of death”.  Or would it?  Why was this word necessary in this verse?  Then, I remembered what causes a shadow.  I can only see one when something comes between the sun and I.  The “shadow of death” appears when “death” is coming, is here now, or is leaving my presence and it comes between the sun (Son) and I.  I was amazed that I’d never considered this before in all of the years I had read this familiar passage.  Death’s visits are always painful, but they are temporary.  This thought brought me hope.

Look for parallel passages

This technique is life-changing when you do it regularly.  It is something that I do all the time.

When you are reading a passage of Scripture and you find a verse or section that you have seen before somewhere else, make it a priority to look up the other passage and think on how both passages reinforce the same truths.  What I usually do is to annotate the cross reference in the margin.

For example, I was reading 1 Peter 4.  I saw many verses that reminded me of the same truths that are found elsewhere.  1 Peter 4:1 mentions a connection between suffering and being done with sin.  I had written in the margin Rom. 6:7, where Paul states that “anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”  In 1 Peter 4:2, I read that those who suffer do not live for “evil human desires”, but for God, which is what Paul had written about in Rom. 6:12.  In 1 Peter 4:3, he reminds the church scattered throughout Asia about what they did before they met Christ, which Paul addressed in 1 Cor. 6:11

As I look for parallel passages (some of which are listed in my study Bible), I am very interested in links from the NT back to the OT, and from the OT to the Psalms.  This has been a helpful practice.

Explore other possible applications

Another mental exercise that I have found quite helpful is to take what is written and reword it into the converse of what is there to find a new truth, which may give it an extended application.  The converse expresses the opposite cause which yields an opposite result.  Let me explain further. 

For example, in Ps. 1:1-2, we see that a person is blessed if he chooses to “not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”  In contrast, this person is also blessed if “his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” 

I think that the converse of what was said above is also generally true.  If a person chooses to walk in the counsel of the righteous, stand in the way of believers, or sit with those who are humble, he or she would be blessed.  Furthermore, you could also say that a person would not be blessed if they hated God’s Word and did not read it regularly.  Do you see what I did there, flipping it around like that?

You need to be careful in using this method with all Scriptures.  When Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), it is not necessarily true that “with Him, you can do everything”. 

A closing reminder

May we emulate the humble spirit expressed by the Psalmist: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Ps. 119:15-16).

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Why do we Celebrate Milestones in the Military?

Last month, my Operations team planned and executed a change of Commandant ceremony to commemorate the accomplishments of the outgoing Commandant and Chief of Chemical and to welcome the incoming.  As expected, the ceremony was steeped in tradition, military precision, and heartfelt messages from senior leaders.  This past week, our team executed a similar ceremony to celebrate the change of responsibility between our 3rd and 4th Regimental Chief Warrant Officers.

Over the past 13 years, I had the privilege of planning, preparing, executing, and attending dozens of awards, promotions, changes of command or responsibility, and formal retirement ceremonies for senior leaders in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps who had served over twenty years of active duty. 

Why have I spent so much time and energy on these events?  Why are milestones so important?

Let me paint a picture of one of these ceremonies in order to give outsiders an understanding of their significance in military communities.  More importantly, I will also unpack several biblical celebrations that mark transitions in the faith community that have a similar purpose and function.

A formal retirement ceremony

This ceremony to mark this major transition begins with an invocation by the chaplain, followed by playing of the National Anthem, opening remarks from the senior attendee, and presentations to Soldier and their spouse which include service medals, certificates, a U.S. flag, an Army Lapel Pin, retiree remarks, benediction, and the playing of the Chemical Corps Song and the Army Song. 

The second line to the Army Song still chokes me up nearly every time I sing it, even though it has been over fifteen years since my own retirement ceremony in 2006.  “Proud of all we have done, fighting ‘till the battle’s won, and the Army goes rolling along.”  There is a tremendous sense of pride in your accomplishments and a deep satisfaction that you fought hard to the very end.  The bittersweet truth is in realizing that the Army will continue to keep rolling along without you. 

What is the impact of these ceremonies?

Let me elaborate on the some of the benefits of these formal retirement ceremonies in particular.

