Work as Holy War: The Big Picture

By Greg Forster; part six of a series.

This series on daily work as a battle to reclaim the world from Satan started with a cosmic view of the holy war between God and Satan for control of the world. Then we applied this at the personal level and subsequently walked outward from there to the social level. As we wrap up by looking at the second sentence of Dallas Willard’s majestic two-sentence summary of what we are called to in our work, it may at first appear that we are back to the personal. But we are really continuing to move outward, beyond the social and back to where we started, with the cosmic – while also moving further inward at the same time.

That’s the thing about Christianity; it moves you both inward and outward. As Augustine said in On the Trinity, our faith points us outward, to God, telling us that God is three people who love each other and that we need that love if we are to be good or happy. But knowing what it means to love – even if we are talking about the unique agape love whose only source is in God, not ourselves – is something that also requires self-understanding, an understanding of our own experience of love, including our human loves. The word “love” is an empty cipher otherwise.

As we have seen, in his primary description of our vocation in our daily work, Willard inverts the usual sequence by placing resistance to evil first and service to others second. In his secondary sentence, he adds:

This should be combined with inward attitudes of constant prayer for whatever kind of activity our workplace requires and genuine love for everyone involved.

Attitudes of prayer (not just prayer but “inward attitudes” of prayer) and genuine love – as I said, it looks like we are back to the personal. And in one way, obviously, we are. But I think, following Augustine’s insight, that this is also cosmic.

Notice that Willard does not ask us to pray for (that is, have an inward attitude of constant prayer for) the other people involved in our work. He tells us to love those people, and I think it is assumed that loving them includes praying for them. But that is not the prayer he emphasizes.

Willard calls us to pray for the work itself. As important, he calls us to pray not just for our own personal work or even for the work of our own organization or group, but for all work of that type. Plumbers are to pray not for the success of their own plumbing or even for the success of the plumbing done by their company, but for all plumbing everywhere – for plumbing itself, so to speak.

We are to pray for our sectors of service – artists for art, landscapers for landscaping, teachers for teaching, truck drivers for truck driving.

One of the most valuable questions in the Discipleship Dynamics assessment is a question asking whether you can articulate how your sector of service contributes to the common good. Mature disciples of Jesus ought to know not only how their work contributes good to God’s world and how their organizations or groups contribute, but how the type of work they do contributes.

Why does this matter? Because those types are the cosmic level, the holy war of God against Satan. My own work is how I experience the holy war at the personal level. The social level is how I fit in as part of my organization or group (which may involve many different kinds of challenges and opportunities, ranging from “I’m the only Christian in this whole accounting firm” to “I’m the only person in this whole church who thinks it’s important to keep accurate accounts”). But the type of activity in which I am participating, insofar as it contributes good things to God’s world – and woe to me if it doesn’t – is a mode of God’s war against Satan.

Of course that needs to be qualified. Honest accounting is part of God’s war against Satan because it promotes honesty, knowledge and justice, while Satan would prefer lies, ignorance and injustice. This does not mean that every honest accountant is living in God’s kingdom. That is why the personal, inward side of things matters so much. A pagan accountant is not part of God’s kingdom, and that person’s life as a whole is anti-God. However, on those occasions when a pagan accountant keeps his books honestly, that person is being used by God, through God’s sustaining grace to sinful humanity, as a tool to advance God’s purposes against Satan’s. (C.S. Lewis said that the only available options for rational creatures are to serve God as a son or daughter, or serve God as a tool.)

The foot soldier needs to keep the whole war in mind, not just his or her assigned tasks and unit. He or she doesn’t have to know details, but does have to know what he or she is fighting for. That’s essential not only to morale (although that by itself would be sufficient reason) but also to guide the soldier to do his or her tasks rightly and be part of the unit in the right way.

Hence accountants ought to pray not only for their own accounting and accounting firms but for honest accounting itself. That is the war, or at least the part of it in which accountants are involved through their work.

And what is it a war for? “Genuine love for everyone involved.” That is, simultaneously, a summary statement of what we are each individually called to enact in every daily task, however small, and a summary statement of what God is fighting for against Satan.

We advance God’s battle line in the holy war every time we act with genuine love for everyone involved, because that is what God is and what God does, and it is what God is conquering the world to enact everywhere.

So as you go to your daily work, strap on the armor of God and remember: Because Christ has already won the war and given us power by the Spirit…


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