Life & Worship: Work

This is the first in a short series of posts for the Easter season, which I introduced last week.

During a good week, the average Christian spends about an hour or two at church – singing, praying, and generally acknowledging God – and maybe a few more hours here and there praying, reading Scripture, chatting it up with other Christians, etc. And the rest of that week is spent at work. That’s four or five hours directly focused on God, and 40+ hours focused on charts, diagrams, budgets, or whatever else working people are up to these days.

This would be a huge problem for Christians if work itself wasn’t a form of worship. But it is.

In my last post, I talked about how the activities of worship include anything that is necessitated by us being God’s image-bearers. That’s pretty vague. To get a better idea of what this might mean, let’s start from the beginning:

Step 1: From nothing, God makes everything seen and unseen.
Step 2: God makes the first human (“in our image”), and calls him “good.” This human has a body.
Step 3: God gives that first human dominion, including naming rights, over everything that He just made. He also tells him to cultivate that garden in the East.
Step 4: God stops making stuff.

At this point, we don’t know very much about God or about people. One of the things we do know is that God is infinitely creative and productive, and that He seems to want people to be as well. Before the fall, God ordains work.

Between then and now, God has revealed Himself to us many times in many ways, including and especially by becoming one of us – the perfect human. This perfect human did a lot of really incredible things, turning water to wine, making a feast out of a few loaves and fish, restoring bodies and lives. And this was over the course of just a few years. For the first 30 or so years of his life, Jesus studied, and made stuff.

Scripture isn’t super clear about how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves in the details of our everyday lives, but I think it’s pretty clear about this. We are supposed to work.

Now we’re kind of treading some tricky territory. Our society has a…complicated…understanding of work, what it is, what it’s for, how much we ought to commit to it, etc. For the sake of clarity, I’d like to define work as productive human activity that sustains and grows us, our families, our societies, and our world. This is a very broad definition; incidentally, there are literally millions of things that qualify as work (and we’re thinking up new ones all the time!) – each of them good, necessary, and potentially worshipful.

One of the mistakes that our society makes in its thinking about work is that it is exclusively related to one’s job. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because we’re kind of obsessed with our careers or we really like money or something. But the legitimacy of work is not determined by how difficult it is or how much money it earns.

Lately I’ve been reading and encouraged by Margaret Peterson’s book Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life. In this treatise on housework, she points out that “in a society dominated by its monetary economy, it is easy to assume that any unpaid activity is either a form of consumption or an oppressive waste of time. But housework, although unpaid, is essentially productive; it is among the ways which humans can and do participate in God’s own work of creation” (Peterson 38). In the office, we might not be particularly creative, and that’s okay. But we should fulfill this part of our human end at home, first and foremost by establishing a hospitable and flourishing household.

Sometimes we also forget that work is a means to an end, not an end it itself. Work is only good and worthwhile insofar as it achieves whatever it aims to do. To be sure, the general aims of work are of cosmic significance.

And this is why work – all of it – ought to be done well. The quality of one’s work is essential to the Christian. Somewhere along the line, the Church (particularly the Evangelical tradition) lost its way and began to devalue tangible worldly things, including work, which was rendered a mere distraction from God that doesn’t ultimately matter.

In her book Creed and Chaos – which is about the things that ought to matter the most to Christians – Anglican writer Dorothy Sayers includes a chapter about work. She reminds us that “the only Christian work is good work well done” (Sayers 108). She also argues that churches should be very interested in how people conduct themselves after the benediction, saying that “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables” (Sayers 106).

Peterson also makes the interesting and compelling argument that “work is sacramental…In a traditional Christian understanding, sacraments are points at which material and spiritual things come together and God is present and active in particular ways… (work), while not a sacrament properly speaking, may in a similar way allow physical objects and actions to link believers to Christian memory, hope, and present faithfulness” (Peterson 40).

I find all of this deeply relieving. It means that God cares about how I use my time, and not just because He’s jealous that I’m not using it all to pray or something. It means that every day matters, not just Sundays. And it means that it’s not idolatrous to care about the emails I send in the office or the food I cook in the kitchen.