A retirement ceremony is about taking care of Soldiers and their Families.  It is appropriate for leaders to present awards and commend those Soldiers who have finished the race honorably and served with distinction.  It provides the retiree an opportunity to express gratitude to those who served with them and for the love, sacrifices, and support of their family throughout their career.  Also, it brings closure, allowing them to acknowledge the loss of purpose and identity and fear of the unknown, combined with the excitement they feel as they embark on their next chapter of life.

However, it is not just about retirees and their families.  It is also about leader development for the others in the audience.   These ceremonies encourage younger Soldiers to consider making the Army a career and encourage older Soldiers to press on and finish their own careers honorably. 

As I reflect on the senior leaders we have honored at their retirement, I am reminded of the parable of the talents.  Jesus tells the story of the master who rewards his servants for investing his money wisely.  The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21-23).  Job well done!

I am also reminded of Paul’s word to honor those to whom it is due.  (See Rom. 13:7.)  That is what these ceremonies are all about for me.  It is a chance to honor and love those who have served well.

Biblical milestone celebrations

You won’t find any promotion or retirement ceremonies in the Bible.  However, there are many examples of celebrations throughout God’s Word which mirror what we do in the Army.  There are a variety of feasts, holidays, weekly and annual remembrances that have a similar purpose – to show respect, to honor, and to unite the community.  Let me mention just a few of them to highlight their purpose and how they provided a chance for God’s people to stop and reflect on His goodness.

In the OT, the first major milestone event I can find is the erecting of stones of remembrance after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River (Josh. 4:1-7).  The annual celebration of the Passover was designed to be an opportunity to come together and remember God’s intervention and deliverance during Israel’s captivity in Egypt.  This event is referred to repeatedly throughout the rest of the OT.

In the Gospels, we have the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-19).  This was to be a recurring special event in the life of the church to look back to Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins and towards His return.

In Jesus’ last words to His disciples, He delivered a farewell address to them with some final instructions (Matt 28:18-20).  In Acts 1:9-11, angels gave additional guidance as Jesus departed.

In the Epistles, we have a great example of a farewell event for a leader as he was about to depart to his next assignment.  Paul, in Acts 20:18-38, gave a moving message to the elders from Ephesus. 

Closing challenge

What is it that you could do better to honor faithful employees as they depart your organization or attain a milestone event?  Could you do a video tribute?  Present a plaque or other farewell gift?  What you do for them will be a blessing they will long remember, along with your entire team.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

From Hero to Zero

Perhaps it is time that I told this story.  It is long overdue.  It is a humbling one for me.  I am hoping that it might encourage several others who may be going through what I experienced themselves. 

About three years ago, in mid-July 2018, a few weeks after celebrating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, I found myself under a dark cloud for several days where I crashed and burned.  I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  I had not felt like this in a long time.

My title, “From Hero to Zero”, comes from a common phrase that was used while I was assigned as an Army Recruiter from 1991-1992.  One month I exceeded my assigned mission to enlist two Soldiers by 50% when I recruited three new Soldiers.  I was a hero, and got a nice coffee mug.  A couple of months later, I was expected to put in three recruits, but came up empty.  I was a zero.  (Note: You may want to read an article I wrote a while ago on how God uses our failures at work.)

I will go into more details below of what I experienced and what led up to it.  First, I need to tie my own story with a biblical account where a called, gifted, and powerful spiritual leader was hit with a deep depression immediately following a successful event where God showed up in a powerful way.

A hero prophet that crashed

The prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:16-40, had an awesome day on Mount Carmel, battling 450 false prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah.  With a supernatural boldness that could only have come from the Spirit of God, Elijah challenged King Ahab to assemble on Mount Carmel for a big showdown.  He was going to set up an opportunity for Yahweh demonstrate that He alone is God.  The prophets of Baal and Asherah could not get their god to bring fire from heaven, but God did.

Immediately following this amazing event, the highlight of Elijah’s career, in 1 Kings 19:3-4, we see Elijah, scared to death, running away from Jezebel.  He felt completely burned out.  He had nothing left to give.  He walked alone in the wilderness, found a tree, sat under it, and wished he was dead. 

A brief analysis of my own crash

What were the circumstances that led up to my own feelings of defeat after a resounding success?

Months of high levels of stress at work in preparation for our 100th anniversary, the usual summer turnover of leaders and staff, book marketing efforts, and the pressures of a new home improvement project to switch rooms (see article on sanctified imagination?), and began to take its toll on me.

