Illustrations of Thorns and Thistles

(Note: this article has been adapted from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.”)

One of the most important aspects of a theology of work is the impact of the Fall, as described in Gen. 3:16-19.  I discussed some of these basic ideas in a previous article I wrote three years ago.

As a result of Adam’s sin, until Jesus returns, work is always going to be painful, frustrating, and stressful; more difficult and time-consuming than necessary; unpredictable, unproductive, and fruitless; sweaty; full of interpersonal conflict (with sinners); and set in a challenging environment.

Let me expand on that by providing some illustrations from the Bible and from my own experience.

Illustrations from Scripture

Exodus gives us a wealth of illustrations of how work was impacted by sin.  In Exo. 1:11-14, we see that the Egyptians treated the Israelites poorly as their slaves, making their lives miserable with forced labor.  Later on in Exo. 5:4-19, we read that the Israelites’ desire to hold a festival for Yahweh resulted in much more stressful conditions and unreasonable deadlines.  The slave drivers and foremen in charge changed their work environment as a punishment, which meant they had to work harder.  They were forced to gather their own straw instead of having it brought to them, but they had to make the same amount of bricks.

Ecclesiastes paints another vivid description of how empty work can be.  The Preacher concludes, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:17).  He continues, “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?   All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.  This too is meaningless” (Eccl. 2:22-23).  Stevens, in Work Matters offers this concise summary: “Work ‘under the sun’ is impermanent, unappreciated, without results, unfair and seductive.”

The prophet Isaiah sheds some light on how work is impacted by sin.  Isa. 62:8-9 promises the exiles, “Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled.”  While Israel’s enemies were taking God’s people to a foreign land, the food they had grown and the wine they had produced by their own hands went to someone else who did not work for these things.

Illustrations from life

When I painted my fence last year, it didn’t take long for me to experience this phenomenon when I had a major spill.  (I knew Major Spill way back when he was a second lieutenant!)  After working an hour, I inexplicably dumped half of my paint container down the front of my sweatshirt, which was now going to become a rag.  It was time for me to take a break, clean up, and change my clothes.  Painting my fence was far messier that it should have been.

Here is another example.  I was seated next to our plumber at a gathering of friends at a local restaurant.  I seized the moment to ask him some probing questions about his job as a residential plumbing repair specialist.  (I imagine that it was draining.  He looked a little flushed!)  I expected to hear that his thorns and thistles would revolve around challenges with the repair work itself; i.e., jobs taking longer than he thought, finding out that something was more broken than he was prepared for, an inability to get the right tools or parts quickly, the fact that it was extremely nasty at times, that he got scraped knuckles, etc.  However, he indicated it was much more about dealing with many kinds of difficult customers.  Some were inflexible and could not be there when he was available, some wanted to pay him less than the going rate, and some had unreasonable demands.

For others, thorns and thistles on the job appear in different ways.  I stumbled on a video of baby pandas.  There was one frazzled zookeeper desperately trying to rake leaves in the pandas’ area.   Several toddler-like pandas kept climbing into her basket and getting in her way.  These cute, playful cubs made her job more difficult and time-consuming than it needed to be.  Even though it was funny to watch, there was so much frustration.  She had to do the same thing repeatedly with little results to show for her work.

Redemption from the curse

Corbett and Fikkert in When Helping Hurts explain how the gospel affects these negative aspects of work brought by Adam’s sin.  “The curse is cosmic in scope, bringing decay, brokenness, and death to every speck of the universe.”  However, they are quick to remind us that Jesus’s death and resurrection make everything right in creation.  This is the truth we sing about in the well-known Christmas carol, Joy to the World: “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

The good news is that God graciously provides redemption of our work through Jesus Christ. He redeems the worker and to a limited extent, the workplace.  This give us hope for real change.

