December 13, 2016 • Life for Leaders
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
If you have been following Life for Leaders for a while, you know that we often highlight the biblically based truth that our daily work matters greatly to God. This perspective is revealed, first of all, in the opening chapters of Genesis. It is reaffirmed time and again throughout Scripture. Work matters to God, not just because we can share our faith with our colleagues or earn money to support worthy Christian endeavors. Rather, our daily work matters to God because he made us to be workers and instructed us to work each day, except for the seventh day, which God set apart as a day of rest. We can glorify God through our daily work when we offer ourselves as servants for his purposes.
Yet, there are times when God does special things in the context of our work and we would be wise to pay attention to these. As the Theology of Work commentary on Luke 1 observes, “Luke’s Gospel begins in a workplace. This continues Yahweh’s long history of appearing in workplaces (e.g., Genesis 2:19-20; Exodus 3:1-5). Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel on the most important workday of his life — the day he was chosen to minister in the holy place of the Jerusalem temple (Luke 1:8).”
Now, we may not think of the temple as a workplace, but rather as some kind of unusually sacred site. To be sure, the temple in Jerusalem was uniquely blessed by God and his presence. Yet, for the priests who served in the temple, it was clearly a place of hard work. Again, I quote from the Theology of Work commentary on Luke 1: “While we may not be accustomed to thinking of the temple as a place of labor, the priests and Levites there were engaged in butchery (the sacrificial animals did not kill themselves), cooking, janitorial work, accounting, and a wide variety of other activities. The temple was not simply a religious center, but the center of Jewish economic and social life.”
Now, Zechariah did not always work in the temple. No doubt he earned a living through his ordinary work in the Judean hill country where he lived. Yet, as a member of a priestly family, when it was time for Zechariah’s division to serve in the temple, he worked hard in this aspect of his life’s work.
Of course, what happened to Zechariah as he was burning incense in the temple was not typical. In fact, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An angel appeared to him, revealing that his elderly wife would give birth to a son. When Zechariah disbelieved the angel’s promise, the priest became unable to speak until the day of his son’s birth. Nevertheless, God did as the angel had foretold, and Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth did give birth to a son, the person we know as John the Baptist.
Probably the main reason that Zechariah doubted the angel’s revelation was Zechariah’s knowledge of basic human physiology. Elderly women like Elizabeth do not give birth. But I wonder if Zechariah responded as he did to the angel, in part, because he was so focused on his work that he was not prepared to be interrupted by God. Maybe I’m reading too much of myself into this story. Maybe not. But the truth is that I can concentrate so completely on my work that I can easily miss God’s interruptions. Perhaps you can relate.
This story from Luke 1 reminds me that God can and will interrupt our ordinary lives, including our work, when he wants to do something special with us. May we be ready, attentive to God’s surprises, whether they come in the form of an angel, or the whisper of the Spirit, or the news of a friend in need.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have there been times in your working life when God has interrupted or surprised you? What happened? How did you respond?
How can we focus on our work in order to honor God in what we do each day and, at the same time, be open to God’s interruptions?
Has God been saying or doing anything unexpected in your work recently? How might you respond to this?
Gracious God, thank you for this story from Luke. Thank you for sending an angel who interrupted Zechariah with such good news. Thank you for the honest portrayal of Zechariah’s response to the angel. Thank you for blessing Zechariah and Elizabeth, even though his first response to you was a lack of faith.
Help me, Lord, to be open to your interruptions. May my heart be attuned to your Spirit so that I might attend to what you want to do in and through me in my workplace, whether in my office, in a meeting, or at home doing my chores.
Thank you, O God, for this season of Advent, for the chance to focus on you in a special way as we prepare to celebrate the birth of your Son. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: God at Work (Luke 1, 2 and 4)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.