Monday, November 15, 2010

Work AND Prayer? Or Work-Prayer?

As Christians, we work and pray, right?

Or is this a false dichotomy? Are work and prayer so different?

When we pray as petition, we are asking God to work, to be active, to be present in a mighty way. We are obeying His command to pray, and He answers. In these prayers, we are acknowledging our dependence on His power and work and love.

But when we are called to work, is it so different? Serving others, loving the poor, preaching the gospel - we recognize that in these things it is ultimately and foundationally God who is at work. He works through us, it is true, but it is His power that is behind and within and around it all. Our confidence in proclaiming the gospel, for example, is first in God's work drawing His people to Him (see John 6:44). We are called to proclaim faithfully, but this work will accomplish nothing if God were not the one first at work.

So in both these things - prayer and work - it is God who is at work first and foremost. Without His power there would be nothing accomplished in either, and so both are in their fullest essence utterly reliant upon Him. We are given the privilege and joy and work of participating that His power and love may be revealed through us and in us, but it is all from Him, not us.

So perhaps we ought to call prayer "work." Or maybe work "prayer." Either way, let us never forget that when we work, we must be as deeply dependent upon God as when we pray; and that when we pray, we are truly at work as we are asking God's care and provision and action and dominion.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Disenchanted Vocation

Eugene Peterson writes,

The French have a wonderful phrase, deformation professionale, to refer to maladies that we are particularly liable to in the course of pursuing our line of work. Physicians are in constant danger of becoming calloused to suffering, lawyers in danger of cynicism about justice, and those of us who think and talk and read and write God are in danger of having the very words we use about God separate us from God, the most damning deformation of all.” (Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, 59)

This is scary. For any of us, that thing towards which we gravitate can become, if we are not careful, our very weakness.

How do we guard against this natural tendency? Well, we can't go wrong if we continually, persistently, regardless of roadblocks or failings, seek to be re-oriented to God. Unless we are striving to see Him throughout our lives and careers and callings, we will easily lose the very life of our calling.

But I believe that God, in His mercy, does not simply tell us to do this and fix our eyes on Him without help. And that help can, I believe, often be found most deeply in the work of the Holy Spirit through trials and pain.

I have grown in the conviction that my struggles and questions of faith - which feels like a daily battle with some longer and some shorter reprieves, though often not as many as I sometimes wish for - though not ideal, have been used by God to turn me to Him. During these times, I find it much harder to simply read a text assigned in class in a detached, simply studious, professional manner (as this
deformation professionale tendency may naturally tend me towards). Rather, I am forced to wrestle with the text as it interacts with the weights on my own heart.

This, I believe, can be evidence of the mercy of God in our lives. He brings us to return to Him - not simply to His work - through these very difficulties and struggles. Perhaps an "easy" life is not what we want to pray for...