God Works Through You

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

If I ever have the opportunity to speak to a large audience about the theology of work, there is one thing I might try to do to impress upon Christians how valuable their ordinary work is.

Before I describe my proposed application exercise that I think will drive my point home straight to people’s hearts, let me revisit a critical topic that I wrote about in chapter 3 my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession and in an article I posted about four years ago here.

In this chapter entitled “God is a Worker”, I laid a solid biblical and theological foundation that the triune God reveals Himself to be a worker, starting in Gen. 1:1.  In six days, God created.  After that, He rested on the seventh day.  From that point forward, God continued the work of sustaining His creation.  By His amazing grace, He created men and women to be His coworkers in this endeavor, which gives all kinds of legitimate work dignity, giving all humans a divine calling.

I asked my readers two important rhetorical questions, “What kinds of work does God do today?  More importantly, by what means does He get it done?”

The answer, in part, comes from Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling.  She shares a concept to describe the different kinds of work God does and how our human vocations fit into this model:

  • Redemptive work: God’s saving and reconciling actions
  • Creative work: God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
  • Providential work: God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
  • Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice
  • Compassionate work: God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
  • Revelatory work: God’s work to enlighten with truth

Later on, I added one more that appeared to be missing:

  • Restoration work: God’s power to repair, clean, reset, and make new.

I think with a little explanation, you take any job worth doing and place it neatly into one of these categories above.  Those who perform these jobs are participating in God’s work in this world.

Now, let us return to my presentation that I would like to give to a room full of ordinary Christians who have probably spent most of their working lives feeling like what they were doing from 9-5 may not have had much if any eternal value.  I know; I used to feel that way myself.

So, after I present some clear biblical, theological, and practical teaching from this chapter, I want to ask each of them to identify which category their work best fits.  This is a critical step in the process in order to participate in two activities which I believe will bring this teaching home.

First, I want each audience member to reflect back to God in a unified prayer of thanksgiving and supplication that directly addresses the value of the work they have been doing.  This prayer that I would lead would read something like this:

Our Father, we acknowledge that you are a worker.  You created us and invited us to be your coworkers to sustain and expand the kingdom of your son, Jesus.  You have gifted each of us with skills, experiences, passions, and abilities that no one else has.  You have given us a purpose.  You have divinely called, equipped, and empowered us to serve and love our neighbor by using the unique talents you have entrusted to us.  Help us to see that you are present with us in this labor, that you are meeting our neighbor’s needs through our jobs, and that when we serve you in this way it brings Shalom in this world.  Help us to work for your glory, for Christ’s kingdom, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Second, I am going to ask the men and women who work in each of these seven categories to stand up as a group so that I can recognize them and give them a blessing.  It would go like this:

I want everyone whose job falls into the vocational category of Justice Work to stand.  All who participate in God’s maintenance of justice, we want to recognize you.  If you serve in any capacity of law enforcement, the legal profession, corrections, or in the military, God is working in, with, and through you to bring order out of chaos keep the peace.  You are loving your neighbor by what you do.  This is a better world because of your work.  Your work matters to the Kingdom of God!  Your work has eternal value!  I thank God for you!

I think you get the idea.  What an impact this exercise would have on everyone in the room.

Lastly, I want to emphasize as I close that God will work through people, whether they believe in Him or not.  We all know the stories of how God used Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, King Herod, and many other ungodly leaders as He was protecting, delivering, and providing for His people.  Without a doubt, I know that God will use a non-Christian doctor to heal, an unbelieving Soldier to fight for a good cause, and an atheist firefighter to save a family and their home, for example. 

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ can experience God’s presence at work while He is working in us, with us, and through us to meet the legitimate needs of everyone whom we meet on our journey.  Wouldn’t you want to experience His presence at work every day?  I know that I 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 four, 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. Sixty articles posted on this blog have been published over 100 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.

Reflections on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

As we celebrate the birthday, life, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I have seen several references to his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  I had never taken the time to read it.  Today, I did.

It is important to note that the context of this letter was to address harsh criticism from eight white local clergymen for his leadership in non-violent protests against segregation and police brutality. 

Here are some quotes that got my attention and my heart and some brief reflections in parentheses:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” (Ministry of presence. I need to be intentional to be with those who are suffering.)

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Unlike many other Christians that I know, my heart mind is not wired that way. Out of sight; out of mind. I don’t know why, but I rarely am emotionally impacted by suffering that is happening far away. Perhaps that needs to change.)

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.” (This is relevant to today, but I struggle with this.  The extreme violence of last summer’s riots were counterproductive in addressing legitimate issues of police brutality and racial injustice. Dr. King’s non-violent direct action seemed to get more results.)

“I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging facts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.'” (I believe this country has come a long way since this letter was written, but there is still much work to be done. I truly want to understand the pain of my fellow citizens of color. I do want to be part of the solution. I want to see Dr. King’s dream become a reality in my lifetime.)

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. . . Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Ouch!  Lord, help me be more committed to justice than things remaining the same where there needs to be change.)

“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must opened with all its pus-lowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” (I want to understand the real concerns of racial injustice that exist today. It is not obvious to me. It know that racism is not as systemic as it was in the 1960’s, but I also know there are still things that need to be addressed today.)

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.  We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”  (I have not been silent on these issues, but I have not said nearly enough.)

“I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church.  I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies.  Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many other have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”  (This was painful to read.  The church universal should have been the church united on the issue of racial injustice from the start.  Shame on any church today that opposes or is silent on this issue.  The church should be a model of racial reconciliation.)

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.” (Amen!)

This was a powerfully written letter.  My brother, Dr. King was God’s chosen instrument to speak out and take action to oppose segregation and racial injustice.  May God raise up others who can speak out in such an articulate manner today. 

May I be part of this critical and righteous cause for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who died for every man and woman of every race and color, and who brings us hope, healing, and restoration.

(Note: I invite you to read other articles I wrote on this topic: an article from February 2019 on diversity in the workplace inspired by the film, “Hidden Figures”, my review of Benjamin Watson’s book, Under My Skin from November 2019, and an article from November 2020 on building your team by showing dignity and respect.)

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 four, 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 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 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.