A few months ago I joined my husband on a business trip for a meeting he did not anticipate to be terribly productive. At some point on our trip I was asking how I could pray for him, and he told me he was praying for the ability to have patience with difficult people in a stressful setting. As his wife, I took this to mean, “Pray I will be nice.”
To be sure, politeness and good behavior can go a long way in tense situations, and as Christians we should indeed always aim to act as graciously as possible, but what struck me about this request was that it would come from my theologically-minded, vocationally sophisticated husband. Here is a man who relied on Augustine’s City of God as a handbook when he was working in public policy, who reads books like Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism to better understand the redemptive aspects of business, innovation and commerce now that he works in business. He believes God works through his work, that vocation is mission. Still, when it came to the tedium of a process meeting with stubborn stakeholders who couldn’t agree about how to streamline the process around new projects it was a stretch to believe God would care.
In fairness to the man I love, this is the rub for most of us. Believing my work matters to God is usually a lot easier than praying as though it does. In practice, praying for virtue and grace sounds better than praying for clarity about how to sequence Powerpoint slides or, even more simply, for creativity as I seek to maximize the use of what is already in my refrigerator to plan family meals and a grocery list for the week. It can feel as though we are being a nuisance to God if we ask for such small, niggling requests, or perhaps we feel if we were better or holier or more professionally competent we would not need to ask for help with such trifles.
My colleague, Bill Haley, recently gave me a framework to better understand this relationship between prayer and belief when, offhand, he noted the Latin phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Loosely translated it means, “the law of prayer is the law of belief” or, more simply, as we pray so we believe. For me it is easier to think of this in reverse – that we pray as we believe — but I think the Church fathers, as usual, are wiser to sequence it as they do. Just as there is a relationship between what we know and what we do, such that we do not ever really know something until we are able to actually take up ideas in flesh and try them out in the practice of real life; it seems right to point out that what we pray and how we pray tells us more about what we actually believe than profession alone. Indeed, our prayers reveal what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world.
In the case of our work, if we believe as the Reformers did that all work is God’s work, then we must work to bring all of it– the hopes, the outcomes, the relationships, the efficiencies, the strategic messages, the objectives and plans for which we toil – to God so that He might fully enter into our work to create and redeem the world through it as He desires. In short, we must go further than praying only for our character as we approach our work, and also pray for the work itself.
So today, if we believe as we profess we do that vocation matters, let us pray for insight about the items on our to do list, menial and insignificant as they may feel, and look to see the immediate and particular ways God will join us in His work which we hold so clumsily in our hands.
Kate Harris is the former Executive Director for The Washington Institute, wife to a good man and mother of their three young children.