Blog - Mirroring God

Your Work--the Work Itself--Speaks

Friday, July 06, 2012

The other day at the gym, a friend who serves as a pastor told me of a "profoundly spiritual experience” he had had the day before. He said, "It wasn’t at church, or during a quiet time alone with my Bible; it was at the mobile home that a small group of volunteers have been working on over the past month as a service to a needy family in our community.” What led to this movingly spiritual experience? His son and a young man from their church spent four hours installing insulation and a vapor barrier under the mobile home. He told me, "they worked for four hours in that dark, cramped space—their backs in the mud, spiders crawling on them, and dirt falling in their eyes and mouths.” My friend said he felt he was witnessing a worship service in an entirely new way. He realized, "they are doing this for Jesus. It’s their love for Him that is motivating them to work in such a secret, selfless, and sacrificial way.” Their work spoke.

As a boy of 10 or 12, I saw a hired man thin sugar beets so well my father talked about him for days. Many crews had done such work for Dad in the past. But they didn’t care nearly so much about leaving the field with no weeds as they did about leaving the farm with their wages. Their work sent a message too, but this man’s work spoke in a way that caused my Dad to thank God.

From what I’ve seen, we Christians associate "witnessing” almost exclusively with speech. We think of it as verbalizing the gospel. Voicing the truth. Talking for Jesus. Spoken words, of course, play a vital part in making Christ known. But somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our grip on the truth that our work also speaks. Powerfully.

"Work itself has no ministry value according to the Christians I’ve talked to,” says Patrick Klingaman in Thank God It’s Monday. For many, a job serves only two purposes—as a platform from which to tell others the good news and as a pay source for supporting oneself, one’s family, and Christian causes. In that view, the work itself counts for little if anything spiritually.

Could it be we need to look again at a major role of God’s work? David knew that, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they [heavens and skies, the work of God’s hands] pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19: 1-4).

God’s work declares. Proclaims. Gushes speech. Has a voice and a vocabulary. Because we were made in the likeness of God, our work also shares a likeness to his. If his work speaks, why shouldn’t ours?

James knew the power of human work to communicate. He wrote, "I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18). I suspect James learned this from his half-brother, Jesus, who had said, ". . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds [works] and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Jesus is highly deeds-conscious. To believers in five of the seven churches he addresses in Rev. 2 and 3, he says, "I know your deeds.” In every case, his word for deeds is the word for work.

In The Jesus Family of Communist China, D. Vaughan Rees tells of a young Chinese man assigned to him as a personal valet: "He did the most menial jobs for me, jobs which I never asked of him. When I thanked him he told me straight out that being thanked rather dulled the keen edge of his service for the Lord. I gradually learned that this was not simply a gesture, but a real attitude deeply seated in his spiritual life . . . . He told me that his work was his only method of preaching. . . . I cannot but testify to this and glorify God for His grace in that young man.” The work of this Chinese Christian man spoke. And God received praise.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

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