So What? Why do Christians Need to Understand the Theology of Work?

(This article was adapted from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, published in February 2018 by WestBow Press.)

So what?  Why do Christians need to understand the theology of work?  Moreover, why is it important to fully understand and consistently experience God’s presence at work?

Sherman and Hendricks, in their life-changing book, Your Work Matters to God state, “Every day, millions of workers go to work without seeing the slightest connection between what they do all day and what they think God wants done in the world.  For example, you may sell insurance, yet you may have no idea whether or not God wants insurance to be sold.  Does selling insurance matter to God or not?  If not, you are wasting your life.”  They make a valid point.  Tom Nelson, in Work Matters teaches, “The doctrine of vocation properly understood weaves together a seamless life of true Christian discipleship in all facets of life.”

What I am advocating is that Christians need to understand what God says about work so that we can fully integrate our faith in the place where we spend most of our time.  Jesus said that the truth would set us free (John 8:32).  His truth applies to all of life.

You may know that I used to be a math teacher from reading my blog posts about my career journey or the calling to teach, or from reading my book.  Thus, I can readily identify with a fictional music teacher by the name of Glenn Holland in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus”.  In the 1960s, he took a high school teaching job because he couldn’t find work as a musician.  Teaching was never more than a temporary gig until something better came along.  He was attempting to compose a symphony in his spare time, but he never quite got it done.

In the dramatic closing scene of the movie, it is decades later.  He is about to retire.  He discovers that he is being honored at a school assembly in an auditorium filled with current and former students.  The guest speaker is one of his former students who earlier in the movie was an unconfident young clarinet player.  Later we find out that she is now the governor.  This scene always makes me cry.

She describes the huge impact this teacher had.  “I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his own life was misspent. . . It might be easy for him to think himself a failure.  And he would be wrong.  Look around you. . . We are your symphony, Mr. Holland.  We are the melodies and the notes of your opus, and we are the music of your life.”

It is extremely sad that Mr. Holland did not realize how much of an impact he had on others until he was at the very end of his career.  What a joy it would be if we could go to work every day recognizing that God was using us to make a difference in the lives of others.  Understanding this has dramatically changed my views of work over the past 30 years.  It can change yours as well.

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Surprising Parallels Between Becoming a New Parent and Retiring

Recently, my wife and I had a deep discussion about working towards some short-term and long-term financial goals to prepare for my inevitable retirement in a few years.  I’ll be honest.  It was scary.  We are not ready for this next stage of life.  We need to start making some major progress on these goals in the near future.

As I reflected and prayed about it the next morning on the way to work, I discovered that there are quite a few parallels between this season that we find ourselves in and that of becoming new parents.  In looking at some of the similarities and differences, there also seems to be a few theological implications to explore.  Perhaps those who are rapidly approaching this unknown vocational chapter as we are might find some words of encouragement here.

Becoming new parents

At first, a young couple enjoys a sweet season of learning how to be married.  The next phase for most couples is becoming a parent.  Often, it happens before they expected it.  One of them is probably more ready than the other.  There are quick decisions you need to make:  Is our home ready for a baby?  Is our car big enough?  How are we going to afford all this new stuff we need to care for this child?  Who is going to take care of the baby?  Will this require a change of employment for one or both?  There is so much to learn in a relatively short time.  Before they know it, the child arrives, and life is never going to be the same.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

Guess what?  You figure it out, by the grace of God.  You make it up as you go along, just as we did.  In His sovereignty, mercy, and goodness, God provides all that you and the baby needs, including the just-in-time parental wisdom to handle every new challenge as it comes up.  And then you move seamlessly into the next stage – toddlerhood, followed by many others.

Heading towards retirement

You may be surprised to see several parallels between what new parents go through and those who are about to enter into the uncertain world of retirement.

For the middle-aged couple, there is a sweet season of learning how to be empty-nesters.  Unexpectedly, the precipice of retirement sneaks up on you.  There are hard decisions that need to be made quickly.  Do we stay or relocate?  Do we want to downsize our home?  What are we going to so with all this stuff?  Can we get by with only one car?  Are we going to have enough income to live on for another twenty years or so?  There is so much to learn, and the clock is ticking.  We will be there before we know it, and life will never be the same.  It is daunting to think about.

