Working Out My Theology of Work: A Five-Ten Year Vision

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Much of this was written over four months ago, in late October 2016, right before my wife and I headed to Dallas, TX, to attend the Faith@Work Summit, sponsored by the LeTourneau Center for Faith and Work.  I have been sitting on it for a while, waiting for the right time to wrap it up and post it.  I am not 100% sure that now is the time, but here goes.

I had spent part of the day prior to leaving for the event in reflection and prayer.  I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in this conference with 398 other Christian leaders to listen, learn, and participate in discussions.  I looked forward to being challenged in my thinking about this topic that is so near and dear to my heart.  I had high expectations.  I anticipated making a few connections with other subject-matter experts who are as passionate about this subject as I am.  This ended up being a milestone event in my life.  Since then, I continue to find myself eager to seek God’s face and find out what God would have me to do in the next five to ten years with all of this knowledge.

The theology of work has grabbed my heart like no other topic.  I have become somewhat obsessed with developing my understanding of this doctrine so I can teach and encourage others who like me struggle to integrate their Christian faith on the job.  I read eight books in the last year on this subject.  I have written and posted 32 articles here since September 2015, seven of which were republished on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and LeTourneau Center for Faith and Work websites.

I created a Facebook page in January of last year where I have posted close to 200 book reviews, articles, memes, videos, and all of my blog posts.  I think and talk about it all the time.  I am slowly making progress writing a book that I hope to get published by my 60th birthday in the summer of 2018.  (Note: My book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work was published in February 2018 by WestBow Press, nearly six months ahead of my goal.)

I have had an unshakable desire to teach on this subject to college students and adult workers since the spring of 2014, almost a year before I started my seminary independent study on this subject in January 2015.  However, I have not seen this come to fruition.

I gave my two-hour presentation entitled “Immanuel Labor” to a very small group at a Baptist Student Union on two successive Monday evenings.  (I posted ten clips from this seminar on YouTube.)  It was attended by two students the first week, but only one returned the second week.  I had leads on a couple of other possible presentations, but they never materialized.  I also gave a short version to our Tuesday lunch Bible Study at work, and presented it to my adult Sunday School class.  Last fall, I had the opportunity to give it one more time to another adult Sunday School class.

I think it’s important for my readers to know why I feel compelled to pursue this.  Perhaps it is due to the intensity of my research two years ago which has given me such a deep understanding of this topic.  I know that a lot of Christians do not understand and may never have 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.

I feel compelled to get actively involved in this movement of the Spirit.  There are many Christian organizations working hard to get this message out.  I want to be part of the conversation.

I sense that God has given me an original perspective due to my unique career path of math, ministry, and military over the past 40 years to prepare me for such a time as this.  It is a subject I kept coming back to over and over again since I first taught it at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1990.  Perhaps this is a way to put my seminary degree to good use.  I do not know how much time I have left on this earth.  I desperately want to make the most of it for His glory, using the talents and gifts He has given me.  This is my calling.

I can definitely relate to what Elihu, a friend of Job, said to him after he had patiently waited for just the right timing to speak his mind: “I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.  For I am full of wordsand the spirit within me compels meinside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.  I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply” (Job 32:17-20; emphasis mine).

So, where do I feel that God might be leading me now and in the future?

Despite my lack of experience to date, I would still really like to teach and present this seminar on the doctrine of work at a variety of venues at some point: at churches, Christian campus groups, weekend retreats, Christian college or university chapels, conferences, etc.  I can even see the possibility of sharing these biblical principles on a radio broadcast someday.

I do not know if any part of this dream could ever come to fruition; I have an active imagination.  I do not think I could afford to do this full-time.  I know I have to work another ten years or so at my current pay grade before I can even consider retiring from my government position.  But I am ready, willing, and able to travel a few times a year to teach this to a hungry audience if the opportunity arises.

I do not know what the future holds; but I do know Who holds the future.  I know that God promises to lead His people (Ps. 32:8).  By His amazing grace, He has led me safe thus far, so many times throughout my entire Christian life, whenever I’ve had a glimpse of how and where He could use me to minister to others.

Here is a promise with respect to our deepest longings, which has always been a source of great encouragement to me: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).  I am also reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not share a video from a song by the group Downhere.  On that day of preparation, it really spoke to me.  My eyes were wet with tears and my body wracked with intense sobbing as I heard these lyrics in a fresh, personal way: “Somehow my story is a part of your plan.”  I am amazed at God’s grace that has saved and is using a wretch like me.  Please watch it, and make it your own prayer, “Here I am; Lord, send me!”

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, 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 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 also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

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