Douglas Schuurman in Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life, instructs, “The purpose of God’s redemptive covenants is to restore all these relationships.  As each and every central part of life stands under the divine blessing at creation and becomes warped by sin, so too each and every part is being redeemed in Christ Jesus.”  Amen!

God did not leave Adam and Eve to remain in the mess they created for themselves and us.  The gospel of Jesus Christ brings to all some measure of relief from the curse in this life.  In the life to come, I fully anticipate that we will enjoy the work of our hands.  We will no longer toil in vain.  (See Rev. 22:3.)

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Taking Care of our own Garden of Eden

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This past week, I taught on the theology of work at our chapel’s Wednesday Night Live program, using my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work as a resource.  It was week two of our ten-week study.  We had nine students in attendance, up from six the first week, which was encouraging to me.

As it often happens when I teach from God’s Word, I veered a little from my notes when inspiration struck.  Quite unexpectedly, I came up with a critical connection to the NT and an application that somehow I had not expressed in my book.  I would like to recall some of the things I presented, which may be as helpful to others as it was to my class.

First, let me set the stage as to what led to this inspired bunny trail.

After welcoming the new students and introducing the topic by reading a few quotes from chapter 3 in my book, I laid a solid scriptural foundation to describe how the triune God is a worker.  We started with Gen. 1:1, where we see that God created the heavens and the earth.  Next, we read Gen. 2:2-3, where the word “work” is used three times to describe what God did in those first six days.

We moved on to show how the LORD God called Adam to be His co-worker.  This concept is described in Gen. 2:4-5, which is referred to as the creation or cultural mandate.  God blessed Adam with the responsibility to expand His creation.  Timothy Keller, in his book, Every Good Endeavor, states, “We are given specific work to do because we are made in God’s image.”

We then took a quick peek at Gen. 2:4-5, which highlighted God’s plan to work with Adam as His co-worker to cultivate the ground.  God would provide the rain and Adam would provide the manpower.  Next, we read Gen. 2:8, where we see that God had planted the Garden of Eden and had put the man there.  A few verses later, we see the purpose for Adam’s geographic assignment.  Gen. 2:15 informs us that God put Adam in the garden “to work it and take care of it.”

Anyone who has worked in a garden of their own knows how much work is entailed to get the ground ready, to remove the rocks and other vegetation, lay out rows for seeds, plant those seeds, cover them with dirt, water them until they grow, and keep the garden free of weeds and cute furry herbivores.

The idea that Moses was trying to get across to his audience and to us is that Adam’s number one job was to protect the garden and to expand it.

Keller has expounded on what it meant for Adam to take care of the garden.  He argues, “The material creation was made by God to be developed, cultivated, and cared for in an endless number of ways through human labor.”  Later, he instructs, “The word ‘subdue’ might be read to imply that the forces of nature were adversarial and needed to be conquered in some way.”  He continues, “‘ruling’ the world as God’s image bearers should be seen as stewardship or trusteeship.  God owns the world, but he has put it under our care to cultivate it.”  Keller challenges us to consider what God’s blessing of working in the garden entails: “Just as he subdued the earth in his work of creation, so he calls us now to labor as his representatives in a continuation and extension of that work of subduing.”

Dr. Michael Wittmer, in his insightful book, Becoming Worldly Saints, adds a little humor to our discussion.  Evidently, the original readers who understood the Hebrew language may have been amused by the fact that Adam’s name and vocation were linked linguistically.  He mentions that since God made Adam from the earth, Adam’s name actually means “dirt”.  Wittmer observes that we have similar theologically appropriate male names today, such as Clay, Dusty, and Sandy.

Back to last week’s class.

It occurred to me as we were discussing these passages that there were a few parallels worth mentioning between the creation mandate in Gen. 1:28 and the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20.  I thought that since they were more familiar to the latter, this might help my students understand the former by seeing the continuity between these two commandments.  Teachers create connections.