My feelings of being overwhelmed came to a head one night as I was trying to put the finishing touches on the chair rail of what used to be our dining room but was converted into a cozy wee den.  I was frustrated with the caulking.  I tried to make a thin, straight line above the chair rail, but it wasn’t right.  I had to wipe it away and start over multiple times.  After about 20 minutes I lost it and gave up.

Like Elijah, I had clearly seen God come through for me in a mighty way over months and months of behind the scenes work in planning our major event.  It was one of the biggest projects I had ever done.  And yet, despite the overwhelming success, I ended up in a desert place, feeling fear and doubt.

A word for other workers who may experience crashes

I can think of several examples of hard workers who may experience an overwhelming emotional crash after completing a major victory.  Each of them may be blessed with an incredible high that is immediately followed by the jarring reality of a mundane life that is supposed to get back to normal. 

  • The mother who just had her second child
  • The gardener who just gathered her last bushel of heirloom tomatoes
  • The Olympic athlete who is heading home with a gold and two bronze medals
  • A cast of actors after the last performance of a play or wrapping up a series
  • The pastor on Monday morning who preached three sermons on Sunday
  • The advertising executive who just landed his biggest client
  • The architect who just finishing up a multimillion-dollar construction project
  • The elementary school speech therapist who just completed her tenth year

I was recently reminded of a verse that described the two extremes of work: the highs and the lows. 

In Gen. 3:17-19, we see that despite the curse that God gave to Adam and Eve for their disobedience, they still get to eat the fruit of their labor.  This is mentioned three times.  Tim Keller, in Every Good Endeavor made a similar observation, indicating, “Work will be both frustrating and fulfilling.”

Practical recommendations

  • Give credit to God for His blessings; rest in Him when new trials overshadow them
  • Take naps as needed and eat well; allow your body to recharge (see 1 Kings 19:5-8)
  • Remember God’s promise in Ps. 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”
  • Don’t jump from one major project to another one right away; create margin or white space; schedule some down time
  • By faith, press on and keep showing up, even when it is hard (see 2 Thes. 3:13)

My final word of encouragement is this:  There is an ebb and flow to life.  That is the way God has designed it.  From the high ground, you will always feel somewhat disappointed that your moment in the spotlight is over.  At the top, it’s all downhill.  You will have to deal with the pain of carrying on until the next harvest, the next major accomplishment, or the next milestone event.  Remember that God will be present with you every step of the way as you head back to work and start over again.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

God is the Potter and we are the Clay

This past Father’s Day, I was looking up some verses about God as our Father.  I landed on a short bunny trail in my study Bible that took me from the book of Psalms, to Isaiah, and then to Matthew. 

Psalm 68:5, was a verse I was familiar with.  It simply states that God is a father to the fatherless. 

In Isa. 64:8, the prophet indicates that Yahweh is “our Father.”  He continues, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  I had to stop and meditate on this idea a bit more.  (Jeremiah says something similar in Jer.18:6.  I will delve a little deeper into this passage below.)

Let me explore this metaphor of God the Father as a potter.  He creates us, recreates us in Christ, and invites us to participate with Him as He works His way in us, to shape us to be more like Jesus.

God is sovereign and we are not

We see this imagery used for the first time in the book of Job.  In his bitterness after experiencing tremendous loss, He pours out his complaint to Yahweh, asking, “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands? (Job. 10:3.)  He continues, specifically using this imagery of God as a potter.  Job asks, “Your hands shaped me and made me, will you now turn and destroy me  Remember that you molded me like clay.  Will you now turn me to dust again?” (Job 10:8-9).

We also see this figure of speech used in Isa. 29:16.  Through the prophet, Yahweh questions His people, Judah, wondering how they got to be so proud and rebellious  He observes,  “You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’?  Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?”

Let us return to Jer. 18:1-6.  Here, we find a much more elaborate use of this key metaphor.  God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house to receive a message that he is to pass on.  The prophet sees the potter working at his wheel, making and then remaking a pot, “shaping it as seemed best to him” (verse 4).  The Lord God asks, “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?”  He continues, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

Finally, Paul uses this picture of God as the potter and His people as the clay in Rom. 9:20-24.  In this passage, Paul is expounding on God’s prerogative to show mercy to those he wants to show mercy to with respect to salvation.  He asks rhetorically, “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”  (Yes, He does!)