For us, we began our empty nest season ten years ago this week.  It has been fun.  I blinked twice, and now I find myself one year away from being eligible to retire early.  My wife has already closed the chapter on her teaching career a few months ago.  She is looking forward to me transitioning to the same status so that we can enjoy life, travel, and see the grandchildren more.

By the grace of God, we figured out the unique challenges that came with each phase of life over the past thirty-eight years.  God always provided our needs in the past.  Therefore, we believe He will provide what we need for this season also.

Although there are a lot of parallels between moving towards retirement and becoming new parents, there are some distinct differences.  These little people that caused us so much stress in the young parenting phase are now adults who can now help us transition into retirement.  Where they live becomes a key factor in the equation as we make decisions about where to relocate.

God’s provision of two becoming one

The Christian family begins when the young couple commits themselves to growing older together until death.  God makes the two into one.  The one-flesh union between a husband and wife in Christian marriage is one of life’s most beautiful things.  This brilliant biblical design, a precious gift from our Creator, is something worth focusing on to see some of the theological implications.  It should give some rays of hope to those about to enter this unknown territory.

As Adam and Eve’s first meeting is described in Gen. 2:18-25, we see that their relationship serves several important purposes.  A man and woman thus joined have the potential to be fruitful and multiply, as the Lord blesses (see Gen. 1:28).  More importantly, their unity allows them to contribute to the expansion of God’s creation as His image-bearers.  This holy and permanent joining of two into one not only brings life into the world, but it keeps the couple working together to keep the baby human alive.  This cord of three strands, a picture of God in fellowship with the husband and wife, is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:9-12).

As the family grows in love and number over the years, the oneness of the husband and wife naturally grows as well, as they remain faithful to God and one another.  Over decades of such commitment, the couple about to enter into the next phase of life will be able to endure, no matter what comes.  This has been our experience.  We have seen it in many others as well.

In closing, I trust that these snapshots of entering the challenging seasons of parenthood and retirement were helpful.  They are necessary phases of our vocation.  God calls us to them.  He designed the family to prepare us to enter them with joy, confidence, and peace.  When we reflect on how God has provided for us in the past, we can rest in His goodness in the future.

Do You Mean I Could Have Studied Wildlife Biology as a Christian?

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When I allow myself to daydream about speaking to a group of Christian college students about faith and work issues in a chapel setting, I start out by emphasizing that God can use them in whatever major they have chosen to study, as all legitimate work is intrinsically good.

I met Christ in December of my senior year in high school, so I was just a baby Christian when I was making crucial decisions on what career field I should pursue in college.  I did not know then what I know now about the intrinsic value of work in its many forms.   (For more on this idea, check out this article on my blog.)

Let me share what was going through my head at the time.

My love of animals

I have been an animal lover my entire life.  My mom was a big influence.  I especially loved frogs, toads, salamanders, lightning bugs (or fireflies, depending on where you are from), bunnies, and owls.

Yesterday, I even had a dream about catching an owl.  It made me think of the animals I have actually caught and handled: most of the above (except for owls), snakes, beetles, and a bat.  I read several books about animals.  Way back in elementary school, I began to consider becoming a wildlife biologist.  I thought that this might be an interesting, fun, and rewarding career.

Weighing the eternal value of certain fields

However, when I became a Christian in the midst of making major college and career decisions, I began to question my interest in this field.  I sensed that since there may not be animals in heaven, perhaps I should redirect my career path to being a teacher.  I knew that people had eternal value.

What I have learned is that just because something does not last into eternity, it does not mean that that it has no temporal value.  (See article I wrote for my blog, “Drilling Holes in Metal”.)  Moreover, people do have eternal value.  Therefore, if we wish to pursue a career that meets people’s needs and brings shalom and healing to our world, it is of value in God’s economy.  It matters to God.