The first command was given by God to Adam at the creation of the world.  The other one was given by Jesus to His disciples at the creation of the church.  Both divine commands apply to us today.  We, like Adam, are made in God’s image; as the church, we are being remade into the image of Jesus Christ.  (See Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, and 2 Cor. 3:18.)  We are called to multiply ourselves in order to expand God’s Kingdom on earth.  God requires our participation in completing what He began.  Most importantly, God’s presence is promised in the doing of this hard work by His coworkers.

Other than acknowledging Jesus’ direct statement about the presence of the triune God to His disciples as He was about to depart, I had not addressed these connections in my book.  I think I will have to do more research to see if any of the other writers on this topic had noticed the same thing.

I was also able to make a personal application during this lesson, one that I was surprised I missed when writing my book.  It occurred to me that just as Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden for God’s purposes, to work with God as his co-worker, we too have been placed by God in our own respective figurative gardens to fulfill God’s purposes there.  I know that everywhere I went, either by my own decision or by Uncle Sam reassigning me while I was on active duty, God always had a purpose for me there.  I was called to take care of the people and things He entrusted to me and to expand His kingdom by multiplying myself through discipleship.

I trust that these observations and application will be helpful to those who are wrestling with their own understanding of the theology of work.  These are fundamental biblical principles that can be life-changing as we face going to work each day.  My vision is that Christians who experience God’s presence at work will say, “Thank God it’s Monday!” and not just wait until Friday to be thankful.

 

How Does the Bible View our Work?

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This past week, social media was lit up by a photo of Geoffrey Owens, an actor who was a member of the ground-breaking and award-winning comedy from the ‘80s, The Cosby Show.  Mr. Owens was recently seen working as a cashier at a Trader Joe’s grocery store.  First, we read shaming comments about how far he had fallen from fame followed by compassion from those who supported his efforts to do what he had to do to pay his bills.  Next, we saw clips of his appearance on a popular talk show, eloquently defending his choice and the value of all work.

I saw this unfolding drama from a unique perspective. My son is an actor who has lived in Southern California for the past two years trying to make his way into the business with limited success.  I can easily understand the plight of actors’ need to work at a variety of jobs with flexible hours in between acting gigs.  Moreover, as a Christian with a biblical view of work, I can also understand his point about the dignity of ordinary work.  Let me explore how the Bible portrays the value of workers that is founded on the idea that God Himself is a worker and that He created people in His image to bring shalom (peace, well-being, flourishing) to His creation.

Work is Intrinsically Valuable

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1989, I read a life-changing book entitled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks.  They explained the intrinsic and instrumental value of ordinary work.  What Sherman and Hendricks taught seemed radical, but was backed up with Scripture and has been echoed by those who address faith and work issues now.

What I learned from their book is that work is intrinsically (by nature, fundamentally, or inherently) valuable.  This is true mostly because the triune God is described as a worker.  We see this in Gen. 1:1 as God created the heavens and the earth.  In Gen. 2:2–3, it mentions three times that God worked.  God continuously works to sustain His creation.  (See Acts 14:16–17.)

Additionally, in Gen. 1:26–28, we read that God made man and woman in His image.  God called them to work and to be His coworkers over creation.  This passage is called the cultural or creation mandate.  The multiplying, filling, subduing, and ruling requirement God gave them was both a blessing and a command.  This was a tall order for Adam and Eve.

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary states, “God worked to create us and created us to work.”  Later, we read, “God brought into being a flawless creation, an ideal platform, and then created humanity to continue the creation project.”  What a high calling we have!

Because God is a worker and we are His coworkers, we conclude that all legitimate human work is valuable, in and of itself.  This includes non-paid work that is done by stay-at-home parents, volunteers, and students.  It obviously does not apply to work that promotes evil, but only to work that produces shalom in society.  This means that whatever job we have is significant, has value, and contributes to what God needs done in the world.  It also means that whatever job anyone else has is significant, has value, and contributes to what God needs done in the world.  We need to treat all workers with dignity and respect.