The intended meaning of this powerful metaphor would be hard for any believer to miss.  God is sovereign.  He is King.  He is in control of all He has made.  We are merely the clay in His hands.

God creates us

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary indicates that the imagery found in Gen. 2:7 shows our Creator as a “Master Potter”, indicating that Yahweh “formed the man from the dust of the ground”. 

David, in Ps. 139:13-16, uses a different metaphor to show how God molds his unformed body.  He describes how God “knit him in his mother’s womb”.  His vivid description confirms what most expectant mothers know: a child developing inside their womb is a result of a divine design and miraculous processes, where God is intimately present and directly involved; a life full of purpose.

Just as God got His hands dirty to create Adam from the dust and put David together before he was born, God has a plan for each one of us, especially for those who were born twice.  (See John 3:3.)

This is personal for me.  I was the result of a problem pregnancy, a supposedly untimely conception by two intelligent young college students.  By God’s grace, I was allowed to be born.  When I look back on all the things God enabled me to do and the family I raised with my wife of forty years, I know that God had a purpose for me.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord … ‘Plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11).  My life was not an accident.  Neither is yours.

God re-creates us in Christ through the Holy Spirit

At the moment of salvation, God begins to transform every believer into becoming more and more like Jesus.  We are not only declared holy (justification), but actually become holy (sanctification).

Paul speaks of this transformation often.  When we are baptized into Christ, we were identified with his death and resurrection so that we would live a new life (Rom. 6:4).  Paul teaches the church in Corinth that they are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  Paul also indicates that this divine work of becoming more Christlike that God began in us will increase until it is completed (Phil. 1:6).

We participate in the process of recreation

On the worship cassette I ordered in preparation for a Promise Keepers Conference in the mid-90s, there was this song that was a beautiful prayer of humility and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.   In the second song of in a powerful medley called, “I Need You/Change My Heart, O God” we hear the line, “You are the potter, I am the clay.  Mold me and make me; this is what I pray.”

I share this to illustrate that this process of being remade into the image of Christ has both a divine and a human component.  It starts with us submitting to God every minute by faith.  It continues in the same way.  As we do this on a consistent basis, we will experience God’s presence in our life.

I trust that these words will inspire Christ-followers to rest in the Potter’s faithful and loving hands.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Seventy articles that he wrote have been posted or published 130 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

The Eternal Impact of Godly Parents and Grandparents

Last weekend, all of our adult children and grandchildren came home.  It was a joyful family reunion.  I was filled with gratitude as I saw everyone together for the first time in nearly three years.  I rejoice that God has clearly blessed these three generations over the past forty-five years with His mercy and grace.

Allow me expand on a conversation my wife and I had a few weeks ago as we anticipated this visit on the eternal impact that we have had, are having, and will have on our children and grandchildren.

Looking backward

So, here’s our story.  My wife and I are a first-generation Christian family.  We were both raised in families hit by divorce.  We both grew up going to church; however, we were not Christian families.

Our three children are married.  Two of them have children of their own.  By the grace of God, our children have turned out to be compassionate, responsible, talented, and hard-working adults. 

Just as my wife and I figured out only by the grace of God how to function as a Christ-centered couple and grew in wisdom, faith, and love to become Christian parents, we have been learning how to be Christian grandparents.  The past six years have been an absolutely amazing adventure for us! 

My wife and I taught what it meant to have a Christian marriage by obeying what God’s Word said that husbands and wives were supposed to do.  We also showed our kids how to raise a Christian family by following God’s blueprint.  We worked hard to be the Christian grandparents we never had and that our own children did not have, demonstrating how to be godly grandparents someday.  As we have taught our children how to have a Christian marriage, how to be godly parents, and how to be godly grandparents, we have also displayed to our growing grandchildren these same skills. 

Looking forward

So, what is the eternal impact of our discipleship efforts as I look towards the future?

Taking it much further out into the future, we find ourselves directly influencing each one of our five grandchildren.  We are intentionally giving them tools they will need to help them be godly husbands or wives, parents, and grandparents, should they choose to follow Jesus when they get old enough.