In the book that changed my life, Your Work Matters to God, Sherman and Hendricks conclude:

What ‘really matters’ to God is that the various needs of His creation be met.  One of those needs is the salvation of people, and for that He sent Christ to die and He sends the Church to tell the world about what Christ did.  But in addition to salvation – obviously a need with eternal implications – mankind has many other needs.  Just because many of them are temporal needs does not diminish their importance to God, nor does it diminish the value of the work done to meet those needs.  In fact, God thinks they are important enough to equip a variety of people with various abilities to meet those needs.  Furthermore, in meeting the legitimate needs of people, a worker is serving people who obviously have eternal value.  In other words, the product of the work may be temporal but those who benefit from the work are eternal.  So we find that whether or not the product of our labor lasts into eternity, our labor is full of eternal implications.

Does the Bible say anything about the importance of animals?

Let us begin in the book of Genesis.  On the fifth day, God made all of the animals, in sea, air, and land (Gen. 1:20-23.)  In Gen. 1:26-28, we find the creation mandate.  Here, God lays out His plan to bless the humans who were made in His image by giving them a critical mission to rule over the animals (v. 26), be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (v. 28).  The implication is that humans do not exploit the creation, but use it as it was designed and be good stewards of the environment.  They were to nurture it and protect it.

Later, Adam’s first job was naming the animals.  (See Gen. 2:19-20.)  Adam had to identify the animals’ characteristics in order to give them proper names.  Perhaps he was our first wildlife biologist!

Backing up, in Gen. 2:9, we learn that “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.”  It is not a stretch to think that the animals God made were also created for a variety of purposes.  We see this in Scripture and throughout history.  God made some animals for food.  Others help us work (i.e., horses).  Some are used for transportation (i.e., donkeys).  Some were used by Jesus as a sermon illustration (i.e., birds).  A great fish rescued a wayward prophet (Jonah).  Some were made for just plain fun (i.e., the platypus).  Based on this quick overview, I believe the work of those who study and care for animals has instrumental as well as intrinsic value.

How does God guide us in our career decisions?

I have written on the topic of God’s guidance in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, and in a couple of articles I have posted in my blog.  Part 1 was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog in early March 2017.  Part 2 was published a few weeks later.  I invite you to come back to these articles later on to get a better sense of the process of God’s divine leading.

I absolutely believe that one of the ways God leads us where He wants us to go is to use our interests.  Hardy, in The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work, concurs.  His challenge is that “we ought to take seriously the doctrine of divine providence: God himself gives us whatever legitimate abilities, concerns, and interests we in fact possess.  These are his gifts, and for that very reason they can serve as indicators of his will for our lives.”

In closing, I want to make sure I am clear.  I do not want to go back to 1976 and take a different career path.  I merely want to say that I could have taken a different one and God still would have used me to glorify Him just as much as He has in the unique journey I have been on over the past forty years in the fields of math education, ministry, and the military.  (See blog article on my personal experience.)

The words of the Apostle Paul in Rom. 8:28 certainly apply here.  By His grace, God worked out all things out for my good and for His Kingdom.  He will most certainly do so for you, too.

(Note: A great book on this topic is Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen.)

Immanuel Labor Authors Show Radio Interview

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I had the opportunity to record a radio interview yesterday with The Authors Show, where I discussed my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work. The questions and answers below were agreed to by the host and I ahead of time. Although I did try to stick to the script, I did occasionally expand a little on what I had prepared. I am hoping that this dialogue will inform future readers of my book.

Tell us about this book.

  • Immanuel Labor is a fresh, comprehensive, orthodox Christian perspective on the theology of work. This is a solid introduction to this critical subject. It is especially geared towards those in need of God’s guidance on finding the right career and how to integrate their faith on the job. It is well-grounded in Scripture, contains over 300 inspirational quotes from over 30 Christian writers, offers a wealth of practical wisdom, and includes many personal illustrations from my own faith journey over the past 40 years. Topics consist of the value of everyday work, why work is so hard, the eternal value of work, finding a job that fits, how we are to work, and implications for those in ministry. It includes a helpful index of 400 Bible references and questions for group discussion or personal reflection. This book will expand your view of how God can use your unique abilities in the workplace and how His presence with you at work makes all the difference.

