August 24, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
I spent most of life making things. My company developed design software that helps people lay out home and office spaces. That software is used by manufacturers who sell various kinds of products which people use to outfit those spaces. On the one hand, that software is a great tool for those manufacturers (and their customers) to use. On the other hand, the software technology reshapes how those manufacturers (and their customers) do business, not to mention how my company does business. The things we make wind up making and remaking us.
Work is like that. Not only is work something we do, but it invariably shapes who we become. That is another reason why our work is important to God. Our Life for Leaders reflections are rooted in the biblical conviction that our work is of intrinsic value. God cares about our work, not just as a means to an end, but also because he delights in the result of our work. Still, there is a formational dimension and capacity to our work. We become who we are, at least in part, because of what we do.
One of the reasons our work shapes us is that it is an expression of our worship. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word, avodah, carries in itself the twin and interrelated meanings of both worship and work.) That’s why our text for today is so important. The Psalmist’s specific concern is about those who make idol images rather than worship the Living God. His contention in Psalm 115 is that those who make and worship idols will become like them. Instead of fully alive human beings who are living images of the Living God (Genesis 1:26-27), they become less-than-human caricatures, like the inanimate pieces of rock and wood used in their work of idol making.
So, how is that connected to our work today?
The Psalmist reminds us that our work and our worship – what is of ultimate value to us and what provides ultimate meaning and purpose for our work – are intricately interconnected. In our secular age, it is easy to believe (and behave!) as though our work and our workplace are far removed from any kind of worship. We engage in the antithesis of Brother Lawrence’s devotional practice: we practice the absence of God. What this Psalm reminds us is that we are all engaged, however implicitly and unconsciously, in worship in our work. If that is so, then it is better to be conscious of what we are doing. Given our worship and work shape who we are becoming, we need to be intentional about them.
The Psalmist also reminds us of what is at stake in our work. If we are to become fully human, we must learn to worship the Living God rather than merely focus our worship and work on less worthy ends. We risk abdicating our humanity based on how we practice our work. No doubt, discerning who and what we are worshiping, much less refocusing our worship in our work is difficult. It is much easier to flatten out our work to merely being about profit, about serving our customers, about caring for our patients, about providing for our family, and a thousand other good ends. But, good is not good enough. Or, to be more precise, good is not worthy of being ultimate. Only the Living God is worthy of our worship and work.
Something to Think About:
How have you seen your work shape the kind of person you are? How do you feel about that? What aspects have been positive? What do you wish was different?
Why do you do your work? What are some of the good ends of your work? How do they contribute to the meaning and purpose you find in your work?
How is your work an expression of worship? Who or what do you worship at work?
How does what you ultimately value (worship) shape who you are becoming in your work?
Lord God, Maker of all things, and Lord and Giver of Life, we are grateful that you have made us to be your living image bearers. Thank you for making us human and for intending us to be fully alive in our work.
We confess that we have often worshipped less worthy gods in our work. We have made ultimate what you have made good. We have become less than fully human by elevating to gods the good things that you’ve created. Rather than worshipping you, we have “served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Romans 1:25b)
Forgive us. Restore us. Renew and remake your living image in us and in our work.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, for your glory, and for the good of the world you’ve entrusted into our care. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project: Trust the Lord, Your Helper and Your Shield
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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