In his book Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, Ben Witherington states, “A Christian understanding of work emphasizes the intrinsic value of the worker first and foremost. . . The value of the workers reflects not merely the work they do, but is grounded in the persons they are, and whose they are, God’s.”  This is based on the concept that men and women were created in God’s image.

Work is Instrumentally Valuable

We explored the biblical idea that work is good, period. Now we will look at the idea that work is good for us.  Work is also instrumentally valuable.  It has purpose and provides benefits to many.  One of the main purposes of work is that God meets our needs through human work.  God created us as His coworkers with various talents so that He could meet all of the complex physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of people.

In his outstanding book on the theology of work, Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller reminds us, “God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others.  Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”

Sherman and Hendricks in Your Work Matters to God share a great illustration to show the value of ordinary work that meets the broad spectrum of human needs.  A friend of one of the authors builds pallets, which are used in the trucking business to hold boxes of supplies and goods that are transported across the country.  He asks, “How could my friend’s pallets possibly fit into the work of God in the world?”  He explains how they are a “humble link in a complex chain” to deliver products that ultimately make it into our homes.  He indicates, “God has used a rather extensive system of workers” that were directly involved to bring us the food that we thank Him for before mealtime.  He lists the farmers, scientists, bankers, equipment engineers and dealers, truck stop operators, road construction workers, grocery store employees, and his spouse who cooked the meal.  He reminds us that those pallets were present as a part of the process.

Based on this wise observation, I do not want anyone to overlook the fact that those who ring up our groceries, including Mr. Owens, are a part of how God gives us this day our daily bread.

I trust that all who understand God’s truths regarding the nature of work will be able to assert with confidence that all kinds of work and all kinds of workers are necessary and are to be respected. God is a worker, so work is a good thing.  Furthermore, God uses workers everywhere to meet our family’s needs.  Praise God for the gift of work!

Why Does Labor Day Matter to Christians?

Someone who knows my passion for the theology of work recently asked me, “What makes Labor Day significant for Christians?” This is an excellent question.

Let me provide a brief backdrop of the history and meaning history of this holiday, and then illustrate why Christians who work should wholeheartedly celebrate it.

A day to celebrate labor

I did a little research to find out why we celebrate Labor Day in the U.S. on the first Monday in September. Wikipedia states that the holiday “honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country.”[1]

Reading further, I am reminded that during the trade union movement in the late 1800s, it was suggested that there be a holiday to celebrate the laborer. Shortly thereafter, in 1887, it is reported that the first state to make it a public holiday was Oregon.  Over the next seven years, thirty states had begun to celebrate Labor Day, and it was deemed a federal holiday in 1894.[2]

Certainly, Christ-followers should celebrate the many social reforms that came out of the labor movement, which resulted in establishing child labor laws, guaranteeing more livable wages and safer working conditions for all. It should be obvious to the Christian that this movement was biblically appropriate, considering the Lord’s concern for the least, the lost, and the last.  Solomon observes in Proverbs 29:7 that the righteous care about justice for the poor.  This implies that Christians should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defending the rights of the poor and needy.  (See also Proverbs 31:8–9.)

Work matters because Scripture clearly shows us it that it matters to God

First, Christians should celebrate work because work matters a great deal to God. This is illustrated by the fact that there are hundreds of Bible verses that address some aspect of work.

In Genesis, we see in the creation story that depicts God as a worker. He calls humans to work with Him to expand His handiwork.  We also see the downside of work, where Adam’s sin brought a curse on work, making it unnecessarily difficult and resulting in sweat, unfruitfulness, and disharmony among workers.  In the OT narratives, we read about well-known men and women who successfully integrated their faith in God at work—Moses, Joseph, Ruth, David, and Nehemiah.  We also read about ordinary people such as Bezalel and Oholiab, who were called and gifted to work with God in the construction of the tabernacle.  In addition, we find principles on how we should work from the OT writings (Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes).  The prophets also give us some insights about the future of human work in the new creation.

