Spiritual Disciplines and Working

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Part one of a series. Reprinted from Ethos.

In the late 1990s I was a mother of young children who had the opportunity of sitting in a class led by Robert Banks and Simon Holt about the theology of everyday life. It was one of the first units presented by a fledgling organisation, the Macquarie Christian Studies Institute (MCSI), led by Robert and integrated with a public university, Macquarie University.

I clearly remember the moment when Robert asked the question: ‘When God looks down from heaven, does he divide everything you do into sacred and secular?’ I had never thought of my life in that integrated way. Instead of dividing my life into sections where ‘God activities’ was a category, I now saw that the challenge was to place God at the centre of all my activities. This reframed the way I saw my work: paid and unpaid.

Fast-forward a few years, and now I was lecturing at MCSI. Robert ran a session for lecturers where he challenged our tendency to focus on the content of what we were teaching. He said that the Jesus-way was very different. Jesus focused much more on process, the way that information was conveyed, the methods of teaching. Jesus taught through story and questioning.

In that same session he also challenged the focus of our teaching, not so much on the teacher and what we wanted to say, but on the learner and what they needed to learn. This was something I had played with, but here was the paradigm-shift I needed.

Fast-forward another couple of years, and I had been introduced by Robert to different ways of thinking about spirituality and our interaction with God. Partly this was through his book, God the Worker, which examined the metaphors in the Bible that deal with the ways that God describes his working to teach specific things, communicate in familiar ideas and also honour that work: farmers and architects and dressmakers and artists.

I can credit Robert with impacting on the most original piece of my writing on faith and work in recent years: spiritual disciplines for working. If work is something important to God… If work is in fact part of the way we do God’s creative, providential, redemptive, justice, compassionate and revelatory work… If work is therefore part of the way we honour and worship God… Then we need to be spiritually formed for that work. We need some disciplines to help prepare us for that work.

Why we need spiritual disciplines

In my experience, there are usually two emphases from the pulpit on the way we look at our work. The first is a focus on evangelism at work. Our work is only important as the place where we seek an opportunity to share the gospel with non-Christians. Therefore, spiritual formation involves learning how to express the gospel in a short, sharp way.

The second focus is on developing a good character to ensure that we do not sin at work. So, we focus on being kind and peaceful and loving and gentle.

However, these approaches see our work as something of extrinsic value only. If we see our work as having intrinsic value to God, then everything changes. Our work matters to God; it is an expression of our worship of God; it becomes a sacred or spiritual activity; and we need to be spiritually formed for work.

So, I developed the spiritual disciplines for working. A spiritual discipline is a habit or a way of looking at things, which needs to be practiced and which illuminates an element of God’s truth and/or brings the believer into a closer relationship with God.

In developing these spiritual disciplines, I was influenced by the work of Richard Foster and his Renovaré organisation. Based on Foster’s six streams of spiritual formation – contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational – I developed the following six categories:

  • Holy Working — for those with a focus on virtue, see work as training in godliness, are wary about temptations in the workplace, work hard and well and value moral purity.
  • Gospel Working — for those who are keen to evangelize where appropriate, promote the truth in their workplace, focus on obedience and enjoy running Bible studies and prayer meetings.
  • Prayerful Working — for those who particularly value prayer and reflection, focus on their relationship with God while working and see the Christian life as lived out in the midst of the everyday.
  • Incarnational Working — for those who see their work as partnering with God in his work as God’s hands and feet, look for symbols of God’s presence and seek to make God visible through what they do.
  • Spirit-Empowered Working — for those who are spiritually gifted, experience God’s empowering in their work, seek to transform their workplace and look for opportunities to bless others through their working.
  • Social Justice Working — for those who are compassionate and love justice, look for opportunities for mercy in the workplace, seek fair treatment for all and are passionate about their work.

This is a brief introduction to the spiritual disciplines, which I describe in more detail in Section 2 of my book Workship: How to Use your Work to Worship God (2017).

In the two remaining posts in this series we will look at these categories in more detail.

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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