Your Work Matters to God
A few years ago, I was talking with a in sister in the Lord. We were discussing our work. I was in seminary. She was working at the movie theater. I’ll never forget when she said, “Well, I’m not like you, Lilly. I just work in the mall.” My heart broke a little. For Christians when we describe our vocations the words “I just…” should never enter the equation. Every Christian, a priest of God’s kingdom, His royalty on heaven and earth, is never just anything. We are all in service to the king. All of us, through our lives, relationships, and vocation are a critical part of his plan to save humanity and redeem the earth.
Recently my husband Bo, and I, attended the Cana East Clergy Retreat, where we met and chatted with author Hugh Whelchel. His book How Then Shall We Work? is a corrective to the belief that Christians work lives can be sorted into two categories, the secular and the sacred. We tend to believe, that there is church work-priests, deacon, ministers, or missionaries-and then there is everything else, lumped into the category of secular work. Whelchel, along with more than a few notable predecessors, such as, Dorothy Sayers, John Wesley, and Martin Luther suggest that for Christians all work is sacred work. Christians who work as teachers, stay at home moms, janitors, sales associates, or CEO’s are called to devote their vocation to God. This notion of Christian work allows us to not only flourish in our vocations, but bring God’s redemption to our communities. A sales associate or CEO empowered by the Holy Spirit can do immeasurable good for God’s kingdom.
As clergy or missionaries, we often forget the majority of Christians are in the second category. They are “secular” workers. They work in factories, schools, hospitals, or malls. They need to hear this message that their work, whether blue collar, white collar or unpaid, is deeply meaningful and important to God, relevant to the body of Christ, and instrumental to the broader community at large. They need to believe that the Lord had a vocation in mind for them when he knit them together. Moreover, that the Lord will continue to bless, strengthen, and guide them in this vocation. Whelchel went further to say that our work is not simply a platform for evangelism (although that is well and true), but has an intrinsic value to God. As Saint Paul instructed, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master,” (Col 3:23). Or as Martin Luther stated, “the best way to love your neighbor is to do your job well.” God intended us to be interconnected. As Christians when we make someone’s bread, teach their child, or fill their car with gas, it is Christian service. If we are leading a Bible study, serving altar guild, hosting a home group, or planting a church, it is also Christian service.
Whelchel’s work to rediscover a Biblical doctrine of work is not new. If anything, it is embracing and re-presenting ancient church tradition. But it is timely. Because too often we have bifurcated our lives between church on Sunday and work Monday through Friday. Imagine if Christians viewed that all their work was in service to the Living God. Imagine the amount of good that could be done. Christians doing their job out of love – that would be a sight to behold and it would transform communities. Every Christian has the opportunity to serve Christ, and all our work and service has inherent dignity and respect.
Often clergy and missionaries are held on a pedestal. Their work is seen as special, or spiritual, or superior. But really, all Christian work is special and spiritual. We are all in service to the Lord and we are all working for the glory of God. I think as ministers or missionaries one of our calls can be to help our laity discover their vocations, empower them in their work, and show them how, from a Biblical point of view, Jesus and his Church affirms their unique calling.
Dorothy Sayers said it best of all, “In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends.”
How can we, those interested in the mission of the church, move toward healing this bridge? How can we fill this gap? How can we nudge our churches to embrace its workers, not just her ministers or missionaries, but all her workers? How can we encourage our people so that we may never hear the words “I’m just…” out of one of our fellow brothers or sisters in the faith? Jesus is in the heart and the hands of his followers. May we recommit ourselves to his service in all our varied and unique vocations.
Holy Trinity, thank you for our vocations. May we glorify you in them. May we delight in them. And may your church bless all her workers. In Jesus name. Amen.
Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two. After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.