Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it!’”
Recently, I was speaking to a group about the challenge and opportunity of seeing our work as an essential element of God’s own work, and a central part of our discipleship. After I finished, a man approached me. His face suggested that he was upset. After we shook hands, he said, “I’m not happy about what you taught tonight. All of this faith and work stuff is just fine for people who work in executive jobs, for business people and other professionals. But I’m getting sick and tired of faith and work conversations that feature business owners and entrepreneurs. Sure, they can be creative in following Jesus at work. But what about ordinary people? What about those of us who go to work, punch a clock, and do manual labor? What about those of us whose jobs are physically demanding or very boring? How does God make a difference in this kind of work?”
As I listened to this man, after corralling my defensiveness, I realized that his critique was an accurate one. All too often discussion of faith and work happens among those who enjoy considerable power and privilege. We can easily overlook the reality of millions upon millions of people throughout the world whose work seems more like a curse than a blessing, people for whom work is a matter of necessity rather than an exercise of freedom and fulfillment.
In response to my unhappy brother in Christ, I wish I had thought to mention Brother Lawrence. He offers a distinct perspective in his classic volume, The Practice of the Presence of God. For decades, Lawrence worked in the kitchen of his monastery. He did not naturally like this work, which was physically demanding and quite repetitive. Yet, it was in the context of this work that Lawrence experienced deep fellowship with God.
In Father Joseph de Beaufort’s summary of the “Fourth Conversation” he had with Brother Lawrence, we read, “He also counseled that we should not grow weary of doing even little things for the love of God. God does not regard the greatness of the work, but only the love with which it is performed.” This is not the wisdom of some theologian writing from the comfort of a library. Rather, a man who worked with his hands at a job he did not like encourages us to do “even little things for the love of God,” the little things that the world might not value, the little things we don’t enjoy. These can be actions of love for God.
Moreover, according to Lawrence, God is not impressed by “the greatness of our work.” Rather, the Lord values “only the love with which it is performed.” This statement reminds me of Jesus’ comment about the poor widow who contributed “only “ a couple of pennies into the temple treasury in contrast to the wealthy who contributed large sums. Jesus said of the woman, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury” (Mark 12:43).
The example of Lawrence reminds us to make sure our conversations about faith and work include all of God’s people, not just those who have naturally rewarding jobs. But Lawrence’s example also encourages all of us in our work, no matter how difficult and unnoticed our work might be. By God’s grace, we can discover how to do our work as an expression of love for God. As we do, not only do we find deep meaning in our work but also God takes delight in our acts of love for him.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What do you think of the man’s comments to me? How might we make the conversation about faith and work more inclusive of all of God’s people?
Do you do your work as a conscious act of love for God? If so, what helps you to do this? If not, why not?
How might you be able to love God through your work today?
Gracious God, thank you that all work matters to you. Thank you for the opportunity we all have to work as an expression of our love for you.
Help me, this day, to do my work in this way. May I consciously offer my work to you as a gesture of love.
And help us, Lord, as we talk about faith and work to include all of your people in the conversation. May we learn from each other. May we be challenged by each other to discover deeper truth and deeper love.