We long for our work to matter to God; indeed, many days we long for it to matter at all. And we wonder…
Mr.’s Hotaling, Gilman and Baugh have put new feet and muscle to what my colleague and mentor, Steve Garber, has taught for so many years in so many venues. This is a small volume, really, that only took a couple of hours to read through. The message is that doing our work in the ‘secular’ workplace is sacred duty, as much as doing what the world often defines as full time Christian work. It’s not only sacred for being a good witness to the Kingdom, it’s also one of the primary vehicles that God uses to love His people, those that know Him and those who do not yet. “We believe that in his Garden Commission, God did say: ‘Go into the world and make good shoes,'” explain the authors, “Part of the whole gospel of God’s love for the world is meeting people’s need for good shoes and good food.” Whether we manufacture and sell shoes, or produce and serve food, it is our sacred privilege to convey those goods in the best way we can. We are impoverished if we fail to understand the value of that work in God’s eyes.
So, here’s the thing: this trio brings into focus a new way to look at our work, as if we see what God’s doing through His own eyes. Think of a job, any job, and see if you can find a way to connect it with human flourishing – flourishing of almost any kind.
A few examples:
A young friend, Josh, works in finance for a consulting firm. Although he’s done this work for some time, only lately has he come to understand its value as he brings order to the accounts of good businesses, so that they can meet their regulatory requirements and provide goods and services for their customers. His work serves his clients, and they flourish. In turn, his work serves thecustomers (end users) of his client, and they flourish, too. Before now, Josh never considered that this work was as valuable to God as an overseas missions trip.
I have a friend, Kathy, who works at a nearby university, where she places nursing students in practicums at local hospitals. We live in an area where there are plenty of health facilities to choose from, so Kathy’s work can seem routine sometimes. One nursing student asked to be placed in the clinic at the county jail. It took a significant amount of arranging, but Kathy was able to place the student there. Now a young, eager (and by the way, Christian) student ministers to inmates needing health care. She will learn to serve in that environment and the inmates will be cared for by someone who truly desires to be there. Kathy’s work yields both short and long term benefits for the Kingdom. She may not think of it as ‘sacred’ work, but it is.
Another friend, Rosemary is a gifted interior designer. For years she’s worked for different organizations, creating color schemes and arranging physical spaces to suit their tastes and budgets. It’s hard work, with challenging clients, but she perseveres. As an earnest follower of Jesus, Rosemary sees that she may have an impact for the Kingdom in her workplace, by raising someone’s awareness of God’s goodness and love for them, or by coming alongside a coworker through a lunchtime Scripture reading group. She’s a prominent leader in her church community and a vital presence in her neighborhood. However, when we talk about how her work supports the Kingdom, it saddens me to hear her say, “You know, I am really glad to do this work – and I’m good at it – but I do it so that I can support my missionary friends that I know through the church.” She believes that her work matters to God, but not beyond her witness to unbelieving colleagues and the donations she makes to the ‘real’ Kingdom work done by people who serve on the mission field or in parachurch ministries such as The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ or Young Life. At church we pray for missionaries and church programs to bring the gospel message to the underserved of the world. And we should. But we should not forget to pray for our people doing the work that God has created for them (and designed them for) right here. Right now. Every day.
Think about fellow Christians who spend their time juggling test tubes in a lab, bending over excel spreadsheets in an accounting firm, collecting garbage from city curbs, spooning cereal into a baby’s mouth at home, serving in government offices or defending our country overseas-what about them? And what about the work itself? Does the church see the value in it? If you’re a doctor or teacher, maybe, but we rarely affirm other professions. And how does God view the activities that we do every day? The authors of this small, quick read posit that it’s important to God that we recognize Him in our workplaces, and that the products and services we produce help fulfill God’s commandment to love our neighbors.
Over the years our churches have unwittingly advanced this split thinking about vocation: ‘real’ Christian work, work that is at the center of God’s will, is directly associated with church and missionaries, while other professions come in second place. The implication is that this secondary work may support ‘real’ Kingdom work and bring the occasional few to know Christ, but beyond that, it’s deemed a necessary evil and ‘of the world.’ The authors effectively refute this fallacy: “We believe our work matters to God. Even though we may appear insignificant in the role we play, our work and our lives become significant because we are part of God’s delivery system of love. Careers and avocations – where most of us spend the majority of our days – are a primary means of loving our neighbors. Businesses, government, education, non-profits and avocations help people meet each other’s needs and gain dignity by contributing to the good of society. Our work is really God’s love made visible.”
In this little volume, Our Work Loves Our Neighbor, the authors take the time to explore how our heavenly Father works in different endeavors – in fields like telecommunications, accounting, consulting, carpentry and counseling. We learn how these works that seem so secular are, in fact, sacred.
Anne Cregger is a former Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute, a member of the US Navigator Staff, Metro Mission, and she was the founding Director of The Falls Church Fellows Program.