Monthly Archives: July 2020

Connecting God and Work

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15, NIV)

How much do we connect our work with God?  In a seminar on faith and work which I attended a few years ago, most of the people in my small group of 12 said that they never thought of their work as having anything to do with God or their faith. 

Our increasingly secular culture would like to keep God and faith confined to Sundays and inside church buildings.  But that has never been God’s plan. He created us in his image and likeness and put us in the garden of creation to “work and take care of it.”  The Second Vatican Council said, “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted as one of the more serious errors of our age.”  In commenting on this condition, St. John Paul II said, “A faith that does not affect a person’s culture is a faith not fully embraced, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived.”

I always remember the response by a legal secretary in our company when she was being counseled about her poor performance in serving the attorneys assigned to her. “I don’t serve anyone but God,” she indignantly declared as she angrily reacted to her job being described as “serving” her assigned attorneys. She was obviously confused about what serving God entailed — that we serve God when we faithfully serve the people and responsibilities in our work.

As Christians who have accepted God’s offer to dwell in us, we serve God and take care of his creation when we bring his presence into our work, seeking to bring his love, truth and excellence to our jobs and the people and circumstances of our workplaces.

James Hunter, in his book, To Change the World, says that the “great commission” has long been interpreted geographically in terms of sending missionaries to faraway places.  But the great commission can also be interpreted in terms of the church going into all realms of social structure, including skilled and unskilled labor, the crafts, engineering, commerce, art, law, architecture, teaching, health care, volunteer service, family life, etc.  He says, “When the church does not send people out to these realms and when it does not provide the theologies that make sense of work and engagement, the church fails to fulfill the charge to “go into all the world.”   

We serve God and take care of his creation when we do our jobs to the best of our ability no matter how significant or insignificant we may view them.  We are acting in God’s plan for us when we bring his presence, truth, love and excellence into the conduct of our jobs. 

How do you view your work?  Do you see it as a piece of the garden of creation to take care of on behalf of the creator of all that exists?  Do you see it as “a thread in the larger fabric of civilization?”    

God Will Have His Way

“So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.  For if this endeavor or activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.  But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

The Book of Acts reports that the Sanhedrin had arrested the apostles and wanted to put them to death because they continued to preach about Jesus contrary to the Sanhedrin’s orders.  A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was well respected, cautioned them not to carry out their intention.  He said that if the disciples’ actions were of human origin they will eventually fail.  But if they are motivated by the desire to do God’s will they will endure, and the Sanhedrin will actually find themselves fighting against God.

If our actions are of human origin – motivated by ambition, pride, recognition, anger, resentment, revenge, sexual immorality, etc., they will eventually fail.  If they are motivated by the desire to do God’s will they will endure.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that “love never fails.” He goes on to say that three things always remain, “faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  The effects of a kind word or a merciful act last forever, radiating outward to others like the ripples from a pebble thrown in a pond. Let me illustrate with a story.

On the day I was scheduled for prostate cancer surgery a number of years ago, a snow storm almost prevented us from getting to the hospital.  While I was being readied for surgery in the pre-op unit, a nurse came in to say that my brother was outside and wanted to come in and pray with me.  He was a brother in Christ, whose name was Dave.  He soon had everyone standing around my bed holding hands, including the two surgeons still in their hooded parkas, the nurses, and my wife as he boldly, but humbly, led a prayer for the doctors and the success of the surgery. 

What was remarkable about all of this was that my friend, himself, was suffering from renal cell carcinoma and a neuropathy in his feet which made it difficult for him to walk.  To this day, I do not know how he was able to travel the twelve miles in a snow storm to get to the hospital.  His act of love and the memory of that scene will be seared in my memory for eternity.

We might ask ourselves, are my actions motivated by seeking God’s will, or are they of human origin motivated by my own self-interest?  Am I fighting against God, as Gamaliel observes, or am I letting the Holy Spirit work through me for his end and purpose?   

Seeing God’s Glory in our Midst

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you wll see the glory of God?”  (John 11:38-43)

Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead and asks that the stone covering his tomb be removed.  Lazarus’ sister, Martha, protests that it has been four days since his burial and that there will be a stench.  Jesus responds with the above statement.   

Martha is looking at the physical reality of the situation as she knows it.  No one has ever walked out of a tomb four days after being buried, and dead bodies start to smell from decay soon after death.  Jesus, however, is looking beyond the limitations of physical reality to demonstrate God’s glory by raising Lazarus from the dead. 

How often do we minimize the glory of God by not being able to see beyond some present day physical reality?  We may be trying to cope with a difficult boss or a lost job, the prolonged care of a loved who is ill or who has died, or any number of circumstances that consume all of our energies and leave no room in our perspective beyond the present reality in front of us. 

When our daughter, Emily, was born with Down syndrome I was shocked.  I didn’t know anything about children with Down syndrome, and thought only the worst.  After having three older daughters, followed by an eleven year gap, and then a son, we were hoping for our son to have a sibling to grow up with like his older sisters.  Now our plans seemed to be thwarted.  I could not see beyond the present reality and cried out to the Lord for understanding.   He responded in varying ways, calming my fears and giving me peace. 

One of the ways in which he shared his mind with me about his love for children with special needs was through the words of author Morris West in his book Clowns of God. It was a book I just happened to pick up randomly and begin to read at a rented beach house when Emily was one. It was a novel about a Pope who had seen a vision of the end times, the imminence of a nuclear war between the U. S. and Russia, and the return of Jesus in the form of a care giver to the Pope.  The care giver identifies himself as Jesus the night before war is to break out and he is challenged to prove who he is.  He picks up a little girl with Down syndrome, sets her on his lap and says:

I know what you are thinking.  You need a sign.  What better one could I give than to make this little one whole and new?  I could do it; but I will not.  I am the Lord and not a conjuror.  I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you–eternal innocence.  To you she looks imperfect—but to me she is flawless, like the bud that dies unopened or the fledgling that falls from the nest to be devoured by the ants.  She will never offend me, as all of you have done.  She will never pervert or destroy the work of my Father’s hands.  She is necessary to you.  She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human.  Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune…More!  She will remind you every day that I am who I am, that my ways are not yours, and that the smallest dust mote whirled in the darkest space does not fall out of my hand. I have chosen you.  You have not chosen me.  This little one is my sign to you.  Treasure her!”

In the thirty-three years since that moment, Emily has taught me as much about God and his ways and his love as anything I have ever read or experienced.  When I look back and see the joy, love and understanding she has brought to our family and all who encounter her beautiful smile, her greetings of love and purity of heart, I see the glory of God in our midst.