It’s easy to get isolated in your work, especially in today’s cubicle world. But the fact is, with God, we are never alone, not even at work.
My view of work rests squarely upon the fact that God is present with us in Christ and we can experience his nearness at work. Seeing this theme repeated throughout the Bible helps us to understand the theology of work—how God works through his people as his coworkers to accomplish his purposes.
I call this concept Immanuel labor.
One key story in the Old Testament highlights this deliberate biblical connection between God’s presence and human work. In Work Matters, R. Paul Stevens speaks to the unique calling of Nehemiah, who, “like Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai, worshipers of Yahweh, were placed in extraordinary positions of trust by pagan rulers.” As a federal government worker, I can relate to the privilege one is granted in a position of trust.
Nehemiah 3–6 describes how the Israelites returned from exile and rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s inspired leadership. God’s presence made all the difference in Nehemiah’s work. Could the same be true for us today?
God’s Presence Moves Our Hearts Toward His Purposes
Nehemiah makes it clear that this project was a unified effort between Yahweh and his people. We observe that the people worked with all their heart (Neh. 4:6), demonstrating what the apostle Paul would later command to the New Testament church in Colossians 3:23.
If we examine the literary context a little closer, we can see that Yahweh had already worked in their hearts. And Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he first heard that the wall was broken down (Neh. 1:3–4). On his initial secret reconnaissance of the wall, he went out at night with a few others and said that he did not reveal “what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” (Neh. 2:12).
God had initiated the work in the hearts of his people internally so that they could work with all their hearts externally. He still works that way with us, doesn’t he?
God’s Presence Enables Us to Be His Coworkers
In Nehemiah 4:9, we read that they prayed to God and posted guards. This illustrates the partnership between God and man as they work side-by-side that we see in Psalm 127:1, which says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” God does build, but he needs builders. The Lord does watch over the city, but he still needs watchmen. Both are necessary, and they work as a team.
Before they even began, they totally depended on God’s protection. They believed, as Nehemiah did, that God’s hand was upon them (Neh. 2:8, 18). The people merely continued the prayer that Nehemiah had offered earlier (Neh. 1:5–11) and went to work, half of them performing guard duty and the other half doing the construction (Neh. 4:16, 21).
God’s presence enabled them to be coworkers with him, which brought them success in rebuilding the wall despite heavy opposition from the enemy to destroy, distract, and discourage God’s people from the project.
God’s Presence in Our Work Reveals His Glory to All
Nehemiah and his team of wall-builders daily depended on God’s hand of protection and strength to complete the job in record time despite the spiritual warfare. Nehemiah had boldly stated to those opposed to the project at the beginning, “The God of heaven will give us success” (Neh. 2:20). Moreover, Nehemiah encouraged his workers to remember the Lord’s great and awesome power (Neh. 4:14). And Yahweh actively frustrated the plans of the enemy (Neh. 4:15), demonstrating once again that he was working with his people as they worked for him.
John Beckett in Mastering Monday zeroes in on what is one of the main points of this amazing story:
When the final stone was set in place a remarkable reaction occurred: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Neh. 6:16).
God and his faithful coworkers worked together on this wall. Everyone who was involved on the inside and all those who watched it from the outside knew without a doubt that this was a divine-human effort.
Regarding this narrative, Stevens offers us some personal application as he instructs,
We are providentially placed by God in situations where we can make a difference, whether these differences are small or great. God enlists each of us in a compelling project from which we must not be diverted. ‘I am carrying on a great project,’ was Nehemiah’s perspective.
In his faith-filled heart and scripture-informed mind, Nehemiah was not just called to replace stones in a broken wall. He was restoring a kingdom for God’s glory!
When we, as children of God, do God’s work through the redeeming work of Jesus and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are doing the same kind of holy work that Nehemiah did. We are expanding the reign of the King who owns it all. (See Ps. 24:1.) Beckett echoes this truth:
If what you and I are doing is God’s will, it qualifies as a “great work,” whether it is cooking dinner for the kids or designing a bridge to span the Amazon River.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession by Russell Gehrlein.
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