The final misguided posture that we want to describe in the Work-Worship Divide is the inappropriate mixing of our work and our worship. Here, “and” is used in the purest sense where we take our work identity and mix it with our faith identity.
More specifically, everything is spiritualized.
Of particular concern is the fact that this work posture risks the over-spiritualization of one’s work life. This may not sound like such a bad thing, but in reality it can be a distortion of the faith. For example, one might conclude that routine work decisions have less to do with convention, but are rather a product of God’s will. Everything, even the smallest of things, is attributed to God’s intervention.
While we are not rejecting the notion of God’s involvement in our lives, this tendency can become an overused and misplaced crutch. Note that if a task or direction is presented as “God’s will”— those in opposition are supposedly in disagreement, not only with their co-worker, but with the creator of the universe!
Second, trying to inappropriately mix worship and work leaves little space for the mundane. We have all heard of faith stories that are miraculous, highly emotional, and utterly spiritual. These moments can appropriately be referred to as “mountain-top experiences”, and such transformational encounters are the secret sauce of our testimonials. And yet, our life cannot be lived on the mountain indefinitely. Indeed, even after the Transfiguration and against Peter’s impulse to create “dwellings” and remain upon the sacred mountaintop—Jesus came down from the mountain (Matthew 17:9).
How does this relate to work? Like Peter, as much as we may want to dwell atop the mountains of life, our labor is very often transacted in the valleys. Indeed, it is hard to feel immersed in the miraculous when you are constantly changing diapers, entering data, fertilizing a field, disciplining children, designing software, etc. And yet, that is often the nature of our work. The mistake occurs when we think that something is wrong with our work in the valley because it doesn’t feel like dwelling atop the spiritual mountain.
Without a healthier conception of the mundane and a more acute understanding of our own spiritual emotions, our faith may only rise to the level of our feelings, and that becomes a challenge when we find ourselves in the valley. What do we do when our faith seems less than magnanimous amidst the mundane nature of our work? Do we quit our job? Probably not. Do we quit our faith? Hopefully not.
Finally, the inappropriate accommodation of our work and our worship may lead to exhaustion. If a person attempts to give her/his self entirely to the job while equally giving all to their church group, accountability partners, community engagement, or their own devotional lives—it is only a matter of time until burn-out kicks in. In the study of economics, each textbook begins with one simple, yet fundamental, problem: scarcity. Scarcity recognizes that our resources are limited. And yet, we often behave as if our physical and emotional resources are unlimited and then act perplexed when we find ourselves sick and weary.
To unnaturally mix work with our faith lives, where both are placed side-by-side, is to mistakenly give them equal value. While our lives consist of both work and worship—our work is not equal to our worship. Our faith life is not equal with anything; rather, we say, it is everything. In the final post of our series, we explore what it means to work as a form of worship.
Kevin Brown and Mike Wiese are regular contributors to Faith and Work Collective. Thanks, guys!