The Unseen Hand



We have different mental images for God and his activity in the world. It may be that God seems to be a puppeteer, pulling the strings to make us move. He might be a Director as we strut around on the stage. He may sometimes seem to have fallen asleep, deaf to our cries for intervention.

However, my favourite mental image is of God as a master storyteller, inviting us into his story which includes a vast narrative of creation for relationship, rupture, calling back into relationship, incarnation, a new community, a renewed creation.

In this story, I am free to do a fair amount of my own plot generation as my character develops. However, it is always better to work out the plot in consultation with the storyteller, to make sure we are working in sync. After all, he knows how the story ends!

I have been reading The Loving Life by Paul E Miller, and he works through the story of Ruth in the Bible as a story illustrating God’s hesed, his steadfast love. I came across this paragraph, and it made me think of our working in the context of God’s story.

The awareness of a master storyteller weaving my life lets me pause and, like an artist, see hidden blessings and patterns when I begin to bear the cost of narrowing my life. It lets me endure in love because I know Someone is guiding the story toward resurrection… if an unseen hand is shaping the day, then the day becomes an adventure. That frees me to do even repetitive and mindless work. (p.75)

Ruth is reaping by hand in the fields, collecting enough excess grain to feed herself and Naomi, two poverty-stricken widows. That work could have been a terrible burden in the light of their dire circumstances. However, Ruth believes in the God of Israel, the God of Naomi. She shows steadfast love toward Naomi, acting with the same love she believes the God of Israel shows toward his people.

Her hard, physical, exhausting, and seemingly endless work is not without hope. And neither is ours.

A Different Sort of New Year's Resolution

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So many of our resolutions fail. There are many reasons for this including setting unrealistic goals, ignoring who you really are and trying to make too many changes (for more on this: read this Psychology Today article).

A more biblical reason is that as Christians we will tend to make much more effort when we are doing something that is for God or for others, rather than focused on ourselves. So here is a challenging new year’s resolution for 2018 for you:

How can you transform your workplace to give people the fragrance of God’s kingdom?

As Christians, God has placed many of us in strategic positions in workplaces across industries, across the country, reaching millions of people. How can we make a difference for God in those places, and among those people, the majority of whom would never come through the doorway of a church?

Here are seven ideas:

1. Pray more

2. Be hospitable

3. Promote truth

4. Make your workplace more beautiful

5. Show compassion

6. Change the cultural atmosphere

7. Do excellent work

For more details, read the article in Eternity Magazine.


Unreformed work

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I was sitting in the meeting feeling my anger rising on behalf of my guest. She had just finished a beautiful description of an integrated faith-work life. She is the Australian leader of a large overseas organisation. She had just explained how hard she focuses on her decision-making, to make decisions that reflect the character of Jesus. She had told us how she spends significant time praying through her daily routine. She described how close she feels to God when she is in a board room, how she feels God's presence as she relies totally on him. She had told us of recent spiritual conversations as people wondered about why she was different.
She asked for questions, and someone asked: "What are you doing for your local church?"
I had to interrupt and explain that we were listening to someone who saw her daily work as her place of ministry.
My guest graciously replied that she travels two Sundays a month, and being part of regular rosters is very difficult. She said that she had recently had a conversation with her pastor to explain her lack of attendance, and the nature of the work she did.
The questioner was unperturbed: "But surely you could give a talk, or use your leadership skills. The church could use you."
My guest admitted that she helped out on the coffee cart when she could, which seemed to somewhat appease her audience.
I bit my tongue, but this precisely illustrates my great frustration. The church's function is to equip its people to do God's work. Rather than being a place where my guest felt guilty for not giving more; it should be a place of refuge and nurture and teaching and prayer that empowers her to be Christ's light in otherwise dark places.
It should be the place where she gathers with others to celebrate God, and then is sent out as the church scattered to work for his glory.
The questioner should have asked: "What is your church doing for you, to support the great work you are doing for God?"