In the NT, we read what Jesus taught about work in the Gospels, as well as what Paul and others wrote in their epistles. We see how Jesus redeems and transforms workers.  Finally, the book of Revelation has some things to teach us about the eternal value of our work.

Work matters because God upholds His creation and brings shalom through our work

Second, our Creator sustains His creation mostly through human labor.

God created us as His coworkers with various talents so that He could meet all of the complex physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of people. God loves people through human work.  Tim Keller confirms this in his book, Every Good Endeavor.  He reminds us, “God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others.  Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”[3]

Isaiah 28:23–29 supports this concept well.  The prophet describes how a farmer does the work of God as His coworker.  God provides the wisdom needed and instructs the farmer how to do the work the right way to cultivate the field, gather the harvest, and process the grain so that His people can eat.  He emphasizes that all of this ultimately comes from God.

Lee Hardy, in his book, The Fabric of This World, presents Luther’s view.  “Through the human pursuit of vocations across the array of earthly stations the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick are healed, the ignorant are enlightened, and the weak are protected … In the activity of work, God is present as the one who provides us with all that we need.”[4]  I meditate on this truth often, thankful for the men and women that God places in my path to care for my family.

The end result of all of this hard work that God orchestrates is a world where shalom increases.

Work matters because God brings blessings to His people through their work

Finally, work is something God uses to bless His people.

Doug Sherman and William Hendricks in Your Work Matters to God have observed several things that the Bible teaches (verses mine).  Through work God meets the needs of people who are of eternal value to Him (Psalm 104:10-31).  Through work God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).  Through work God provides extra money so that we can give some of it to those in need (Ephesians 4:28).  Through work we love God and neighbors by serving them both (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37–40).[5]

In addition, God’s blessings take a variety of forms. Sherman and Hendricks wisely indicate some of the by-products of work.  “People need work.  They need its challenge, its product, its achievement, its aesthetic and emotional rewards, its relational dynamics, its drama, its routine, and its remuneration.”[6]  This idea is supported with our understanding of the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. There, we read that Adam was created to be a worker, or rather a co-worker with God.  We were also created by God for a purpose.  Each of us were given the appropriate gifts, skills, abilities, and desires to be able to perform various functions through our jobs.

Believe it or not, Christians who live “under the Son” rather than merely “under the sun” can find some measure of satisfaction in our work. Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 states that man should “be happy and do good while they live … eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”  It is indeed possible in the Lord to find joy and contentment in our work.

Let me mention one more blessing. It was stated earlier that we love God through work.  Sherman and Hendricks explain how work relates to loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5).  “Just think about how much of your heart, soul, and might go into your work.  Imagine, then, as you spend yourself at that task, being able to say, ’I’m here to do something God wants done, and I intend to do it because I love Him.’  The person who can make this statement has turned his work into one of his primary means of obeying the greatest of God’s commandments.”[7]  Amen!

I highly encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate this Labor Day with praise to the God who is a worker and a new appreciation for His gift of work.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day.

[3] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), 184.

[4] Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 47-48.

[5] Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1987), 87.

[6] Sherman and Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God, 71.

[7] Sherman and Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God, 94.

The Use of the Old Testament in the Psalms (Part 12)

I am finally at a point where I can start reading my Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on the Psalms by Tremper Longman III that I bought a couple of months ago to help me with this study.

In the Introduction, my own insights were confirmed when Longman acknowledged the category of Remembrance in his overview of the various types of psalms.  He advised, “Many psalms look back to the past, particularly to the great acts of God’s redemption.  In laments, the psalmist looks to the past to gain confidence to live in a difficult present and hope for the future (see Ps. 77).  In hymns, God’s rescue (like from Egypt at the exodus) becomes the occasion for celebration (see Ps. 114)” (p. 41).