Because my wife and I came to faith in Christ while we were in high school, God radically changed one generation.  Through my wife and I, God was glorified to a second generation, and now a third

Our grandchildren will have some children of their own (our children’s grandchildren), which means that our ministry in their lives will directly impact a fourth generation.  They will be grandparents someday, which means that God will have reached five generations through two of His children.

Looking at Scripture

Here are some key verses that specifically address our faith as it is passed to the next generation.

The first verse that comes to my mind is 2 Tim. 1:5.  This is a beautiful picture of the faith of Timothy’s grandmother, who passed her faith on to Timothy’s mother, and to Timothy as well.

Moses explained to the Israelites as they were about to enter the promised land in Deut. 6:1-2 that they were to teach their children and grandchildren God’s laws so that they would fear the Lord.

Another passage that has deeply touched me is found in Ps 78:1-7.  Listen to this:

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.  We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.  He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.  [Italics mine.]

This is something that my wife and I have done as parents and grandparents.  We have attempted to show how the Bible applies to every slice of life.  We have reminded them of who and where God is.

There is also a promise found in Ps. 103:17, which states, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

Proverbs 17:6 is another verse on this particular topic that is near and dear to my heart.  It states that “children’s children are a crown to the aged.”  In the margin right next to this verse, I have lovingly and ceremoniously written the names of each of my five grandchildren and the year they were born.

Looking inward

Is your Christian faith going to have an eternal impact on five or more generations?  Oh, I do believe that it will!

Rest in God’s promises and trust Him.  Your heavenly Father will work in the hearts of your children and grandchildren, in spite of all the mistakes you made as human fathers and mothers.  Unlike us, God has no grandchildren; only children.  By His Spirit, He will draw them to faith in Jesus Christ.  Your role, as God’s coworker in this process, is to love each of them unconditionally from day one. 

(Note: I invite you to read a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on raising adult children.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Manage Relationships, not Just Workers

(Note: This article is a follow-up to a portion of a lengthy article that I originally wrote for the winter 2019 issue of the Army Chemical Review, which I later revised and posted on my blog in January 2020. This article was also published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economic blog.)

I have a theory that my job as a supervisor is to manage relationships on my team, not just manage people

What are your initial reactions to this radical concept?  I have not heard or read of this anywhere else.  (It could be a great topic for a Ph.D. dissertation, if I was pursuing a doctorate.)

Let me summarize my applications from a college math class I took on combinatorial theory, demonstrate how I use these calculations to adjust my management style, provide some biblical support for my theory, and offer some practical suggestions as to how to best apply this concept.  I believe it will be eye-opening and will be extremely useful for many who manage a team of people.

Using combinatorial theory at work

Several years ago, I saw how I could use combinatorial theory to figure out just how many distinct relationships we had in our Operations section.  It is a simple mathematical formula: n x (n-1)/2, where n is the number of people you have. 

With five team members, you multiply five by four (which are the four people each has to work with) and then divide by two.  (You do not need to count relationships twice; my relationship with you is the same as yours with me).  In this case, five times four equals twenty, divided by two, which yields a total of ten relationships.

What if we added two more workers to our team of five? 

Now we have seven.  How many distinct relationships do we have now?  Using the formula above, 7 x 6 / 2 = 21.  Twenty one!  By adding two more people to our team, I do not have just two more people for me to care for.  I am now required as a manager to maintain eleven more relationships than the ten we had earlier.  (Each of the two new team members has to relate to the previous five and also will relate to each other.)  This is fascinating to me, and has a number of implications.

Implications for managers

These calculations have changed the way I do business.  Every relationship is important and needs to be monitored by the leader.  The chain is only as good as its weakest link.  Everyone has to relate to each other, and not just to the boss.  As a leader, I am responsible to facilitate, improve, and maintain each relationship between my employees, not just my relationships with each of them.

Additionally, where there are more people on your team, there will always be more potential for conflict.  With so many relationships to maintain, each member of the team has to strive to communicate positively with everyone and resolve conflicts at the lowest level possible. 

Being a faithful shepherd of the sheep

Those who are called to full-time pastoral ministry are often reminded of their roles as shepherds of the flock.  However, as I look at my own role as a manager (a supervisor of supervisors), I am also called to be a faithful shepherd of the team that God has placed me over, as long as I am in this position.  Let me share some Scriptures on being a good shepherd and discuss how that can apply to any leader.