Ministry versus work

Photo by Ömürden Cengiz on Unsplash

Photo by Ömürden Cengiz on Unsplash

Ministry is usually referred to as special work, God's work. Ministry is elevated above other work. Ordinary work becomes defined as ministry if it is done within a Christian organisation. 
I would argue that these differentiations are problematic. All work is ministry, if it is done with a heart seeking to serve God. The word 'ministry' is from the Latin meaning "serving under authority", and in the Bible it is translated from 'diakonia' a Greek word which means "service among others".
Unfortunately 'ministry' can be used in ways that become detrimental. It can create an artificial barrier between Christians doing ordinary work and Christians doing 'special' or church work. 
It can be used to justify neglect of family ("I haven't been home any night this week because I am doing ministry"), or to elevate certain forms of work ("I need to be supported for this ministry"), or to denote a special calling from God ("I sacrificed my job so I could do this ministry").
We tend to only pray in church for people who are doing 'ministry'.
Some people expect their ministry to be supported by others who are doing paid work, merely on the basis that it is 'God's work'. 
I have been told by a chaplain that work-life balance did not apply to him because he was doing ministry.
I know people who devalue the work they do because it isn't ministry.
When I ask people what work they do for God, they usually list those things they would define as ministry: evangelism, prayer, Bible study and roles with their local church.
I like a line that Ben Witherington uses in his book Kingdom Work: "work as ministry". I think if workplace Christians thought of their work as ministry, and church workers saw their ministry as work, we might be able to work more effectively together for God's glory.

Encounters with good work: air steward

Photo credit: Omar Prestwich

Photo credit: Omar Prestwich

I was traveling on a flight when I saw a flight steward going beyond her job description. She didn't just serve food, she showed real hospitality.
First of all, she let a teenager know that when her sister woke up, that he could use the call button and she would bring a drink and a snack for her.
Next, she told a thirsty man to pop to the back of the plane to refill his cup anytime.
Later, we saw a young passenger dressed in her apron and being trained how to collect and sort rubbish from passengers. As the trolley was pushed past us, the steward explained that the girl was terrified of flying, but this was an effective form of distraction.
Passengers were smiling at the work of the steward, and I am sure she enjoyed her work more also.
This is good work.

Encounters with good work: coffee shop


I was asked recently about redemptive work in our ordinary lives, and I thought it might be helpful to give some examples. There's a coffee shop where the long benches encourage community. The coffee and food are exceptional, healthy, ethically-produced and reasonably-priced. The service is personal and friendly, with follow-up questions. No-one is in a silo if a customer needs help, even the celebrity barista. Conversations between customers and staff are opportunities to dwell. There is recognition for regulars. It's CBD-based so people tend to rush in, but leave more slowly, and usually smiling. There is even a cross in the logo. 
These themes of relationship, hospitality, healthy food, ethical production, excellent work and community-building are all gospel-breathed and God-honouring.
This is good work.

Hobart Launch a Success

Bishop Richard launching  Workship  at the Flourishing Training Event in Hobart. Photo credit: Sonya de Lacey

Bishop Richard launching Workship at the Flourishing Training Event in Hobart.
Photo credit: Sonya de Lacey

It was a massive weekend with the launch of Workship in Hobart, Tasmania, by Bishop Richard Condie, who endorsed Workship as "an immensely helpful book. If you've heard that work for the Christian is just the place to do evangelism, or make money to support real Christian ministry, then read this book and think again. I feel blessed as a preacher, teacher and pastor by this book, but more importantly, I feel blessed as a worker for having read it." 

I completely sold out of books and will be asking Koorong to send more copies south!

I also had the privilege of preaching in St David's Cathedral on Work and Worship.

Here is the link to the sermon.

Faith applied to our working

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Sometimes it seems we are disconnected from those around us. The temptation is to try and 'fit in'.
In a magnificent piece of rhetoric, Paul mocks those who have become ‘rich’ in the eyes of the world. In fact, as Christians, we value very differently things such as career, wealth and even truth and ambition:
"For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive [by grace from God]? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! ...We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:7–13)
Being a Christian means being different, but that does not mean we have to flee our context, just recognise that we live by a different set of values and a different standard of truth. There is no shame if in Christ we are seen as ‘the scum of the world’.

