Work as Holy War: Boot Camp Business

By Greg Forster; part three of a series.

This series is about daily work as a primary front in the holy war to reclaim the world from Satan. In my last post I emphasized that although heart change must come first, in the sense that it is logically prior to life change, this doesn’t mean we are more concerned about “individual” or “private” resistance to evil rather than “community” or “public” resistance. As promised, in this post we will look at how heart change, in practice, means public resistance to evil.

And that’s where work and workplaces come in.

It amazes me how few people in the faith and work movement are aware that Dallas Willard, in his landmark book The Divine Conspiracy, identifies daily work – which he called “service” – not only as one of the primary spiritual disciplines but as the particular discipline that would take up more time and attention than any other, at least for most people. The reason is one well known to us in our movement: because that’s what we spend most of our time doing anyway. Most of life cannot be spiritual formation unless work is spiritual formation.

We tend to associate Willard’s emphasis on spiritual formation, and indeed almost all discussion of “spiritual formation,” with such disciplines as silence and fasting. But Willard himself, while he obviously thought those things were important, put daily work at the center of the agenda for spiritual formation.

Look at his “Golden Triangle of Spiritual Growth,” on p. 347 of my edition. The action of the Holy Spirit is the apex corner of the triangle. All the things we think of as spiritual disciplines – silence, prayer, fasting – Willard lumps together on one of the two corners at the base of the triangle as “planned disciplines.” What he puts on the other corner at the base of the triangle – implicitly making it equal in importance to all the “planned disciplines” combined – was what he calls “ordinary events of life.”

And treating “ordinary events of life” as spiritual formation is the discipline of service.

Now, what does all this have to do with holy war? Just this: Willard characterized the substance of those “ordinary events of life” with three synonyms: tests, trials, temptations.

Recall the mental image of injustice, and our resistance to it, from Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines that I cited in the end of the last post. Injustice passes through human communities like a wave passes through the ocean; it is able to progress because the individual water molecules do not resist its motion, but passively go along with and thereby transmit to others the force exerted upon them. Resistance to injustice consists of training water molecules not to passively transmit unjust forces through their actions, but to resist them by noncompliance.

My point in the last post was to emphasize that this puts heart change at the center; the point is not to rearrange the water molecules in some kind of injustice-resisting structure, but to transform them from passive transmitters into active nontransmitters.

My point now is this: the ocean is, most of the time for most of us, the workplace.

From these observations I draw two conclusions:

  • Any serious agenda for resisting injustice in our world must have, as a central element, a serious agenda for spiritual formation (see below).
  • Any serious agenda for spiritual formation must have, as a central element, a serious agenda for resisting injustice in our world (see above).

To a large extent, although not of course entirely, spiritual formation and resistance to injustice both consist of the transformation of the way people do their daily work through spiritual heart-change. While I would not collapse the distinction between the two entirely, they are certainly not separate endeavors, and even the importance of the distinction between them has been, I think, overemphasized.

The consequences of this are radical. It may not be the case that the faith and work movement needs to simply merge with the various Christian movements for justice; for one thing, such a merger couldn’t happen unless the justice movements all merged with one another first, a rather far-fetched prospect in light of their widespread captivity to cultural polarization. But it is certainly the case that the boundaries between the faith and work movement and the justice movements ought to be a lot more porous than they are at present.

It also follows that both spiritual formation and resistance to injustice are intrinsically “communal” and “public” as well as “individual” and “private” from Step 1 onward. Because, as we saw, the fact that a person’s relationship with God is the primary constitutive fact about that person makes indiviudal and communal formation interdependent.

And what does this joint action – the transformation of work into a spiritual discipline of resisting evil – consist of in practice? In a section titled “The Glory of My Job,” Willard proposes this:

A gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, nonofficious, nonintrusive, nonobsequious service to others, should be our usual overt manner. This should be combined with inward attitudes of constant prayer for whatever kind of activity our workplace requires and genuine love for everyone involved. (p. 285-286)

Notice that noncooperation with evil comes first, before service.

Those are two dense sentences, and we’ll unpack their power to destroy evil in the next post.

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