He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.
- Psalm 104:19-23
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 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.
- Colossians 3:15-17
“After the first morning hour, the Christian’s day until evening belongs to work. ‘People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening’ (Ps. 104:23). In most cases a community of Christians living together will separate for the duration of the working hours. Praying and working are two different things. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer. Just as it was God’s will that human beings should work six days and rest and celebrate before the face of God on the seventh, so it is also God’s will that every day should be marked for the Christian both by prayer and work. Prayer also requires its own time. But the longest part of the day belongs to work. The inseparable unity of both will only become clear when work and prayer each receives its own undivided due. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer; and without prayer, work is not work. Only the Christian knows that. Thus it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes apparent.
“Work puts human beings in the world of things. It requires achievement from them. Christians step out of the world of personal encounter into the world of impersonal things, the ‘It’; and this new encounter frees them for objectivity, for the world of the It is only an instrument in the hand of God for the puriﬁcation of Christians from all self—absorption and selﬁshness. The work of the world can only be accomplished where people forget themselves, where they lose themselves in a cause, reality, the task, the It. Christians learn at work to allow the task to set the bounds for them. Thus, for them, work becomes a remedy for the lethargy and laziness of the flesh. The demands of the ﬂesh die in the world of things. But that can only happen where Christians break through the It to the ‘You’ [‘Du’] of God, who commands the work and the deed and makes them serve to liberate Christians from themselves. In this process work does not cease to be work; but the severity and rigor of labor is sought all the more by those who know what good it does them. The continuing conﬂict with the It remains. But at the same time the breakthrough has been made. The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because ﬁnding the You of God behind the It of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17). The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day, and in so doing, it does not hinder the work; it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great signiﬁcance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes a prayer, not in the unreal sense of being constantly distracted from the task that must be done, but in a real breakthrough from the hard It to the gracious You [Du]. ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Col. 3:17).”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
A short lesson in the German language (from someone that struggles with just one language), but probably the reason that the translator put Bonhoeffer’s chosen word in brackets: There are two words for “you” in the German language. One is the formal “you”, “sie.” The other word is the familiar “you”, “du.” You only use the familiar with family, romantic friends, and such. Thus, the translator wanted the reader to know that Bonhoeffer is establishing God as a family member with whom we have a deep, meaningful relationship when we pray to Him. You might think that an odd distinction, but only if your language did not make that distinction.
But what Bonhoeffer is saying in the quote above is twofold. If we prepare for the day with our ‘hour’ of worship before we leave for work, we can be prepared for what troubles may arise, the It, which almost always has a little trouble attached. But then we remain in a state of prayer throughout the day. We are not reciting prayer as we walk down the hallway of the office building, but if we are headed to a business meeting, a prayer along the way might be very important. We prepare early, so that we can pray continuously at the times when we need God the most, because we have the You [Du] with us and within us. We do not have a you [sie] who is impersonal, not really related, not really a good familial relationship with us.
And in incorporating the verse from Colossians 3 with his words in the quote, it makes that paragraph completely about work. We read about “psalms, hymns, and songs” and we think worship on Sunday morning. This misconception then disconnects us from how our words and deeds at work are supposed to be pleasing to God and even praising and glorifying God.
If you are like me when I was working, it was simply a spiritual war to prevent my words and deeds from being against God’s will. I was bombarded with moral decisions at every turn, much of the time. It was a steady, if not constant battle, usually with one boss or another telling me to do something that I knew was not the proper thing to do, and sometimes, downright wrong. But I doubt if I transcended that moral decision battle to a realm of praising and worshipping God in that trial, or maybe not enough. Yes, when you pray for strength prior to an ordeal that you know is coming, saying “Thank You, Lord” when it is over is necessary, but we should be going far beyond that in that we should rejoice, celebrate, etc. All praising and glorifying God. Yes, at work, maybe in silence, but Yes, at work.
I remember a discussion that the high school Christian Student Body (an extracurricular “club”) had with a guest speaker back when I was in high school. I cannot remember the question or the examples that he used in his answer, but I can remember the humorous method he used in answering the question.
“Guest Speaker, Sir, I have a question. How is it possible to pray continuously while at work? I mean, you have to have your mind on what you are doing instead of praying, don’t you?”
The Speaker replied, “If you only think of prayer when you are on your knees, with your head bowed, and your eyes closed, you might have problems with 1 Thessalonians 5:17. If you are a bus driver, closing your eyes and folding your hands to pray continuously is not a good idea, but praying that stupid drivers stay away from your bus route as you have your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road is a prudent thing that you can do in protecting those who are riding the bus. That and being a careful driver yourself. And a schoolteacher might be asked a difficult question that the teacher never expected, but with a reliance upon God that the teacher is continuously aware of, just not focusing on at that moment, that reliance will kick into gear and the proper answer will come to mind. Then, as the child nods their head in understanding, the teacher is giving praise and thanksgiving to God.”
The “Speaker” had other examples. Some were hilarious, along the lines of a bus driver with his eyes closed.
The key is the awareness that our words and deeds need to reflect what we do and say at the workplace. In as much, we are constantly praising God for each new accomplishment and relying upon God for each new challenge.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.