A “Whatever” Spirituality

One of my least favorite phrases is “the Lord’s work.” When people talk about ministry or describe the work of ministers they sometimes use this phrase: “But you are doing the Lord’s work.” And yes, that is true … God taught and ministered. God brought “theology” into being. God ministered, preached, proclaimed, prophesied, wrote, and spoke. And God called others to do the same: prophets, apostles, missionaries, ministers. Yes, that’s God’s work.

But that phrase ignores a huge portion of Scripture and theology. It relegates the work of God solely to ideas of the mind; it creates a half-spirituality, a spiritual life that is divorced and devoid of the usual happenings of our day.

Remember, from the very beginning God was at work. He created and crafted the world, forming it and filling it. He made it beautiful and he blessed it. And when God chose to “take on flesh and dwell among us,” he chose to be born to a blue-collar family from an out-of-the-way village in Galilee. Jesus had a depth of insight and wisdom into Scripture and theology … but Jesus chose to spend most of his earthly life working with his hands. He learned to be a tekton, a word that can be translated as “carpenter” or “mason” or “craftsman.” For approximately 18 years, until he started his preaching ministry, Jesus apprenticed and then worked as a laborer.

The Lord’s work isn’t confined to preaching and teaching; rather, it is to encompass every aspect of life. I love how Timothy Keller summarizes this in his book Every Good Endeavor: “Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth.” [1]

Which is a blessing, isn’t it? Here’s a difficult reality: we will spend a huge portion of our life working! The average full-time U.S. American worker puts in 47 hours per week, the equivalent of a six-day workweek. But 40% of U.S. Americans work even more, clocking more than 50 hours per week. If you get five weeks off per year (which most of us don’t), then you work 2,209 hours per year. If you work for 40 years of your life (and most of us will work longer), then you will put 88,360 hours into your work—the equivalent of 3,681 and 2/3 days, or 10.07 full years. More than ten years of your life are spent in constant work. Some of you are amazed (and maybe a little disheartened) by those numbers … and some of you are resolving to beat them!

If we are going to spend more than ten years of our lives in constant work, then I believe God desires that work to be a holy moment, a time in which we can connect with God rather than just go through the daily grind. Otherwise, we will wind up with a spirituality that is divorced from our everyday existence, a spiritual life that is more concerned with ivory towers and spiritual retreats than a life that is fully, undividedly connected to God in every moment of every day.

If anybody needed to hear a message about the spirituality of the ordinary, it was the Christians in Colossae. The letter to Colossians is written to a church in a common place full of normal people doing the typical tasks of life. Colossae isn’t on the road to anywhere and it isn’t anything special. It is a middling, mundane town in an ordinary, out-of-the-way place. The Christians in Colossae have a deep faith, [2] but they are also dissatisfied; they are also looking for something more. Maybe they need something that will give their spiritual lives some luster, something that might help them feel more fulfilled in their faith, something that might set them apart or make them feel special. They simply feel like things are too ordinary, too mundane, too normal. They want their faith to feel more fulfilling, their soul to be more spiritually satisfied.

But for Paul, nothing is more satisfying than a life that is lived “in Christ.”

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2:6-7)

The terms “Jesus,” “Christ,” and the combination of “Christ Jesus” are used 32 times throughout these four short chapters! Paul cautions them that nothing outside of Jesus would ever be enough, but with Christ anything and everything could be an act of worship, a way of satisfying their soul.

Later on in the letter Paul reminds them,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:15-17)

When I was a kid in middle school, I would often look at my friends or (especially) my parents and mutter, “Whatever.” It was a way of saying, “I really don’t care,” or, “That’s so unimportant I am only going to utter a single word to show you how of how little worth I deem this conversation.” I mean, depending on tone of voice and the length of the “whatever” you could really exhibit a whole host of emotions, responses, and verbal repartee.

But for Paul, the “whatever” is deeply spiritual: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Our “whatever” is our worship.

Think about what this means: The mundane, ordinary things we do every day can be moments of spiritual growth. Our work can be our worship, our profession can be our praise. What might this mean for you?

  • If you are a teacher, you are influencing the lives of young people and blessing the people they are going to become.
  • If you are a chef or a cook, you can offer hospitality, food, and love to people from all walks of life, remembering that Christ provided food for others, too.
  • If you are an investment banker, you can use your skills and talents to help people from all walks of life become more financially secure to the glory of God.
  • If you work on an assembly line in a factory, you can do your work well, remembering that Jesus worked with his hands each day, too.

Those barely scratch the surface of possibilities! But whenever we are living in Christ and looking for opportunities to us our “whatevers” to God’s glory, we grow to be more like him.

So remember, there is a spirituality in the ordinary. There is worship in our “whatever.”

[1] Keller, 37.
[2] Paul commends them for it in Col. 1:3-6.

 

Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.

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Author:  Publish Date: October 27, 2017

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
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Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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