Imagine the tallest pile of paperwork that you have ever seen on your own desk. If you hate paperwork piles and systematically deal with paperwork as to prevent such things, maybe you can imagine the paperwork pile on the desk of a co-worker.
One afternoon in March almost 10 years ago, I had a breakthrough. The paperwork pile was at an all-time high. It was the end of the month, which meant that the dreaded and inevitable email would be in my end box. “Please turn in your monthly stats. I am waiting on them.” My co-worker, who sent me this email, also caught me as I tried to slither past her desk. I saw the look on her face, and I heard it in her voice. That look on that day was the beginning of a breakthrough in my thinking, attitude and operating regarding work.
On my co-worker’s face, I saw that I was causing more than a small inconvenience. I began to imagine all of the ways that my late paperwork would impact her life. She often stayed late and came in early. She was not in good health; not enough rest causes sickness. Turning in my paperwork late meant that she would have to sacrifice precious time with family. Instead of a smile as I passed her desk, there would be a look of disappointment or maybe even a scowl.
The stack of paperwork had to be done. It was drudgery! My mind was flooded with questions: How in the world could I do it all in the two hours before it was time to leave for the day? How in the world could I survive two straight hours of paperwork and remain sane? I was desperate, so I prayed.
Praying about paperwork had scarcely crossed my mind before. Even then, it seemed strange to me. It seemed strange to pray for paperwork, and it seemed strange to me at that time that I had never really considered praying about paperwork before.
During this season of my life, I was learning a lot about how to live in responsive obedience to Jesus in all arenas of my life. It was clear that I had a lot to learn. I felt like a beginner in the discipleship process when I had often perceived myself as anything but that. In fact, I had made a decision to follow Jesus almost 20 years prior. God called me into the ministry. I studied the Bible in the original languages and had graduated from college and seminary. All of this, along with 15 years of serving as a pastor and in other various ministry roles, and now, in my everyday walking with Jesus in life, I felt like I was in kindergarten again.
Jesus welcomed the children and challenged his grown-men disciples that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
It was a humbling place to be: kindergarten at age 35. It was sometimes a painfully stretching and clunky process, but I was assured day by day that my living Lord was with me and in me. He was my teacher in everything.
Praying for my work, starting with this pile of paperwork was difficult at first. I prayed about how difficult it was. I pleaded with God, “Please, show me why praying for this paperwork is so difficult.” I also asked God to show me how Jesus would do my job if He were me.
In my imagination, I tried to get a visual of Jesus doing my work. Aha! That was it. At the core of this trouble with paperwork was this subtle lie that I bought (and probably unknowingly perpetuated). I really didn’t think Jesus would do my work. It was too small. It was too insignificant. It was too secular. Having been a professional Christian for years, I had bought the lie that work that was not overtly Christian was not Jesus’ kind of work.
Prior to this breakthrough, I would not have admitted that I thought my work was too small and too secular to be a Jesus sort of job. However, that idea had ruled my thinking and had been spoiling my attitude about my work. This thought was a lie. The reason I was having trouble praying for my paperwork was that I thought somehow it remained outside of the kingdom of God.
The truth is that work is good because it was instituted by God. In Genesis 1:26-31, it states that both the man and woman were created to tend the earth. We are given work to do with our whole beings. Work was a gift to the first humans and their work was to bless the created world that God had made. Fundamentally, work brings good to the others. It is necessary, but not intended to be drudgery. Notice that there is no mention of human sweat coming from work until after sin enters the world. Drudgery at work is often what we feel when we do not embrace work as a gift. It is also our attitude when we see it as somehow outside of what God is doing in the world.
The daily nature of work reminds us that when Jesus was instructing His disciples about prayer, He placed right in the middle a request for daily bread. It is a reminder that we all are dependent on our good Father to give us what we need. God designed our daily work to bring blessing and good to the world. We do our work as responsive, obedient children.
We do our daily work for Jesus, in the manner of Jesus, with Jesus’ resources and for His glory. This is precisely what Paul means by this exhortation in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”1