Our lives may look and feel different than they did a few months ago. Some of us may be dealing with the extra stress due to family logistics, elder care or economic distress. We may be worried about how to deliver a crucial presentation via zoom with the entire family now at home, or whether that lab class will be available again before graduation, or even if we will have a job to return to after this pandemic has passed.
This has me contemplating work - its value, variety and variability. Scripture has much to say about work - both our own work and God’s. At this time, when we may be questioning our value or wonder how God is using our work for his kingdom, it might help us to remember important words from others, beginning with...well, the beginning.
When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, he blessed them with the work of cultivation. They were given a task: to care for newly-spoken grass and trees, vegetables and fruit, foxes and goats, They were partners with the Creator. The work was productive and creative; it was holy. It was something they participated in with God and for God.
Our brother Scott Morris has frequently reminded us that regardless of our workplace, or who our employer is, we work full of integrity because we are servants of the Lord. Ultimately, we work for God.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)
Warehouses, home offices, construction sites, schools, and retail businesses all fall under God’s domain. Although his examples may be a little antiquated, English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses it well:
“To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.”
Whether or not you see your own work as “essential,” whether or not you feel the lack of work, or the over abundance of it at this time during the pandemic, we trust God sees all our efforts for him. We remember Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) who washed dishes and did “everything even the smallest things for the love of God.” (The Practice of the Presence of God)
Currently, our challenge is to refuse to believe the lie that our work is without purpose. Always, our challenge is to avoid the temptation to think our work is inferior to others’, but instead to be thankful all work is being accomplished in Christ’s kingdom. Christ grows us, even sanctifies us, through our work for him. Our job may seem menial or irrelevant to holy purposes, especially right now. Nevertheless, the balance of work and rest is a gift from God. We work as he calls us and we sabbath as he provides. We are not valued or justified by our efforts, but he perfects us in times of difficulty. He strengthens us through our work.
In God’s kingdom children have work; the elderly labor. Is this partially what Eugene Peterson means by”vocational holiness?” Each has a task contributing to the whole. And now, at a time when it seems our work is tenuous, we hold up the psalmist’s prayer.
“May the favor of the Lord
our God rest on us;
Establish the work of our hands
for us -
Yes, establish the work of our hands.”
As we sit in our homes and as our productivity wanes, our liturgy looks different. We may struggle with unwanted Sabbath. We may be discouraged by the poverty and sickness and death and discord; we may be tempted to think prayer is a meager activity, the only thing left to us as a final resort. Let us not be tempted to denigrate this work of God. Now is the time to offer prayer. For ourselves. For one another. For our neighbors. For the sick, for those caring for the elderly. For the fearful. For the hurting. For the world.
For prayer is our work.