Blog - Grasping Vocation
Turning Work into Ministry: Part 3--CommuningFriday, February 08, 2013
God’s "to do” list for
us, seen in Genesis 1 and 2, includes communing with him, building community,
and stewarding the earth. This series of blogs explores how we can carry these
out in our daily work. For Part 2, click here.
Communion with God in our work often takes us out of our comfort zone. For the Christian, both the Fall and our Redemption contribute to discomfort in the workplace. First, the Fall. Since Adam, work has involved thorns and thistles. Today we call them stresses and hassles. Second, our Redemption. A working believer, if surrounded by unbelievers, can expect misunderstanding, opposition, or outright persecution.
But the presence of pressure does not signal an absence of God. Just as an auto manufacturer takes its cars and trucks over suspension-pounding proving grounds, God leads believers through difficult terrain—much of which involves our work. As Eugene Peterson puts it in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, "Most of us spend a lot of time at work. This means that our Christian identity is being formed much of the time under uncongenial if not downright hostile conditions.”
He continues, "I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.” Why not "a” primary location? Why call it "the” primary location for spiritual formation? Some might argue that sermons or small groups are "the” primary incubators for godly growth. I suspect Peterson is recalling that the consequences of sin first fell on good, God-assigned work. And it fell largely in the form of trouble, toil, sweat, and painful labor.
On the Richter scale of workplace stresses, Joseph’s registered far higher than what most of us will ever endure on the job. The work assigned by his Dad made him the target of his brothers and led to his being sold to traders and re-sold as a slave. During his first job in Egypt, he experienced sexual harassment, false accusation, and a prison sentence. Yet both in his role as household manager and in the jail job, we read that "the Lord was with him” (Gen. 39:3, 21). So even in his workplace woes, his communing with God continued.
In Loving Monday, John Beckett, chairman of the Ohio-based R. W. Beckett Corporation, writes: "There has been no shortage of trials in my own business career. . . .Over the years, we’ve encountered major industrial accidents, employee problems, product liability issues and financial pressures. . . .Though we have often had difficulty seeing God’s purposes in the midst of the problems we’ve faced over the years, hindsight has revealed his prevailing design and intentions. . . .Difficulty is God’s instrument.” This echoes C. S. Lewis’ statement, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”
Communing with God and facing trouble at work may seem unrelated. But Peter connects them closely. Even undeserved suffering in the workplace, he says, can be experienced in a God-conscious and God-commended way (I Pet. 2:18-25). Bearing up under the pain of working for a crooked boss is walking in the same path of suffering followed by Jesus.
In Christ, workplace hardships become sanctifying. James puts it into perspective: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Perseverance. Maturity. Completeness. God is in all of these. And he is in the pressures that produce such qualities. Those pressures are invitations to keep on communing with him, even when the thorns and thistles scratch and sting.