Created to work


I was reading in my Bible the story of how God created the world and a couple of things jumped out at me.
First of all, God works! Lots of times we think of work as bad, but if God does it, it must be good.
Secondly, we are made in the image of a God who works, and that means we are made to work. While that might not thrill some of you, it shows that working is part of what makes us fully human. It’s a way of us developing our gifts and serving others.
Thirdly, we are not meant to work alone. God created Eve not just to keep Adam company, but to work alongside him in the Garden. We are meant to work with each other.
The other thing I love about the creation story, is that one of the first bits of work God gave us to do involved using our imaginations, he asked us to name the animals. We use our creative intelligence to help give what God made more meaning and purpose. How cool is that?

Faith-inspired teaching

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I know a woman who is a teacher and she really loves her job. Not that it is always easy. One Year 9 class she had, the kids just didn’t want to be there. They were difficult and rude, and she really struggled with them. She kept pouring her energy into coming up with creative lessons, and showing she cared about the kids. Sometimes they ignored her. She was tempted to think the effort wasn’t worth it.
Then, slowly, things began to change. Some of the girls would approach herin the playground and ask her questions. More of them started really participating in class. 
By the end of the year, she told the class she was going to throw a party to celebrate how much they had learned. At the party some of the students came forward and thanked her for all the effort she had put in. They apologised for how rude they had been at the beginning of the year, and gave her a present and a card. She told them that she had learnt more from them, than they had from her. How cool is that?

Turning your work into a form of worship

An article on my book Workship, following up an interview with Katrina Roe on Sydney's Hope 103.2FM. The full article is available here.

Below is an excerpt:

Do you devote all your time to your career, or is your work just a means to an end? How does your work fit into your spiritual beliefs?

They’re questions worth thinking about, considering work consumes the majority of our daily lives.

In a new book titled Workship: How to Use your Work to Worship God, Kara Martin proposes a holistic way of viewing work as a form of worship.

A former TV reporter and now a lecturer at Mary Andrews College, Kara draws from her own experience working in her dream job in the TV industry...

Working for God through our Work

My latest blog post for Jimmy Young's Stirring our Affections. Working for God will lead us to do excellent work, and will ease the struggle we have working for human masters. You can read the full article here.

Below is an excerpt:

In my last blog for Stirring Our Affections, ‘Working With God Through Our Work‘, I talked about the need to see ourselves as Christ’s ambassadors in the workplace (2 Corinthians 5:16–20), working with God to accomplish the tasks he has set for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

However, it is also important that we see ourselves as working for God primarily...

God's Entrepreneurs

An article I wrote for my organisation Seed. 

“Entrepreneurship was a means to align faith and their work, reducing the tension between the two that existed in other work environments.”

For the last five years Mitchell Neubert and colleagues at Baylor University in the US, have been investigating the relationship between faith and entrepreneurialism.

The results have been surprising.

Read the full article here.

The future of work

Andrew Laird from Life@Work interviewed me (Kara Martin) about the challenges facing Christians in the future of work. Here is part of my response:

I think that there are some really pressing problems that Christians need to have a voice in. For example, the growing disparity between those who work too hard, and those who don’t have enough work. There is a growing gulf between those two groups. I think this is a really big challenge for Christian businesses and leaders to think about.

I think also that there are opportunities in the areas of Christian concepts such flourishing, well-being, servant leadership, and work and rest where Christians have something really significant to say to the working world. The idea of purpose and meaning is another big one – people increasingly want ways to think about that which maybe the Christian narrative can help with.

See the full response here.

Work is Sacred


Here is another great video resource from the Made to Flourish pastor's network.

"The first thing God did was work and build and create. The first thing He commanded us to do was to work the garden. As soon as you frame work as a sacred task, that changes everything. At that point, your work can be done as worship to God and love for your neighbour!"

—Chris Neal, Associate Pastor of Student Ministries at NewSong Church in San Dimas