Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.
In 2010, Eugene Peterson declared, “I am prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p. 127).
Let’s think about that for a moment. Surely not: it’s in church on Sunday, or at a spiritual retreat? However, Peterson was not just a scholar and theologian, he was also a pastor, and if you think about it, it begins to make sense.
Where do we get tested, challenged, stretched? Work. Where do we meet people that mean we need to develop patience, learn how to love, choose joy? Work. Where do we have to trust God? Work.
My research interviewing workplace Christians over the last three years has confirmed this.
- Work is where our character gets tested and shaped.
- Work is where our spiritual foundations must be firm.
- Work is where we occasionally experience God’s transformational power.
- Work is where we can bring a fragrance of God’s kingdom.
And the Bible shows us this.
What the Bible Says
We get introduced to Joseph in chapter 37 of Genesis, and he is not a particularly pleasant person (verses 3-4):
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Clearly his father, Israel (Jacob), is not doing Joseph any favors by favoring him. However, it is clear that Joseph has a spiritual formation problem: he has a big ego!
He is the favored son. Do you have a brother or sister who gets the special treatment? Well, that was Joseph, except he had lots of brothers, 11 of them.
They were so tired of his boasting, and special gifts from their dad, that they decided to get rid of him, and he was sold into slavery. That was an experience that began to teach him some humility.
Then he was hired to run a rich man’s house, but the rich man’s wife cracked on to him, so he had to flee from her, testing his integrity. She made up a story and he ended up in prison.
Again, he had to begin at the bottom and work his way into a situation where eventually he came before the Pharoah because of his particular skill in interpreting dreams; getting it wrong had deadly consequences, so he was forced to trust God.
Then God granted him wisdom, he worked out a strategy to get Egypt through a terrible famine, and he was made Prime Minister of Egypt. In that position, he was able to save the people of God (including his family) from the same famine.
Joseph, in spite of all the suffering and frustrations, begins to see the hand of God in all of this. In Genesis 45:5 he is reunited with his brothers and says: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” He wasn’t sold, he was sent.
Do you see what was happening? God was shaping Joseph through his work, and for his work. That can happen for us too, but it is much easier if we cooperate with God.
We can spend our time whinging about work: this problem, that problem, this person, that person. However, can we expect perfection at work in a sin-saturated world? The much better approach is to think and pray through “how is God shaping me through this trial, this challenge, this workplace relationship?”
Think It Through
- What fruits of the Spirit is God forming in you through your work?
- How are you becoming more like Jesus, because of the influence of the workplace?
Thank you for the lesson of Joseph.
Thank you that you used every circumstance to shape him so that he could do your good work.
Thank you that you shape us through our work, and for your work.
Help us to see your hand at work, and to cooperate with your Spirit in the transformation.
Help us to become more like Jesus.
Thank you that the transformation happens in us, so that we can be your transforming presence to those around us.
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.