Who did you write your book for?

  • My target audience is Christian men and women from 18-65 who are serious about their faith and interested in applying what the Bible teaches about work. This book would be helpful to readers in the United States or other countries. I have a lot to say to college students and young adult who are just beginning their vocational journey. A lot of what I teach applies to those who have been in the workforce for a while and are struggling a bit to find their way. There are also some good words for those at the tail end of their paid employment.

Is there a central message in the book?

  • I think so. There is a recurring theme of the connection between God’s presence and human work. We see it in Scripture; we see it today in our own lives, if we open up our eyes and look for it. If I could summarize my theology of work in just two sentences, it would read something like this: God created people to be His coworkers in expanding His kingdom on earth. He is present in the work of His children in order to meet the needs of humankind and bring glory to Himself. The big takeaway from reading this book is a clear sense that God has a purpose for them at their job and that He is present is with them.

If you could compare this book with any book out there we might already be familiar with, which book would it be and why?

  • One of the best books I read for my independent study on the theology of work in my last semester of my master’s program with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary was Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, by New York Times best-selling author and former senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church Timothy Keller. As a solid introduction to what the Bible says about a variety of aspects of work, his book comes closest to matching the purpose of my book. Keller’s book and mine explore much of the same foundational principles of work. However, my book goes further to highlight how to apply these biblical concepts on the job in a practical way.

Tell us more about the concept of “Immanuel labor”? What does it mean?

  • Let me read a quote from my book. “This phrase came to me quite unexpectedly when I was working in the kitchen of my house in September 2014 as we prepared for wood laminate flooring to be installed. First, with a hammer and a chisel, I had to remove 132 ceramic tiles that were cemented to a concrete slab with twenty-year-old grout. This was a job I did not want to do, but had to do to save some money. This was going to be dirty, dusty, and sweaty manual labor, done by my own hands. As I began this project, I had chosen to remember that God was with me as I was working. I was doing it for His glory, in His way, and for His good purposes to make my home a bit nicer. At that moment I came up with a rather brilliant pun — ‘Immanuel labor.’” About six months later, as I was putting my two-hour PowerPoint presentation together to give to a small group of local college students, I made an awesome discovery. These two words described the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work. It is not an original idea. Many theologians have spoken of this connection, to include Martin Luther. This phrase continues to shape the way I see and understand work. God’s presence has been part of my experience since I met Christ in high school. God is always present; I try to remember that as often as possible every day. At work, His presence gives me comfort, courage, and conviction, right when I need it. I know that He has worked and is working in me so that He can work through me in the place where He has put me.

Why is this subject so important for all Christians?

  • I know that a lot of Christians do not understand this area of practical theology. Most believers may never have heard or even considered how their “secular” work fits in to God’s plan. Men and women spend the majority of their waking hours at work, and yet these life-changing principles are generally not being taught in church. I think that many believers feel guilty for not being able to do more for the kingdom like I did until I read the book Your Work Matters to God. My brothers and sisters in Christ who work in ordinary jobs need to understand and believe that their work is significant and that it contributes to God’s work in the world. They need know how to think biblically about work, understand what God wants to do in and through them at work, see how to work in a Christ-honoring way, and be fully aware of God’s presence at work every day. When they do, they will see that God works through them as His coworkers to meet the needs of His children, to show His love to the world, and to expand and heal His creation.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since publishing your work?

  • Last October, at the 2018 Faith@Work Summit in Chicago, I had the opportunity to give a copy of my book to Bill Hendricks, co-author of Your Work Matters to God. This book changed my life when I read it as a young Sergeant in Korea in 1989. I had met Bill two years earlier at the 2016 Faith@Work Summit in Dallas where I told him my story and got him to sign my copy of his book. Two years later, when I placed a signed copy of my book into his hands, I mentioned that I had quoted his book often. He was pleased that I was carrying on his message.