Let’s start with Jesus.  He stated that He was the good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11).  This should remind us of the words of David in Psalm 23, who spoke of  Yahweh as his shepherd.  When Jesus saw the crowds as He was teaching and healing, He had compassion on them, as they were like sheep without a shepherd.  (See Matt. 9:35-37; Mark 6:34.)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke often about shepherds.  He mentions that God will once again provide faithful shepherds after His own heart, who will lead with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15).  Later, he criticizes Israel’s leaders for being senseless and letting the sheep be scattered (Jer. 10:21).

There are a few implied tasks from these verses above.  I need to be like Jesus as a shepherd of the flock, who lovingly, sacrificially, and faithfully cares for His people.  I need to pray that God will continue to transform me into a compassionate leader, who will lead with wisdom and knowledge.

Shepherds who want to be wise are exhorted to pay close attention to their flocks (Prov. 27:23).  I do not know if sheep relate to each other.  They probably do to a certain degree.  But people do, and if we are to be attentive shepherds of our team, we need to ensure they get along with each other.

How do I maintain relationships on my team?

Let me provide a few suggestions as to how to foster relationships and build teamwork:

  • Consistently treat everyone with dignity and respect; expect the same from all members
  • Provide opportunities to work on projects with someone different (i.e., officers with NCOs)
  • Train team members to look out for each other, offer help when needed, and handle conflicts at the lowest level before they bring them to you
  • Pay attention to those who tend to keep to themselves and avoid interacting with the others on the team; you want to encourage positive relationships, not just avoid conflict

Closing challenge

At the end of the day, I want to build a strong team, one that can accomplish the variety of missions we are given every day, which in our case directly supports and defends the U.S. Constitution.  As I focus my attention on building a caring community of teammates, we will all come out as winners.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

A Funny Little Story with a Purpose

Let me share a funny little story that I think many of you will find interesting.

On a hot summer day 30 years ago, in June 1991, one Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) (who a few months back had been selected as the 1990 Fort Lewis NCO of the Year) found himself in charge of the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) training for over 3,000 Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets. It was a great day to be part of the Army team!

Every single ROTC cadet from around the country who was in-between their junior and senior years of college attended their Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis that year, since Fort Bragg and Fort Riley had deployed to support Operation Desert Storm.

By the luck of the draw, this NBC NCO’s Air Defense Artillery battalion was tasked to run the NBC committee. This young staff sergeant had carefully trained and certified 30 instructors to teach the skill level 1 NBC tasks in a round robin fashion in four stations located in a wooded area marked by a meticulous sandbag trail. He personally put over 3,000 cadets through the gas chamber over a 30-day period in June and July.

As you may have guessed, that NBC NCO was me. That may be mildly interesting. More importantly, one of those cadets was Colonel Tom Duncan, whom I would meet twenty-plus years later when he took command of the 84th Chemical Battalion and then came back to Fort Leonard Wood in 2017 to be our Assistant Commandant. True story. (I just learned that my current Assistant Commandant was also there that summer.)

I do not know if I had any influence on Colonel Duncan in being branched Chemical when he was commissioned in December of that year, but I would like to think so.

What does this story have to do with God’s presence at work?

Thirty years ago, long before I solidified my concept of Immanuel labor, I think I knew in my heart that God had indeed put me there at Fort Lewis, in that particular unit, not by “the luck of the draw”, but by His divine design. He had a purpose for me. He was going to lead me, guide me, and very clearly work in, with, and through me to train those 3,000 ROTC cadets in NBC defense to meet their needs to receive the best training possible at this critical moment in their Army careers. God had blessed me with the technical knowledge, experience, vision, communicative skills, and attention to detail to enable me to take charge of this training.

If God can use a young Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army in his ordinary vocation, working as unto the Lord for His glory, He can use YOU in whatever task or project you are given to do.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What do You do All Day?

(Note: This article was published on The Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

Two months ago, I had to provide my supervisor a summary of my accomplishments over the past year for my civilian performance review (evaluation).  It was a daunting task, but it gave me an opportunity to give praise to God for the strength and wisdom that He provided along the way.

