Part two of a series. Reprinted from Ethos.
In this series we are looking at six categories of spiritual formation while working. This post looks at the first three categories in detail: Holy Working, Gospel Working and Prayerful Working.
Once I was writing about work and spirituality, and someone commented: “I don’t know why you are making it so complicated. You just have to focus on working for the Lord and be conscious of your behavior and what you are modeling.” This woman set high standards for herself and her workplace, according to her level of influence. This is a holiness approach.
Holy Working is virtuous, with a focus on personal moral transformation and training in godliness. It emphasizes a deeply moral life, purity, a way of living that stands out from the world around. There is a focus on sanctification, that we are being transformed into the people we were meant to be, and that the fruit of our lives might be the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In many ways, work is the perfect context to develop such fruit. It is where we are often most tested in terms of our patience, gentleness, faithfulness to God and self-control. We should be looking for ways to express love, make peace, celebrate joy, be kind and do good.
The behaviors that demonstrate Holy Working are:
- Working hard and well, being loyal and above reproach.
- Encouraging a focus on values and principles (note: many workplaces play lip service to these, but Christians may be able to champion them).
- Being involved in design work or transformational activities, or helping to manage change. These things help shape the culture of the organisation, allowing you to influence it positively.
- Celebrating the good by acknowledging good work, not just with words but with a mini-party, documenting the story, putting up a sign or symbol.
- Dealing with difficult ethical issues and being prepared to challenge what is wrong.
- Trying to minimize exposure to temptations in the workplace.
Gospel Working is in many ways the default position for evangelicals, and finds its expression in those who are compelled to share their faith with their work colleagues and who run Bible studies at lunchtime and prayer meetings before work. It also is expressed in those who see the Bible as truth for every situation.
Like the other ways of working, Gospel Working should be one of the disciplines we practice, but it should not be seen as the only authentic expression of what it means to be a Christian in the workplace.
Gospel Working is Bible-centered, and focuses on the proclamation of the good news of the gospel either lived or spoken. It emphasizes sharing faith, encountering Christ in Scripture, living the Christ-life, Bible-shaped working and speaking the truth in love.
The behaviors that demonstrate Gospel Working are:
- Focusing on living and working obediently.
- Looking to integrate biblical knowledge with working.
- Defending the truth.
- Linking up with other Christians or forming a prayer group or Bible study in the workplace.
- Seeking every opportunity to bear witness to the gospel in word and deed.
The Bible commands us to “rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:16–18). In his book, Prayer: The Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster talks about prayer reminders: the school bell for teachers, a scrub down for surgeons, when a customer steps forward if you are in retail, when you receive an email notification (p. 133). He refers to Frank Laubach’s The Game with Minutes, in which someone practiced setting an alarm every waking hour and pausing to pray when it sounded. He then set the alarm every half hour, then every 15 minutes, and so on, until it became a habit to stay in continual conversation with God throughout the day.
This is an example of Prayerful Working, the ability to stay in constant communion with God. It is seeing prayer not as the last option, but the first option. It focuses on a deep intimacy with God and a depth of spiritual relationship that can be maintained, even enhanced, in the everyday.
Prayerful Working emphasizes spiritual reflection and continuous prayer. People who cultivate this way of working have a calm ability to be still in the midst of busyness, and are often very contemplative in their approach to issues. There is a spiritual depth to their conversation, and they have often developed the discipline of Christian meditation.
The behaviors that demonstrate Prayerful Working are:
- An awareness of God’s presence.
- The ability to bring everything before God either openly or internally.
- Being able to create rhythms of rest, silence and even solitude in the work environment. While this may be much easier with routine jobs, or roles that involve contact with the natural environment, it can be done anywhere and anytime with some creativity.
- Marked by the celebration of the good things of God: achievements, truth, goodness, beauty, wonder and joy.
In the final post we will look at the other three categories: Incarnational Working, Spirit-Empowered Working and Social Justice Working.
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.
Great article! This aligns with and supports my own unique perspective on work.
In your last section on Prayerful Work, you mention “an awareness of God’s presence”. I label this biblical connection between God’s presence and human work as “Immanuel labor”.
Thank you for writing and sharing this.