How would you describe your writing style?

  • I would like to think that it is much less formal and much more readable than what you would normally expect a book on theology to be. I am a Bible teacher who is much more of a story-teller than a preacher. I share my observations without pointing fingers, trying to manipulate emotions, or make the reader feel like they have missed the mark somehow. I want to be an encourager, which is my spiritual gift. Reading this book may be much more like sitting in one of my Sunday School classes than listening to a seminary professor’s lecture. There is a balance and an ebb and flow to the book. I share some Bible verses. I then simply explain them. I support my ideas with quotes from other authors. I share relevant personal experiences from my own life or someone else’s life to show how to apply this knowledge. I do get pretty deep from time to time, but the book is filled with many more light-hearted inspirational moments that will draw readers in to not only engage with what the Bible says about work, but to sense the presence of the God who created them to be His co-workers in expanding His ongoing work of sustaining and healing His creation.

Who should buy this book?

  • These are the kinds of people who should get this book: young adults, middle-aged men and women, those about to retire, those who love their job; those who hate their job; those in-between jobs; and those at a crossroads. This is a book written for ordinary Christian workers by an ordinary Christian worker. I have been learning and practicing these biblical principles on work for over 30 years. It is personal, positive, and practical so that all Christ-followers who work at a job, at home, or at school can apply these biblical principles in their own spiritual career journey. My unique perspective on the theology of work which I call “Immanuel labor” focuses on the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work. This sense of God’s presence with us at work is something that can be experienced by any Christian today in their own professions.

How Does the Theology of Work Fit with Systematic Theology?

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(Note: this is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in 2018.)

I need to emphasize that this practical theology of work I have known, taught, and lived out over several decades is developed like any other theological topic.  It is based on Scripture, reason, wisdom, and history.  Moreover, it is informed by and informs all of the major themes found in a standard systematic theology—the doctrines of God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, creation, man, the fall, salvation, sanctification, the church, and eschatology.  Our understanding of work is based upon what the scriptures tell us about who God is, what He has done, and what He will ultimately do.  When we understand the four movements of creation, Fall, redemption, and restoration, we see work in a different light.  On the other side, once we see how God’s work displays His divine attributes, for example, we understand the theology of God better.

Okay, so I know a few twenty-five-cent seminary words.  What does all this mean to the average believer?

Well, in simpler terms, a biblical view of work integrates our understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we grow through trials to become stronger in our faith.  God revealed His plan for work at creation.  He showed us how sin has affected work and how Jesus Christ redeemed workers and brought work back to its original purpose.  He taught us how we could and should work in the Lord in order to glorify Him.  He indicated that His followers can expect to take some forms of our work into eternity.

Let me address a few of the key elements of systematic theology up front.

Before I began my in-depth independent study of the theology of work at the tail end of my seminary experience that I began seven years ago, I thought I understood fairly well the basic doctrines of orthodox, evangelical Christian belief.  I understood the doctrine of creation and how it related to work.  I knew that God as Creator demonstrated that He was a worker, yet I lacked depth in knowing specifically how each member of the Trinity worked.  (You will find that I strive for a balanced view of the Trinity, which may differ somewhat from those whose Christian experience is lived out by relating to mostly one member.)  I knew that humans were created to work, which gives work value.

I also knew theology proper, a comprehensive understanding of the attributes of the triune God. However, in relation to work, I had more to learn about God’s sovereignty, providence, and presence, which is foundational to this study.

I realized I had more to learn about the doctrine of man.  I understood the doctrine of the fall, but I found out that this is not where the doctrine of man must begin.  It must begin with an understanding that God created humans perfect.  If you bypass this idea and focus only on man being sinful, you cannot fully comprehend the salvation and redemption Jesus brings, and you will not appreciate the fact that in the end God restores all to Eden-like conditions.  In the beginning, God endowed humans with a great responsibility as co-regents with God in managing His creation project.  All of this understanding will relate to various aspects of our theology of work.  Trust me.

