I’ve heard that phrase thrown around a lot: that “all people have a divine calling to work.” And I’ve even written about the ministry work that all Christians must be doing, if the Church is to fulfill its mission as Christ’s body in the world. But is this really true in every case?
It’s perhaps one thing to point out that you don’t need to be a member of the clergy to be called to “genuine ministry work,” in every sense of that phrase. But what about the people who, literally, can barely get out of bed in the morning? What kind of genuine work can they do?
There are elderly shut-ins in my local church congregation whose morning goal is to make it from the bed to the living room chair. And they don’t always make that goal. They’re living with constant pain.
In such cases, we could ask this question: In all honesty, do such individuals—even though they’re loved and cherished by God—genuinely have vital work that they are most qualified to do? One of the great things about a Christian theology is that it gives a loud and resounding YES to that question.
Throughout the Bible there runs a theme about the effectiveness of work on behalf of others, including intercessory prayer. The theme has to do with the kind of suffering that the intercessor has had to endure. In short, the prayers and intercessory work of those who are suffering seems to have genuinely special significance within the Kingdom.
A classic example is Job. Job undergoes immense suffering. His “friends” offer him their “advice;” but it’s a twisted perspective they offer, which only adds to his suffering.
Then a fascinating thing happens at the end of the story. God addresses Job’s three friends. He tells them he is angry with them, “because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). And then note the wording of God’s next statement: “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8).
A similar pattern can be found in other places within the Old Testament. Prophets warn the people of Israel to repent…they ignore the prophets…and then, when calamity strikes, they plead with the prophets to intercede for them. Often time, it is indeed the prayers of the faithful, but suffering, prophet or leader which prove effective in allowing God’s Spirit to move and to heal.
The central Biblical example, of course, is Jesus on Good Friday: interceding for the very people who have just nailed him to a cross. Again, we see this theme that the prayers of those who are suffering—particularly as they pray for those who have been part of the problem—have special significance.
If I could somehow choose someone to pray for me, or for my church, or for some difficult situation where God’s help is desperately needed, I know whom I’d choose. I’d choose someone who is suffering continued hardship. I’d choose one of the shut-ins from my local church, someone who is remaining faithful to God despite living with constant pain. I think a Christian theology indicates that their prayers have special significance before the throne of God.
Shut-ins in our churches need to be reminded of all this. And so do the rest of us. It’s not a vacuous platitude that “all of us have work to do” and that “we’re all vital parts of the body of Christ.” This isn’t a platitude. It’s true. And it’s profoundly true.
For me, perhaps the most attractive aspect of Christian theology is that it points us to a God who sets up his Kingdom in such a way that all people have genuinely vital roles to play. Those on the margins? From the world’s point of view, they naturally would have a lesser role. But within the Kingdom, they actually have a role of special significance.
Kevin Kinghorn is the editor for Faith and Work Collective.