(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)
It occurred to me last week that I needed to address my own calling as a writer as the New Year begins. This career field of writing is really no different from the many career fields I have already addressed from a biblical perspective in my book, Immanuel Labor, and in several articles I have written and posted on my blog. (See article on how God uses senior executives for an example.)
Last fall, I began to see myself called to be a writer of practical theology. People may wonder about this hobby that has taken up so much of my time. They may be asking themselves several questions: How did this sense of calling develop? Why do I feel so compelled to write? Who is my audience?
How did my calling as a writer develop?
I did not do much of any writing until I was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army over twenty years ago when I submitted my first article to be published in the NCO Journal. I had several articles published in army publications in the early 2000s, long before I got serious about writing on theological topics.
Three years before I began writing and publishing articles on various aspects of the theology of work, I started this blog. My purpose at the time was to reflect on my seminary experience as I was going through. I had a hard enough time keeping up with my classwork as I pursued my master of arts in biblical studies from 2012-2015, so I did not post much. When I graduated, I went back to my blog and started posting some of my research papers and other writing assignments, as well as some of my better adult Sunday School lessons.
Then, in the fall of 2015, I began to take portions of my final project for my independent study on the theology of work, and turned them into short articles which I posted on my blog. After a while, I had the idea to submit some of them for consideration to be published to various faith at work organizations’ blogs. Surprisingly, several of them posted my articles on their blogs. God was really blessing this process! I have had a total of 37 articles published on several popular faith at work organizations’ blogs.
My collection of articles grew over the next four years. I have now written and posted 160 articles on various topics on my blog. In 2019, I wanted to write 30 articles on faith and work, which would bring me to a total of 100 articles on various aspects of this subject by the end of the year. By the grace of God, I was able to write and post two or three articles every month to meet my goal.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work that I wrote over a two-year period and was self-published by WestBow Press in February 2018. A huge answer to prayer! (No, I never wanted to be a paperback writer!)
There was another milestone I noticed as I updated my LinkedIn profile last fall. When I added the 37 articles on faith at work topics, the eleven articles published by the army, the one I wrote for Campus Life magazine, plus my book, I had a total of 50 publications to my name. When I saw that number on the screen, the results of years of work, I concluded that God had indeed called me to be a writer.
Why do I feel compelled to write?
There is power in words to change lives. This is obviously true when we consider God’s words. (See Ps. 119 and Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”)
This is also true when we use human words. Sometimes they inspire us. We still quote from the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sometimes they make us buy things: “Have it your way”, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”, and “Just do it”, to name a few slogans. Words from the heart that combine biblical thoughts with doctrinal soundness and practical teaching have helped Christians grow spiritually from day one.
On a deeper level, I have felt compelled to write because God changed my life, especially in light of my career. He also gave me spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching to help build up the body of Christ. God has given me an original perspective due to my unique career path of math, ministry, and military over the past forty years to prepare me for such a time as this. I absolutely must share these biblical truths with others because they need them as much as I do. God’s truth sets us free.
Who is my audience?
The obvious answer is that I am writing for my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs, extraordinary jobs, rather boring jobs, or something in-between. But there is more to consider.
As I write, I am mindful that what I am saying may reach someone who needs to hear these practical truths now. I am also mindful that there are a great many others who will read my words down the road. I am praying that my unique viewpoint focused on the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work that I refer to as “Immanuel labor” will change the lives of thousands of ordinary Christian workers and be discussed hundreds of years from now, should the Lord’s return be delayed. As I press towards this last season of my life, I am at peace that I have left behind a body of work that God can use to encourage those who need it. God’s truths accomplish what He intends for them to do.
I never know who is reading what I have written. Sometimes it feels like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?” Although I have had some minor disappointments, there have been so many more surprising blessings where God in His grace has used my work. I have seen articles and my book quoted or referred to by writers in other publications a few times. I have gotten positive feedback from several faith at work leaders and authors. My wife often reminds me that my writing is changing lives, sometimes just one at a time. This keeps me humble.
The best answer I can give is that I write for God’s glory. As I write about how to experience God’s presence at work, I am working in God’s presence. Paul asks the first-century workers in Colossae and those of us who have just begun our third decade in the 21st century to consider, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).
One final thought
Recently, I providentially stumbled on a conversation between the Lord and Jeremiah where I read this statement, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19). In the margin, I indicated that this is another example of Immanuel labor – a clear connection between God’s presence and human work. If Jeremiah’s heart was right, God would speak through him to a rebellious nation who needed to hear His message.
These words have personal meaning for a Christian writer like me. The only way that the words I write and post to encourage the body of Christ can be worthy and not worthless is if I remain in right relationship with the Lord. When I remain in His presence by grace through faith in Christ, depending on the Holy Spirit, He will enable me to be His spokesman. God will speak truth through my words.
And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is why I write.
I hope that this helped some of my friends to better understand my God-given passion to write. Perhaps it may also encourage others to boldly pursue their own.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 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.