It occurred to me a while back that my responsibilities at work can be described by a handful of action verbs.  More importantly, what may be somewhat surprising and helpful to others is that each of these key verbs can be seen through a biblical lens.  I strongly believe God cares about these activities and has provided guidance in His Word on how we should accomplish these things in a righteous manner.  He has also given us godly examples to show us how to do them in His way.

Let me describe some of the specialized skills that I use every day at my place of employment at one of the U.S. Army’s premier training centers.  Many of these actions I do are also done in a variety of other settings, whether in a secular environment or in a vocational Christian ministry. 

My work

Here are my top five words that describe what I do at work and a relevant Scripture to go with it:

  1. Advise.  This is my primary function as written in my job description, to advise the school chief of staff and other senior leaders.  I spend much time making recommendations to my supervisor on prudent courses of action.  Based on my extensive experience, my gut instincts are often right on target.  The book of Proverbs commends those who seek advice as wise: “Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance” (Prov. 20:18). 
  2. Plan.  This is where I lay out the steps necessary to set us up for success.  I usually start with an event and work my way backwards to develop milestones, to include scheduling meetings, writing operations orders, completing final products for approval, etc.  Proverbs 16:3 states, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
  3. Prepare.  This the last stage before we conduct a major event.  It involves ensuring all the equipment is staged and ready to go.  Scripts are written, edited, and rehearsed.  Everyone knows their part well.  The book of Proverbs acknowledges the value of being prepared for battle.  However, there is always a dependence on the Lord for victory (Prov. 21:31).
  4. Execute.  This is where I get to see the results of months of planning and preparation.  Once the event kicks off, usually there is little for me to do except enjoy the ceremony.  Sometimes I can help the narrator speak louder by catching their eye and putting my hand to my ear.  Sometimes I can grab a back-up microphone if the first one isn’t working.  Most times, I just take notes on what went right and what we could do better next time.  “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” (Eccl. 7:8).
  5. Mentor.  I do this every day with my Operations team.  Sometimes it takes a 30-minute discussion to wrestle with a complex topic such as treating one another with dignity and respect.  Other times all I have to say is one or two words to remind them of the standard.  One example of a mentor was Jethro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law who counseled him on his need to delegate his responsibilities.  (See Exodus 18:14-23.)

Your work

Your job is just as unique as my own.  You may or may not use any of these skills that I use.  The list of verbs that describe all of the jobs that need to be done in our world is probably infinite.

Your list of job skills might include such amazing activities such as cook, build, teach, discipline, comfort, replace, repair, restore, invest, invent, film, unclog, plant, cultivate, design, draw, clean, calculate, report, care, rescue, support, defend, sweep, stock, serve, preach, pave, fly, install, feed, program, administer, translate, negotiate, investigate, move, sell, promote, advertise, research, adjudicate, perform, recruit, write, direct, or deliver.  I am obviously just scratching the surface. 

Here’s an idea that may help you do your job better by doing what you do according to God’s word. Once you identify your own top five verb list, use an online search tool such as Bible Gateway or a decent concordance, take time to look up some of the verses that pop up.  You may find some that resonate deeply with you, keep you focused, and help you to see your work through a biblical lens.

God’s work

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I was not born with the ability to accomplish all of these functions well.  By the grace of God, I was granted certain aptitudes that would set me up for success.  Over time, God provided opportunities for me to learn and develop these special skills.  As I work hard every day, I truly sense that God is not merely working with me, but in and through me.

Gene Veith, in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life shares this: “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people. . . God protects us through the cop on the beat and the whole panoply of the legal system.  He gives us beauty and meaning through artists.  He lets us travel through the ministry of auto workers, mechanics, road crews, and airline employees. . . The fast-food worker, the inventor; the clerical assistant, the scientist; the accountant, the musician – they all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and his creation.”

The purpose of this work that God does through you and I as His coworkers is to demonstrate His love to His greatest creation.  We work in order to show God’s love to the recipients of our action verbs.  Since God cares about these human activities, wants them done right, and even does some of them Himself, we should also care about doing them with a spirit of excellence.  (See Col. 3:23-24.)

So, what do you do all day?  What has God said about how to use these tasks to glorify Him?

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What do the Minor Prophets Teach Us About Work?

Yesterday morning, I was drawn to one of the minor prophets by a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. 