The doctrine of sanctification ties in nicely with the theology of work as we shall see down the road.  Jesus radically transforms His followers so that they can work for Him in the world.  God’s Holy Spirit enables us to do work in a new way.  The trials we experience at work are used by God to develop our character.  The doctrine of the church also relates to work, especially in our discussion of spiritual gifts.

Finally, in the area of the doctrine of eschatology, I was quite surprised as many readers may be to find out how this affects our view of work.  No, we will not be debating various views of the second coming of Christ, the tribulation, or the rapture, which are normally the focus.  Our attention will be solely on what the Bible says the new creation might look like.

In God at Work, Gene Veith shares this valuable insight: “The doctrine of vocation amounts to a comprehensive doctrine of the Christian life, having to do with faith and sanctification, grace and good works.  It is a key to Christian ethics. It shows how Christians can influence their culture.  It transfigures ordinary, everyday life with the presence of God.”

And there you have it—a connection between human work and God’s presence.

How Can we Apply The Idea of Thorns & Thistles?

I have to admit.  I may have focused much more on helping ordinary Christian workers to understand the theology of work than on helping them to apply this understanding.

You might wonder, for example, “How can I use the concept of thorns and thistles in my everyday life?”  I am glad you asked!  Let me offer some assistance by sharing a brief story of what took place at the post office on Saturday a little over a week ago.

It was a routine trip.  I had to get some stamps.  Since it was just before noon, I remarked to the clerk that it was almost closing time.  She acknowledged that she only had an hour to go.  I engaged a bit further, noting that it must be challenging to have to work on Saturday.  She said she did work every Saturday.  Even though she got another weekday off to compensate, it was hard for her because she never had two days’ off in a row.  I replied with compassion that it would be difficult for anyone.  Then I thanked her for her help and for what she does.

How did the fall of Adam affect work?

Before we come back to how you can use your understanding of why work is so hard to engage Christians and non-Christians, let me review some of the basics of this foundational concept of how Adam’s sin affected work in general and how that impacts us at our own jobs today.

I have written on this subject a couple of times.  The very first article I wrote on the theology of work that I posted on my blog in September 2015 was on this critical topic.  This article was published several months’ later on the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University blog.  A year later, I wrote a follow-up article on the extent that all work is affected by sin, not just Adam’s sin but ours.  I included both of these articles in chapter 7 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  I invite you to read both articles to fully grasp these ideas.

To summarize, let me say that work itself was not cursed.  Because of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, when he decided to eat the fruit that God said not to eat, the work environment (the ground) was cursed (Gen. 3:17-19).  Prior to that point, work was purely a blessing and a privilege given by the Creator who Himself worked and created men and women in His image to be His co-workers.  (See Gen. 1:26-28.)  Now, labor for both men and women would be much more painful and difficult than necessary.  This situation will continue until Jesus returns.

Tom Nelson, in his book Work Matters, clearly summarizes the result: “Daily we are confronted by a sobering reality that our work, the workers we work with, and the workplaces in which we work are not as God originally designed them.”  He adds, “Work can make us want to curse.”

How can we use thorns & thistles to encourage other Christians?

So, now we know that every job has its thorns and thistles.  We also know that each job has its own unique set of thorns and thistles.  When we hear a brother or sister in Christ telling us about a difficult situation at work, instead of just labeling it as “complaining”, why couldn’t we turn it into a discussion on the theology of work?  We could remind them, with or without tossing in the appropriate Bible verse in here and there, that this persistent trial, evil boss, or frustrating problem at work is generally part of the curse that Adam brought on all of us.  In addition, these things directly result from the sins of others or our own.  This can lead to a discussion on how to forgive those who sin against us or on the redemption that Jesus provided for our sins.

We may also need to remind them that Jesus does not redeem work itself, but He does redeem workers.  In addition, Jesus gives us opportunities to redeem the time.  By His grace, with His strength, and in His presence we are called to participate in His work of expanding His kingdom into places that desperately need the hope, joy, peace, and light that only He can give.

