Do you believe there is a spiritual difference between your work and the work of your pastor? In other words, do you believe pastors and other full-time ministry professionals have a higher calling?
A word of caution for those who answer Yes: You are placing yourself in a precariously unhealthy spiritual position. Here’s why:
The belief that sacred work is superior to secular work evolved from Greek philosophy. The Greeks viewed work as a curse, forced upon us by physical existence. People of affluence devoted themselves to pursuits of the mind, such as religion and philosophy, and delegated work with the physical world to slaves. This perspective crystallized into Gnosticism, dividing the material realm (evil) from the spiritual realm (good).
A sacred versus secular worldview has had a disastrous impact on the church and Christians in the workplace. Believing that sacred work is more valuable than secular work can affect us in at least five ways.
1. We will think our work has little or no value to God.
Many Christians wonder, Am I wasting time on temporal pursuits? Should I spend more time on what really matters to God? This conflict makes it difficult, if not impossible, to be a dynamic disciple between Sundays.
2. We will fail to recognize our spiritual resources at work.
Acknowledging God’s interest and presence gives us access to infinite resources. For example:
When faced with difficult decisions, we can ask for His help with confidence because He promised,
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them” (Isa. 42:16).
When we fear the consequences of refusing an unethical request from our supervisor, we can gain courage by remembering the truths of Hebrews 13:6:
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”
3. We will lack motivation to be a faithful disciple.
It is hard to be serious about God if we devote the largest measure of our time, talent, treasure and energy to a part of life in which we think God has no interest.
4. We will suppress our spiritual immune system.
Compartmentalizing our spiritual life undermines God’s authority in vital ways, making us more susceptible to selfishness, greed and dishonesty. By sheer force of time and focus, the workplace has an overwhelming impact on the human heart. Good intentions can quickly evaporate under the heat of competition if we are unequipped and unaware of God’s interest and personal presence in our secular work.
5. We will gravitate toward extremes.
We will try to separate ourselves as much as possible from things we define as “worldly” or we will relegate God to activities on one day of the week and devote ourselves to pursuing success as the world defines it the other six days.
Trying to live in one world on Sunday and another on Monday is schizophrenic, dishonest and profoundly crippling. Neither our work nor our faith will be satisfying.
(An excerpt from the forthcoming updated edition of Workplace Grace, to be released in September, 2014.)
For further reading, see Dorthy Sayer's essay, "Why Work?"