Permission NOT to Do Excellent Work

Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

Isaiah 29:13–14:

The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honour me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Therefore once more I will astound these people
    with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
    the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

There is a well-known quote attributed to Martin Luther: “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

This sounds like a biblical view of vocation, and certainly God is interested in the work of the shoemaker as much as the work of the pastor; and God is interested in the way we do our work just as much as he is in our other acts of worship. However, there is a danger in this quote which is something I have been sucked into as well in my own writing and teaching: the worship of productivity.

It’s an attractive idea, and there is a biblical basis with Jesus and Peter commending our good work and deeds as bringing glory to God (Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 2:12).

I have heard many Christian authors focus on this recently. While for us there may be something attractive about the Gospel unlocking quality work and increasing our ability to do more good work; there is also a threat to our soul in this teaching. Our focus might be on our productivity, our work, as well, the affirmation of others may be a snare for our hearts.

Which is where the Isaiah 29 reading comes in. Through Isaiah, God is warning his people that their acts of worship are meaningless – just as our productivity and excellence is worthless – if our hearts are far from God.

Our relationship with God is the lens through which we should see all our work, and all our worship.

Our work should be done as an act of worship to God, and service of others. We should be effective in doing good work, not for the sake of the work itself, or the reward of admiration from others, but because using our gifts for work honors God, and because the world needs our good work.

This is not an excuse for poor work, but it does release us from perfectionism, or from feeling ourselves inadequate because our physical or mental health is impacting our productivity. God sees, God knows, and he prefers our hearts to be close to him; he prefers us to work in wonder at who he is, and what he can accomplish through our humble work.

Think It Through

  • How have you been sucked into the ego-trap of perfectionism or productivity?
  • In what ways can you draw near to God in your working?

Oh Lord we are sorry for the ways our hearts stray from you.
We seek to work hard and well, and sometimes that becomes for our glory rather than yours.
Forgive us when we worship excellence rather than you.
Forgive us when we worship productivity rather than you.
Forgive us when we work for the affirmation of others, rather than your pleasure.
Retrain our hearts, and refocus our eyes on you, Lord.
Help us to do good work for your sake, and to serve others.
Draw near to us as we work.
Help us to be aware of you while doing our daily work.
Open our eyes in wonder to how you can use our work for your glory.

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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 organizations, 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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