Longman continues: “A handful of psalms, though, focus on the past, as they rehearse God’s intervention in Israel’s history.  Psalm 136 is a classic example, as it acclaims God’s enduring love by remembering his creation of the world, his redemption at the exodus, and his establishing them in the land of promise” (p. 41).  He also references Pss. 78, 105, 106, and 135.  I had captured all of these psalms listed in my initial survey.

Later, in a section on the theology of the Psalms, I was encouraged to see this statement, which is central to why I have come to appreciate these types of psalms so much: “As we read the Psalms, we hear of God as Creator, Redeemer, Protector, Sustainer, Provider, Guide, and more” (p. 47).  As I read the Bible, I am always looking for indications of God’s attributes.  These prevalent references to what God had done for His people in the past consistently point to who God is.  When the psalmist recalls God’s creative acts, I know that as Creator, God not only made all that I see, but that He continues to sustain His creation.

I want to dive into each of the psalms I listed at the beginning of this study to see what Longman has to say about them.  I will be looking for the reasons as to why the psalmist looks back to God’s mighty works and what we can learn from this reflection on the past.  What was his purpose?  What is the application for us?

The first one is Ps. 8:3-8.  Longman provides the context, stating that it “meditates on the glory of God reflected in his work of creation of the heavens and of humanity, a theme well known from wisdom literature (e.g. Prov. 3:19-20; 8:22-31). . . One purpose of the psalm is to express wonder at the exalted place of humanity in God’s created order.  God has granted men and women dominion over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:28)” (p. 79).

The close links between this passage in Ps. 8:3-8, and Gen. 1:26-28, known as the cultural or creation mandate, cannot be overemphasized.

In Ps. 8:3, David describes God’s creation as “the work of your fingers”.  Longman notes that this gives a sense that God was “personally and intimately involved” in creation (p. 80).  This reminds me how God formed Adam from “the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7).  In Ps. 8:4, David asks in humble reverence and awe why the transcendent Creator of the universe thinks of and cares for mankind.

Longman instructs that the psalmist answers his own question from verse 4.  “The reason why God pays attention to, and cares for, human beings is because of their exalted status within the created order.” (p. 80).

In Ps. 8:5, David states that Yahweh made man “a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.  This bold statement alludes to Gen. 1:26-27, where we read three times that man was created in God’s image.  Longman wisely adds, “Humans are less than God, to be sure, but they are closer to God than anything else in the created order. . . God is glorious, and humanity, as created in the image of God, reflects that glory.  It is a derivative glory, analogous to the way in which the moon reflects the light of the sun” (p. 81).

David, in Ps. 8:6-7, praises God for making man “ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea”.  This is another easily understood connection to Gen. 1:26 and 28, where the triune God stated in both verses that man would rule over all of the animals found on sea, air, and land.

Longman draws our attention to the fact that this psalm ends in verse 9 the same way it began in verse 1.  David sings of “God’s majesty that extends throughout the whole earth” by carefully using a helpful literary device called an inclusio “that gives the poem a strong sense of closure.  This opening and closing proclamation indicates that the psalmist’s main purpose is to draw attention to the majesty of God.” (p. 79).

Certainly, Psalm 8, with its many allusions to Gen. 1, focuses us on God’s magnificence and great care over His creation.  Our natural response is one of humble submission to and acknowledgement of our divine responsibilities to fulfill the creation mandate to expand God’s kingdom on earth, rule carefully over His creatures as good stewards, and subdue the resources He has graciously provided to sustain His creation.

Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 1)

Because of my extensive research and writing on the theology of work, I deeply understand the value of experiencing God’s presence. It has become a critical theme that I am passionate to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ who work in ordinary jobs.  I want to empower others to be able to consistently integrate their faith at work and see God working in and through them.  God’s presence at work, despite the conflict and difficulties inherent to work due to Adam’s curse, can be a source of great joy, peace, and purpose in the places where we spend the majority of our waking hours.

