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

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

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.

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.