Lastly, my biblical concept of “Immanuel labor”, which in part refers to the practice of experiencing God’s presence with us at work, empowers us to patiently endure every trial we face.  (A trial may be just a thorn or thistle in disguise).  We know that He is with us as we go through it, whatever it is.  We know that He will work all things out for good, and make us more Christ-like when we draw close to Him.

How might we use thorns & thistles to reach out to non-Christians?

It occurs to me that non-Christians experience many of the same kinds of challenges at work that believers do. It is part of the human condition of being “in Adam”.  I stated only “many” and not “all”.  Perhaps non-believers may actually have more of them, when we recall that the thorns and thistles we experience at work are due to our own sins as well as the sins of others.  They have no supernatural resources to avoid or deal with their own sins as we do, in Christ.  They do not know that God works all things out for our good according to His good purpose in Christ.  We have something of value to offer them that they cannot find outside of Christ.

Since we as believers have tools that are not of this world to adequately deal with our own thorns and thistles, having compassion towards those who do not possess them seems like a natural thing to me. When discussing the challenges of work with non-believers, theirs as well as ours, there may be opportunities to share how our faith in Christ gives us peace in the midst of the everyday storms on the job.

I believe that Christians who do not work in vocational ministry may have an advantage over our pastors and missionaries.  We work in the same world as our unbelieving neighbors.  We know that work will always be a jungle until Jesus returns.  We also know the Way through it.  Perhaps you and I can consider using our common experiences at work to share the good news of Jesus with those who need Him.

I am convinced that people will eagerly talk about their negative work experiences when we give them an opportunity to do so.  The UPS driver would love to chat about fighting traffic, time pressures, and how to get around an angry mutt.  Restaurant workers are full of stories of bad customers, too much heat in the kitchen, and the crazy hours.  Let’s open up the doors to some real conversation, weave in our own stories, and offer them some hope; the only Hope there is.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Such a cute Christmas lizard!

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the loss of our last family pet, Beardie.

I recalled that I had written something of theological value that I used in a Sunday School series I was teaching on the Psalms in the summer of 2012.  I wanted to illustrate how we can discover meaning in a passage through meditation.  I shared some personal discoveries I had made while meditating on the 23rd Psalm right after my son’s bearded dragon lizard had died.

Perhaps this brief reflection on this old familiar psalm might bring some fresh comfort to someone who has recently gone through or is now going through the valley of the shadow of death themselves.

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It was July 3rd, about a month ago.  I was out taking a walk by myself that evening, as my wife was out with some friends.  Minutes earlier, we discovered that my son’s bearded dragon lizard had died.  I had removed him from his cage, and had put him in a shoebox in the garage so that I could bury him the next day.  Needless to say, I was grieving over losing this pet that we had taken care of for over 7½ years.  He was the last of three pets that we had as a family here in Rolla.

The thing that I had forgotten about grieving until that moment is that it brings up other losses in your life.  I thought about our rabbit Pixie who we lost five years ago this month, our dog Boomer that we also had to put to sleep over two years ago, my father who passed away ten years ago last fall, and my mother who will have been gone five years this November.  I prayed for God’s comfort right then and acknowledged that I was acquainted with it from past experience.

About halfway into the walk, these verses from the 23rd Psalm came to my mind.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside the still waters.”  Maybe it was because I was walking across a bridge that spanned a creek that ran under Soest Road.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.  I began to meditate on just that portion. “Lord, I have been to that valley before.”

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, “through the valley of death”.  Or would it?

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 seen this before, in all the years I had read this familiar passage.  Death’s visits are always painful, but temporary.

Another key word I noticed was “walk”.  I walk through this valley.  I don’t just sit there weeping, or lie on the ground, or stand still.  I keep walking.  And so does death.  Our paths may have crossed for a season, and I may be in its shadow, but I continue to walk.  And when I walk, I fear no evil, for He is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me.

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Each one of us will walk through the valley of the shadow of death at some point.  Remembering God’s presence as we work through our grief will enable us to press on.  We will grieve, but not like those who have no hope.  One of my wife’s favorite life verses reminds us, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”  (Ps. 16:2)  Our hope is in God alone.