December 19, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 1:8-11
Once when [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
Scripture teaches us to value our work because it matters to God. In fact, we can truly worship God through offering our daily work to God. But sometimes God interrupts our work. That happened to a priest named Zechariah. While he was engaging in his priestly duty in the temple, an angel from God interrupted him with incredible news. His story encourages us to be open to ways God might interrupt us as we work.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: Work in Light of Christmas.
If you have been reading Life for Leaders for a while, you know that I 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 God 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 God’s purposes and glory. Our work can even be an invaluable expression of worship.
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, you and I may not think of the temple in Jerusalem as a workplace, but rather as some kind of unusually sacred site. To be sure, the temple 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.”
We should understand that 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 wife, who was “getting on in years” (Luke 1:18), 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. Older women like Elizabeth do not usually 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 your ordinary lives, including your work, whether paid or unpaid, when God wants to do something special with you. Therefore, even as you give your work to God as worship, may you be ready for the unexpected. May you be attentive to God’s surprises, whether they come in the form of an angel, a whisper from the Holy Spirit, or an occasion to encourage an exhausted colleague with a kind word.
Have there been times in your working life when God has interrupted or surprised you? What happened? How did you respond?
How can you focus on your work in order to honor God in what you 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?
If you sense that God is interrupting you in your work, be attentive and available.
Gracious God, thank you for this story from the Gospel of Luke. Thank you for sending an angel who interrupted Zechariah as he worked 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 the angel 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 pay attention to what you want to do in and through me in my workplace, whether in my office, in a meeting, on a Zoom call, 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.
Banner image by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Advent Reflection: Zechariah.
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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.