Spiritual Disciplines & Working, Conclusion

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Part three of a series. Reprinted from Ethos.

In this series we are looking at six categories of spiritual formation while working. This concluding post looks at the final three categories in detail: Incarnational Working, Spirit-Empowered Working and Social Justice Working.

Incarnational Working

Just as Jesus, who is God, humbled himself to be born and live as a human to enable us to know God better, so also God is able to make himself visible and known through us in our working. In even more tangible ways, God continues to work to sustain his creation largely through human beings, the majority of whom are not Christians, and God relies on us to be his hands, eyes and feet in that sustaining activity.

I mentioned Robert Banks’ magnificent book on God the Worker, in which he reveals the ways that God describes himself as a worker in the Bible, including as a composer and performer inspiring music in his people and creation, and even singing over us (Zephaniah 3:17). God is described as a metalworker and potter fashioning the material world, shaping history and shaping the people (Psalm 8:3, Jeremiah 10:16, Jeremiah 18:1-6). God is also described as a garment-maker and dresser creating, providing and transforming (Genesis 3:21, Matthew 6:30, I Corinthians 15:53).

There are many verses where God is described as a gardener and orchardist in his creation (Isaiah 4:2), and the new creation is pictured as the ultimate garden (Revelation 22:1-2). God is described as a farmer and winemaker in preparing the soil, as well as sowing and planting and harvesting. God is also described as a shepherd and pastoralist of individuals, of the chosen people and of the Messiah (Psalm 23:1-4, Isaiah 40:11, Matthew 2:6).

There is a metaphor of tentmaking with God dwelling amongst his people and resident with the new humanity (Exodus 25:9, Isaiah 57:15, Revelation 21:3). Finally, God is described as builder and architect, building the universe and building community (Psalm 102:25, Isaiah 56:7, John 14:2–3).

Just as the Bible uses these work metaphors to describe God at work in the world, we can see our work as the means by which God is continuing to fill and sustain his creation. Thus, Incarnational Working is about making God visible to those around us, and bearing witness to God at work in the world, in us, through us and (often) in spite of us. Its emphasis is on everyday sacraments, having our eyes wide open and seeing God alive in symbols and metaphors.

The behaviors that demonstrate Incarnational Working are:

  • An awareness of symbols of God’s presence.
  • The ability to discern metaphors of creation, faithfulness, redemption, salvation, provision and grace.
  • Living like Jesus and doing what he would do, especially in serving those around us.
  • The capacity to see our work as the source material for modern parables to pass on God’s wisdom and the gospel.

Spirit-Empowered Working

Spirit-Empowered Working is focused on using the spiritual gifts in the workplace and seeing your work as a place where God can work miraculously. It is an acknowledgement that God’s presence is everywhere by his Spirit, even in seemingly unlikely places.

It is also recognition that God makes his power available to us by his Spirit. As Paul told Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:6-7).

The behaviors that demonstrate Spirit-Empowered Working are:

  • Discovering your spiritual gifts and seeking wisdom on how to develop and use them.
  • Praying for opportunities to partner with God in what he is already doing in the workplace.
  • Welcoming God’s presence.
  • Seeking to serve those you work with to enhance the workplace environment.

Social Justice Working

When people have a strong sense of calling to work, there is often also a strong sense of working for justice, a better life, for those they work for or with. This might be in obvious areas like social work or aid work, or it might be subtler, such as working voluntarily with a union or employer group alongside their normal working. People with a social justice streak are often very passionate about the causes they get involved in.

Social Justice Working is an expression of compassion, focusing on bringing God’s justice to bear on work activities. It is also an expression of shalom, a word often weakly translated as “peace” but which means so much more. It is about bringing about completeness, wholeness, well-being and harmony. Social Justice Working means that you focus on the way things could and should be, the way things would be in all their fullness. This especially relates to working relationships and work structures.

The behaviors that demonstrate Social Justice Working are:

  • Striving for workplace reform to ease the burden on vulnerable workers, consumers or suppliers.
  • Agitating for equal opportunity.
  • Seeking to express compassion in the workplace.

Applying the Disciplines

While we all have preferred spiritual disciplines, it is good to develop the other disciplines for many reasons.

Firstly, it will give you a different experience of working. If you are typically a person fired up for social justice, the more contemplative discipline of prayerful working will help to deepen your experience of God and the way you look at others.

Secondly, it will help you experience God’s working differently. Each of these disciplines is designed to help us experience the way God works through us. Getting in touch with his Spirit, or with the power of his word, will help you to see God at work more clearly.

Thirdly, it will help you integrate your faith with your working more deeply. It will mean that your faith is not just a set of beliefs, or even a set of actions, that you take to work. Our faith becomes deeply woven into the person we are at work, expressing itself in our thoughts and words and activities, shining like light from the core of our identity.

Finally, it is the most effective way of following Jesus: Jesus demonstrated all these disciplines, and we show others what Jesus is like by practicing these different disciplines in our working. Jesus was holy, gospel-infused, prayerful, made God visible, was Spirit-empowered and advocated justice and shalom.

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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