Blog - Grasping Vocation

Work Takes My Mind Off God

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Imagine the difficulty in doing your work wholeheartedly if you’re afraid focusing on the job distances you from God. To think that way pits your work against your walk with God. It seems as if the job competes with your faith for your attention.

A few weeks ago, Leroy Hurt and I invited Christians to gather to articulate for pastors in our area what they face as believers on the job. Thirty-two from the work world and eight pastors spent the morning of Saturday, Nov. 12, in the forum. We seated them four per table, with most tables including one pastor and three from the workplace. One at each table agreed to take notes.

The format was simple. Every ten minutes we flashed one of eleven discussion topics on the screen up front. Example topic: "Feeling spiritually isolated in my workplace.” Those from the workplace had ten minutes to describe concerns or questions on the topic. The note-takers recorded nearly 150 responses.

One of those responses suggested that the believer made a habit of trying to escape workplace sounds with Christian music: "You try to shut it out of your head with hymns.” Although I was unable to speak with the person who voiced it, that concern reminded me of a worry I’ve heard from other Christians.

The idea goes something like this: The workplace surrounds me with all kinds of distractions such as interruptions, crises, and vulgar language. In addition to all that, getting the work done requires me to concentrate on the task at hand. This means I can’t keep my mind on the things of God. The job environment keeps drawing me away from thinking about Jesus.

What is the answer? Can these two realms—seemingly at odds with each other—be reconciled? An example from the work-life of Daniel may begin to point the way. In chapter 8, after a period of focusing intently on a message from God, Daniel "got up and went about the king’s business” (Dan. 8:27). By setting his mind on government work, did Daniel lose contact with God? No. His spirit remained in communication with God even while his mind concentrated on his job.

If God has placed you in the working world, learn to trust his power to keep you even during those times when you’re thinking about the work. As a believer, you’ve learned to trust God’s saving power. You also need to learn to trust his keeping power. Jude 24 refers to God as "him who is able to keep you from falling.” And I Cor. 1:8 promises: "He will keep you strong to the end.” A hymn expresses that same truth: "Moment by moment, I’m kept in his love, moment by moment I’ve life from above.

Several activities go on in your body without your having to think about them. For example, your heart goes on beating while you’re concentrating on driving your car. In a similar way, the relationship between a believer’s spirit and God continues even when you’re writing a report, training a new employee, or studying for a test.

Jesus prayed, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Clearly, Jesus wants his people in the world—including the work world. But while we’re there with our minds zeroed in on the work, we need to trust God to protect and keep us.

Comments (8)

Jack Lovern (11/27/2011 7:34:59 AM)
Mundane workplace tasks or projects, which on the surface appear entirely secular and devoid of any spiritual value, become a ministry if one applies Colossians 3: 22-24 - whereby those tasks are performed "as unto the Lord". I recall being frustrated and utterly bored stocking shelves in a grocery store during college days - until I heard a sermon based on this passage. I changed my attitude and actually began to enjoy the task, realizing even mundane tasks in the secular workplace have value in God's sight. Such tasks performed well and on time and with a cheerful attitude can in themselves become a testimony and a ministry. Wherever he or she might be employed, the Christian should never follow that old adage, "good enough for government work". In the workplace Christians should have a reputation for "Getting it done, and getting it done right!"
Joe Alexanian (11/30/2011 5:01:25 PM)
I certainly agree with Jack Lovern. I'm reminded also that Jesus worked for about twenty years as a carpenter. Some scholars suggest that the Greek word means stone mason, or builder/contractor. In Galilee there was much more basalt stone than wood. During this time, I'm sure Jesus encountered interruptions, crises, vulgar language, etc. And yet his fellowship with the Father was constant and unbroken. We can follow the example of Jesus and Daniel.
David Rupert (11/30/2011 7:07:46 AM)
You have made a great analogy here. We presume that God operates in boxes -- and that the things of this world simply pale in comparison to the things of heaven. But this High Calling we have -- this connection between the holy and humble is part of his plan. Work, when done right, actually connects me to God
Maud (12/12/2011 2:36:27 AM)
Help, I've been informed and I can't become ingorant.
Matthew Kreider (12/4/2011 7:15:22 PM)
This subject has been weighing heavy on me for years. I haven't resolved it yet. And maybe the tension keeps me running back to Him. Still, your post here helps. It kicks up some of the voices that have probably settled over my heart over the years like a layer of dust.

I'm a high school teacher. Many think it's about as close as one can get to being a missionary, for someone receiving a paycheck. Yes, there are opportunities to serve. But so many factors at work that seem to choke my spiritual life. Still, my point isn't to bring complaints here.

Sometimes I just feel like I'm not planted in good soil. I'm not being nourished, nor am I feeding others very well. You make a good point that we can trust that He will keep us. I've been wrestling with this one for 13 years now. It's an exciting adventure. And it does keep my eyes and ears open. Probably my heart, too.
Larry Peabody (12/5/2011 7:07:24 AM)
Matthew, thank you for your transparency. The fact that you keep "running back to Him" and your realization that the struggle keeps your eyes, ears, and heart open are all signs that God's Spirit is at work in you--difficult as it can be. I'm reminded of something Eugene Peterson says in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: "I'm prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace" (p. 127).
Diane Yuhas (12/7/2011 4:58:58 AM)
I've always wanted to be involved with the most important work. When I was 13, I figured this meant finding a cure for cancer. After I got saved, it meant evangelism. Now I think of it as simply "making disciples" and that can be done anywhere.
Larry Peabody (12/7/2011 7:34:14 AM)
Amen, Diane. I've found it helpful to think of the difference between evangelism and making disciples as similar to the difference between having babies and raising children. Raising children includes having babies, but involves so much more.

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