What, if anything, is distinctively Christian about our work?
From time to time, I hear Christians ask this question. A good part of the answer comes from Woody Allen.
The filmmaker is credited with saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Or, to give it a Christian twist, 80 percent of "doing the Lord's work" is just showing up.
Our God works through means. Often those means are us. For instance, if we want to see justice done on earth, we first have to go to work. If we don’t show up, justice typically doesn’t happen.
A vivid example of this is playing out in Greece. The fascist party Golden Dawn has resumed its violent street attacks against ethnic minorities and political opponents because a murder trial of its leaders has dragged on for more than four years.
A group of Golden Dawn members, in regular contact by cell phone with the group’s leaders, allegedly hunted down an anti-fascist rapper and stabbed him to death. But because the trial has dragged on, Golden Dawn’s leaders have been released from police custody. And the delay in justice has emboldened them that justice will never come.
Why such long delays? A key delay was a 6-month strike by Greece’s lawyers. But other delays occurred when not enough personnel could be found to staff the room where the trial occurred, when a projector couldn’t be found to show evidence in court, when the heat went out. In short, when people doing common jobs failed to do their work.
Of course, both Christians and non-Christians show up for work. So, many object, that’s not distinctively Christian. But they’re wrong.
Christians serve a present God. His name Yahweh means, the God Who is There. He created the world and then delighted to be with Adam in the Garden. God worked the miracle of the Incarnation and “dwelt among us” to reconcile sinful people to God and to one day take us to be with God in heaven. In the meantime, His Holy Spirit is present in us and Christ calls us to abide in Him.
Sin, on the other hand, is marked by absence. Evil is, as Augustine said, an “absence of good” (privatio boni)—like a hole in a shirt. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden after they sinned. Idolatry leads to estrangement from God (Ezekiel 14:5). The Israelites’ sin ultimately led to their exile from the Promised Land. Those who do not abide in Christ are “cast out” (John 15:6). Paul equates “eternal destruction” with being “away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Keeping this principle of presence in mind can help us live distinctively Christian lives, in all areas.
- How can I be a distinctively Christian spouse and parent? Eighty percent is being present with and available to your family.
- How can I be a distinctively Christian neighbor? Eighty percent of it is talking to your neighbors and being part of their lives.
- How can I be a distinctively Christian believer? Eighty percent of it is going to church on Sundays.
- How can I be a distinctively Christian employee? Eighty percent of it is going to the office and working a full and honest day.
And what about the other 20 percent? For that, we should add the principle of prayer. Asking the Lord to work through us to accomplish His purposes. Relying on Him to make our work His work—distinctively Christian work. Urging the Lord to give us opportunities to point to Him as the motive for our work and trusting Him for the boldness to proclaim Christ.
Only Christ that can make our work distinctively Christian. Only Christ the king can turn our presence and prayer into progress.
As Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
But together, the principles of presence and prayer can, in Christ’s kingly hands, turn our common labor into something distinctively Christian and uncommonly good.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers,” Paul told the Corinthians, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”