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Life & Worship: An Introduction

Every week, I attend a “worship” service. I sing songs that are led by a “worship team,” and refer to my handy “worship folder” for lyrics, prayers, etc. The term “worship” has a bit of a buzzword-quality to it. At the very least, it’s a word that is loaded with meaning that we sometimes casually use as a prefix with other words, especially on Sundays.

There’s nothing wrong with affixing the word “worship” onto the names of the various aspects surrounding a church service – it’s helpful and pretty harmless. However, sometimes I wonder if it conveys the idea that worship only happens on Sundays. While Sundays are definitely sacred, worship can and should happen all the time, in everyday life.

This is what worship looks like. Except not really.

This is what worship looks like. Except not really.

Throughout Easter, I’ll be sharing a series of posts about life and worship, focusing on four topics: work, leisure, rest, and seasons. For now, I’m going to lay a little groundwork, in an effort to ensure that we’re all on the same page.

Full disclosure: these posts could stray into apologetics-territory. Part of why I’m interested in this topic is my desire to defend why I think it’s okay to go to happy hour instead of prayer meetings, why, in addition to the Bible, it’s okay to read anything from Socrates to Stephen King, and why Christians can be legitimately called into things other than ministry (and not just so that they can evangelize to the other doctors, teachers, baristas, etc.). Sorry if I get defensive – this is something that I care deeply about, and I think it’s one of the great things about following a Lord who is Risen.

This Risen Lord is worth our devotion, i.e., our worship. What I’m interested in here what worship looks like – what are the actions associated with it? The sacred activities that transpire in churches on Sundays is a start (and I’d argue that it’s non-negotiable for Christians). But it doesn’t end with the benediction.

Worship starts with recognizing who God is and who we are in relation to Him. This can mean a lot of things, but most basically, it means that 1) He is God, 2) we are human, and 3) we were made in His image.

It’s no simple task, being God’s image-bearer. Because He made us like Himself, God has certain expectations for us. We should be reasonable. We should be  creative and productive. We should exist in community. Amongst other things. Meeting these expectations is the very beginning of worship. Being human is the very beginning of worship, and I think worship is deeply connected to our personhood.

Worship is participating in human activities in a way that glorifies God. When we act like people, especially good people, we are worshipping. What happens in churches is deeply humanizing, but so is what happens in kitchens, classrooms, and coffee shops. I’m excited to further explore this notion in the coming weeks.

We Killed Him

This reflection originally appeared in the Liberti Church/Restoration Living Lent Prayerbook. If you haven’t already, you should check out this great resource – it’s not too late!

In the days leading up to Christmas this year, one of my favorite snippets of scripture kept running through my mind: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV). I smile whenever I think about this sentence, and the beautiful meaning that it conveys – the eternal God of the universe put on skin, moved into the neighborhood, and lived a messy, grace-filled life. What good news!

But Christmas is long over, and lately I can’t get this revision out of my head: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…and we killed him.” God became a person, and we said, “Go home.” He tried to show us Himself, and we said, “No thanks.” He fed and healed us and we said, “We don’t need you.” He gave us a glimpse of redemption and we said, “You are not our King.”

I try not to think about this stuff too much because it bums me out – these thoughts are hard because they require real honesty about the part of the Gospel story that isn’t good. I’m partial to the “practice-resurrection” Christianity that sets its gaze on the risen Lord and the empty tomb, instead of the cross. I confess my sins on Sunday and go about my week. Those few moments of honesty and repentance are enough for me, usually.

"Exodus" by Marc Chagall, 1952

“Exodus” by Marc Chagall, 1952

But thank God for Lent, because those few moments are not actually enough – not after what we did to Him. Thank God that those few moments are drawn out to forty days, where I am reminded that before that glorious empty tomb, there was a bloody cross. Thank God for this season that makes me think about who I am (really) and who God is (really). Thank God that Lent isn’t about finite self-loathing or wallowing in guilt, but existential honesty.

As we draw closer to Good Friday, I invite you to dwell in this uncomfortable honesty. I invite you to acknowledge the startling truth that just as his friends and neighbors betrayed and rejected him, we too betray and reject Christ everyday in our thoughts, words, and actions. I invite you to repent. Because it is only through true repentance that we may move on from that ugly cross and joyfully embrace the empty tomb.