(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:
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.