However, based on some of the responses I have gotten, I sense that this idea of practicing the presence of God at work (many thanks to Brother Lawrence for that term) may be perceived as unique, radical, and a departure from orthodox Christianity.  A significant number of people just do not seem to get it, which is frustrating.

In this article, I want to show that this newly articulated concept ties in well with other commonly accepted biblical ideas. There are three main metaphors that are used in the Old and New Testaments to describe how Christ-followers can remain close to God throughout their daily lives.  Let us look at the images of walking with God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Due to the depth of our discussion, I will present this in two parts.

Walking with God in the Pentateuch

The first recurring picture of humans who display a consistent personal faith in Yahweh that we see in the Old Testament is that of walking with God.  In Gen. 5:22-24, it states twice that Enoch walked with God.  This same metaphor was said about Noah in Gen. 6:9.  In the context of Yahweh’s covenant of circumcision with Abram in Gen. 17:1, the LORD commands, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”  One could argue that the prepositions with and before are not synonymous, but they both indicate close proximity to God.  Abram did in fact walk with God, as did his son Isaac.  This is confirmed much later when as Jacob was blessing Joseph’s sons (Gen. 48:15).  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac all walked closely with God, living out their faith.

Moses also frequently uses this word to describe living a life of covenant faithfulness to the LORD. When Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he leaves them with this final imperative, “Walk in the way that the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut. 5:33).  Moses exhorts the Israelites to walk in obedience (Deut. 8:6).  (See also Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 19:9, 26:17, and 30:16.)  As you can sense from reading these verses, even in the Old Testament context, living out this faith was never meant to be merely a Law-focused, trying to earn one’s salvation sort of thing.  It was a life of love, listening, submitting, and enjoying the blessings that come with adhering to the covenant.

It is interesting to note that in Lev. 26:12, God promises that He would walk among the Israelites if they followed Yahweh’s commands.  God’s presence with them in the tabernacle, a picture of the Immanuel that was to come, would function as a reward for obedience, motivating them to continue.  More importantly, His presence is the sole means to enable them to obey.  This idea is articulated quite well by J. Ryan Lister, in his book, The Presence of God. Lister indicates, “The presence of God is a fundamental objective in our redemption and, simultaneously, the means by which God completes this objective.”

Walking with God in the Psalms

This idea of walking in the way of righteousness (i.e., with God) is also a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.  At the very beginning verses of the Psalter, Ps. 1:1-6 presents a stark contrast – one who generally walks in the way of the unrighteous versus one who delights in God’s way.  Whichever lifestyle one chooses determines their destiny.  In Ps. 15:1-5, David uses the term walk to lay out what it means to be a man or woman who dwells in God’s presence by living out one’s faith by word and deed daily.  In the most well-known psalm, David describes the comfort that his Shepherd brings him through the most difficult walk, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4).  He fears no evil because he knows, understands, and has experienced God’s real presence (Ps. 23:5) in his life.

There are many other psalms that directly use the metaphor of walking with God to indicate living out one’s genuine faith (see Ps. 56:13, 84:11, 89:15, 116:9, 119:1, and 128:1).

It should be no surprise to see that David’s son Solomon also leaned on the picture of walking extensively as well. (See Prov. 2:7, 8:20, 10:9, 14:2, and 28:18.)  One who walks in purity and wisdom is the one who truly walks with God.  The converse of that is also true, which was Lister’s point as described above.

Walking with God is the first scriptural image used to describe a genuine faith that is consistently integrated with our daily circumstances. It should be clear that this Old Testament image pairs well with my focus on experiencing God’s presence.  As I have walked with God the Father only by His mercy and grace for the last forty years, His divine presence, through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, profoundly affects what I think, say, and do everywhere I go.  It is a life of dependence on, obedience to, and intimacy with the triune God of the universe.

In our next discussion, we will explore the metaphors that Jesus and Paul used to graphically show what it means to live out one’s faith throughout our day, whether at home, in church, or at work.