Over the past few years, I have learned to appreciate these smaller prophetic books.  Although they are filled with warning messages to the people of Israel and Judah, they always seem to come back to God’s covenant lovingkindness (hesed, in Hebrew), grace, and mercy.  They also point to a time known as “the day of the Lord”.  New Testament believers know this is when Jesus returns in glory to bring closure in the form of judgment for those who have not submitted to God’s rule and full restoration for His people.

Let me share some observations about work from several of the minor prophets that I quoted in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  I found key passages in Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, and Haggai.  I have also added some new material below based on what I have seen in these books that is relevant.  (Note: See previous articles I posted on my blog on the book of Ecclesiastes and the Psalms.)

The Minor Prophets take us into the work environment

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TOWBC) helps us to better understand the biblical context here.  “The unifying theme of these prophets is that in God there is no split between the work of worship and the work of daily life, nor is there a split between individual well-being and the common good.” 

Later, they write, “Despite the calamity the people are bringing upon themselves, God is at work to restore the goodness of life and work intended from the beginning . . The closing oracles of Joel, Hosea, and Amos illustrate this in explicitly economic terms.”  They cite Joel 2:24: “the threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”  Finally, Hosea 14:7  describes  a time when “they shall flourish as a garden.”  Amos 9:14 declares, “I will restore the fortunes of my people.”

I found a great illustration of how God’s people can choose to respond to a work-related trial in Hab. 3:17–18.  The prophet declares, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  It takes a strong faith to actively choose to recall God’s faithfulness in the midst of devastating losses at work or elsewhere.

This passage, of course, reminds me of Job’s attitude; “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21) and the exhortation to rejoice in our trials.  (See James 1:2.)

The Minor Prophets show us how God works through us

In 2015, during a robust independent study on the theology of work that I did to complete my seminary master’s degree, I was delighted to find so many illustrations of the connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor.  The book of Haggai gives us one more great example.  

As the temple was being rebuilt, the word of Yahweh told Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, Joshua, the high priest, and the remnant of God’s people to be strong and to work, for He was with them (Haggai 2:4).  He reemphasizes God’s presence in the next verse, reminding them that He kept His covenant with His people and that it is His Spirit that remains among them (Haggai 2:5).  This pattern is repeated often.  When God calls His people to do a great work by faith, He reminds them that He will work with them.

The Minor Prophets call for fair business practices

The prophet Amos, who was not a prophet by trade but was a shepherd and caretaker of sycamore fig trees (Amos 7:14), had a few things that He was compelled to say about external righteousness.

R. Paul Stevens writes, “Amos railed against workplace injustice. . . Among the many things we learn from the ministry of this fiery prophet is that the gospel is not merely the gospel of personal salvation, but is a message that has profound implications for fair wages, workers’ rights, equitable interest rates, appropriate executive remuneration, reliable currency, and protection of property rights for the poor.” 

The Lord condemned the practice of buying and selling slaves in Israel (Amos 2:6, 8:6).  He also condemned unethical business practices, such as skimping on standard measures, greedily boosting prices, and using dishonest scales (Amos 8:5).  There may be opportunities for some of us to speak up, work toward, and demand changes in our own organizations when we find unrighteous conditions like these.

The TOWBC boldly states, “If God is not the god of our lives every day, then he is probably not actually our god on Sunday either.”  These words are hard, but good reminders of what true faith looks like.

The prophet Micah also provides a foundational statement of spiritual maturity in action.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  This commandment applies to all of God’s people.

The Minor Prophets give us a glimpse of an eternity of work without sin

In Micah 4:1-3, we read about the “last days” where many nations (i.e., Gentiles) will come to learn God’s Word and worship.  The prophet also sees world peace, where men have turned their weapons into farm tools.  This passage is nearly identical to Isa.2:2-4.  Ben Witherington, in his book, Work, observes:

Isaiah does not envision a massive work stoppage.  What he envisions is a massive war stoppage, if we may put it that way.  The point of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is so that the weapons of war may be turned into the tools of work. . . His vision of shalom, well-being, peace, is not of a workless paradise, but of a world at peace worshiping the one true God and working together rather than warring with each other. 

I trust that this compilation of verses from the minor prophets was helpful to see the various aspects of work that are addressed throughout Scripture, which should help us to better integrate our faith at work.

(Note: I invite you to read a similar article to this one regarding what the book of Ecclesiastes and what the Psalms have to say about work.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.