October 6, 2022 • Life for Leaders
They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
Our work can become an idol, something we worship rather than a way for us to worship God.
After opening with thanks and praise to God, Psalm 106 quickly turns to an extended confession of Israel’s sins. Verse 6 says, “Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.” The next 37 verses illustrate that truth, using specific examples of occasions when Israel repeatedly and intentionally disobeyed the Lord.
When you get to the end of those 37 verses, you might well expect a word of condemnation or a promise of God’s imminent judgment. What we actually find in Psalm 106, therefore, is both surprising and gracious: “Nevertheless [the LORD] regarded their distress when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (106:44–45). The psalm ends with a cry for God to save Israel, adding several affirmations of praise to God.
In this devotion, I’d like to back up and focus on the two verses that describe one of Israel’s most notorious sins: making and worshiping an idol at Horeb/Mt. Sinai. Verses 19 and 20 read: “They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” Today’s prayer takes seriously the human tendency to turn our work into an idol that competes with God for our loyalty and love. We don’t make a literal idol through our work, but sometimes we do value our work in a way that is almost like worship. Instead of worshiping God through our work as Scripture teaches us, we worship our work and what it produces.
Gracious God, Psalm 106 is hard to read. Yes, it’s painful to remember the ways your people turned their back on you. But this psalm is difficult for us because it also reminds us of ways we have sinned. We are so much like the children of Israel.
In particular, Lord, sometimes we regard our work as an idol. We don’t literally worship our work. But we can value it more than anything else in life. Work can fill our minds and hearts to the point that there’s little room left for you, our families, our church, or loving our neighbors. We can assume that our work belongs to us rather than recognizing that you are Lord over all things, including our work, and that you have entrusted it to us for your purposes.
Forgive us, Lord, for our idolatry. Forgive us for the times we value work more than you. Forgive us for choosing work over family, church, friendship, and service. Forgive us for the times we choose work over rest on the Sabbath. Forgive us for assuming that our work belongs to us, rather than seeing it as a gift you have given to us. Forgive us, Lord, for our workplace idolatry.
But don’t just forgive us. Rather, renew and reshape our hearts. Teach us to think and feel about our work in ways that are right. Help us not to worship our work, but rather to worship you through our work. Teach us to see our workplace as a context for honoring you by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with you. Amen.
Ponder Throughout the Day
Worship God through your work today.
For Futher Reflection
Read all of Psalm 106.
My friend and De Pree Center colleague Dr. Matthew Kaemingk has co-authored a wonderful book on work and worship. It is called, fittingly enough, Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Our Liturgy. I learned a great deal from this book and am happy to recommend it.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God of the “Even So”.
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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.