Parenting Transitions (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final installment of the series of articles I wrote a few years ago.  This one was originally posted on August 28, 2011.  I think there is some wisdom here worth sharing again.  Enjoy!

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I heard a great song on iTunes on the way to work one day this week – Wayne Watson’s, The Class of ’95.  It’s another tear-jerker, no doubt.  The guy wrote some powerful songs that elicit strong emotions, especially for parents, with songs like Watercolor Ponies, Somewhere in the World, and this one.  It made me think once again about the complex process of letting our children go.  Although Linda and I are 2/3 of the way through, we are still trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can best meet our youngest son’s needs as a young adult and the needs of our older son and his sister (plus their spouses) as newly married couples.

I actually heard Wayne perform this song at a 1995 Promise Keepers Conference.  (Not sure where it was, though; I went to three PK conferences that year – Houston, Denver, and Dallas.)  I remember thinking that Melissa was only ten at the time, and was eight years away from her own high school graduation.  How far off it seemed then, and how quickly it became my turn!

Because the title of the song is tied to what I presume to be his son or daughter’s high school graduation, and since it was more than a few years ago, it probably never got the annual radio station airtime that it deserves.  I think the message is timeless.  Here’s the chorus to this song that many of my fellow middle-aged parents of teens and young adults should be able to relate to:

To the Class of ’95

Congratulations are in line

God has surely been most faithful

He’s been so much more than kind

So get ready to test your wings

And fly away but when you do

Remember you are loved

And somebody here is always praying for you

The universal fear (or dread) of parents as their children approach that high school graduation day is the knowledge that their offspring will inevitably test those wings and fly away, when they are truly ready.   We hope that as they do, they will remain close to us and will always remember that they can come home whenever they need to.

For a Christian parent, however, prayer is always going to be an important element in this letting go process.  I tell all of my kids almost every time I talk with them on our weekly phone call that I pray for them every day, and I really do.  I know Linda does, also.  It brings great comfort to believe that God actively cares for them, just as much, if not more, than when they were home under our roof.

The second verse is worth mentioning here as well, as it shares a deep truth that those who haven’t yet experienced it cannot totally grasp:

So this is what I bargained for

Hushed hello and a rushed goodbye

Old folks said I’d be amazed at how

Quickly the time would fly

Even so, I’m thankful that my God saw fit to lend

This child into my unworthy hands

Who’s less a child now and more a friend

I’m tearing up, reading these lines now.  Like the songwriter, I too am thankful that God lent Linda and I, for a season, our three precious children into our unworthy hands.  And when I say the word “child”, I too truly understand and accept the fact that they are no longer children in the normal sense of the word, but are fellow adults just like us.  And I am truly amazed to see our adult relationships, yes, even friendships, grow with each one of them as time goes on.

So, how have we been showing love to these dearest of friends lately?  Well, we’ve welcomed both of our married children and their wonderful spouses home for a few days, on separate occasions, this summer.  They came when they could, and stayed as long as they liked.  It was great to see them.  We were impressed with how well they treated each other as new Christian families; separate and distinct, yet connected to and rooted from our own.  We bought a new bed for the newlywed couple, after the son cleaned up his old room during his visit, so that he and his bride and his sister and husband can have their own beds to sleep in if they all happen to come home for the holidays at the same time.

A month ago, we brought our youngest son back for his third year of college, a few weeks early like he wanted, to help him get settled into his off-campus home.  We even made another trip this weekend to bring some stuff he left behind.

The past two weeks, we comforted one after a serious fender-bender, and grieved with them at the total loss of their car.  Most recently, we have rejoiced with recent college and grad school degree recipients who have just started jobs in their chosen fields that they are passionate about.

So, for my children, I echo Wayne Watson’s heart-felt words for his own precious gift.  Remember you are loved, and somebody here is always praying for you.