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5 Myths That Keep You from Recognizing God at Work

  • John Van Sloten Author
  • 2017 20 Jun
5 Myths That Keep You from Recognizing God at Work

God is more present at your work than you know. And I think he wants you to know that. The God who made you for himself wants you to experience his presence in that one-third of your life you spend working!

For some, the thought of experiencing God at work has never occurred to them. Work is work,and God is at church. For others the possibility is real, but their experience of God’s vocational presence is lacking. They want more.

As I have preached on people’s jobs over the years and researched my book Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God (NavPress, June 2017) I’ve encountered five vocational myths that keep people from more fully recognizing God at work.

1. It’s All about Ethics.

For many, experiencing God at work is about their behavior. Because they know God, they feel called to work in godly ways, to be morally upright, to have integrity, and to be good witnesses on the job. These things are all good, but they are not the only ways in which God is present in the vocational parable that is your job.

For years I understood Jesus’ parables to be narrative tools for the conveyance of moral and ethical truth; stories with built-in spiritual lessons. I still believe this. But lately I’ve come to realize that the created elements of Jesus’ stories—the down-to-earth, real-life content of ordinary people doing ordinary things (laborers, farmers, jewel merchants, judges, managers, builders, general-store keepers, landlords, and vineyard owners) — also carried revelatory weight.

Good farming, management, and building practices say something about who God is. We can do these things in moral ways and with integrity, but the good that God built into the actual practices of agriculture, economics, and construction also speaks. The nature of hydrologic, economic, and home-building cycles also says something about their Maker (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2).

How is God present in the nature of what you do?

2. It’s about Working for the Common Good.

Often it is said that our jobs are all about working for the common good. Work should make the world a better place. Who can argue with that? And yet working for the common good can get in the way when it comes to engaging God’s ultimate calling for your job.

Recall what Jesus said about what matters most: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Love God first, with every fiber of your being, and then work for the common good.

These are not mutually exclusive, of course, but Jesus’ priority is clear. I think that when we get our priorities out of order, our vocational experience of God is diminished, and work becomes a works-based means of vocational salvation (serving the common good) instead of a gratitude-based response to an experience of the love of God.

Could working for the common good be blinding you to God’s on-the-job presence?

3. Your Job Is Too Small for God’s Presence.

Sadly, we live in a world that unfairly esteems certain jobs over others: white collar over blue, leaders over followers, educated over uneducated, and highly paid over lower paid. This unjust vocational hierarchy leaves many feeling that their jobs are less significant and therefore less worthy of God’s presence, as though God thinks the way the world thinks.

People forget that God is a God who came as a humble servant, worked as a carpenter, and never owned much of anything.  

I’ll never forget meeting Colleen, a 77-year-old woman who used to deliver flyers in my neighborhood. While I’d always say hi when she walked by, one day we had a real conversation. It turned out to be her last day on the job, so I thought I should thank her for her work. I told her about God’s goodness in delivering flyers—all of the people who saved money via those coupons or found the product they needed at just the right price. I told her that she helped people get what they need and that she was kind of like God. It was the best retirement gift I could have given her. After pausing, she smiled and accepted it.

And now the opening story in my book on God at work is her story!

There is no job too small for God’s presence.

4. Your Job Is Too Broken for God to Be There.

When I first talked to a forensic psychologist about his work, he told me that I’d have a hard time finding God in what he did: “Diagnosing and then bearing bad news about what is often irreparable impairment.” It’s easy to cite God’s goodness in jobs that have good in them, but not so much for those that don’t. Or so he thought.

As he started to share with me about what he did, he recognized that when he bore bad news about irreparable impairment, he was in fact imaging a God who once said, “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing” (Jeremiah 30:12). Then, taking it one step further, he saw how the hard-truth-telling nature of his work was like the Holy Spirit’s as well.

“Does a person whose job it is to search for pathology work in a role similar to the Holy Spirit, who convicts of brokenness, sin, and impurity?” he asked. “Unlike jobs filled with the beauty of creation, the pathologist is reminded daily of the futility of our attempts to be whole without God, never able to forget that we, and the otherwise beautiful creation around us, are fallen, and remain so without the hope of resurrection.”

Of course God works through broken circumstances; it’s his modus operandi!

5. Your Job Doesn’t Interest God.

I recall the struggle I had one Easter weekend when I decided to preach on the vocation of a sanitation worker: “Can I do this? Can I preach this kind of job on this holy day?” Then I started my research and found connections I couldn’t have imagined!

Sanitation workers are made in the image of a God who mostly does his cleanup work unseen, who is not afraid to deal with ugly messes, and who is commonly looked down upon, despised and rejected by others. Sanitation workers do a job that is crucial to our basic survival, protecting us from disease, ugliness, and noxious smells. Like God, they take away the trash to make room for the new! Without their work, how could society ever flourish?

So now, every time I see someone taking out the trash, I am reminded of the God who cleaned up my life, keeps it clean, and has made room for the new.

Often, if the time is right, I’ll tell a sanitation worker that I see God in their work in this way. Whether they are a person of faith or not, their response is always gratitude.

And if God is present in even the dirtiest of jobs, then surely he’s present in yours.

About John Van Sloten - John is a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything. He’s preached sermons on dozens of different jobs and has been the recipient of several John Templeton Foundation grants for preaching science. His new book, Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God, releases from NavPress on June 20,2017.

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Publication date: June 20, 2017