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December 14, 2012

plainclothes priesthood

Pigeons flutter and fuss outside my bedroom each morning. Engines rev. A sea of red-roofed buildings stretches below and around me, as far as the eye can see. By the time I wake up, the morning bustle has already started in our dusty, dry corner of Asia. I'm here; my new job has begun.

Much of the work of recent weeks has been preparatory for the hiring of new local staff. Interviewing and setting up interviews took a lot of time. Finding appropriate computers, furniture, lighting, window coverings, and more for our expanding office has been the focus of much energy. I'm learning software and procedures so that I can be of help in the weeks and months to come. As I write, a team member is patching English together with the local language, trying to communicate with a carpenter. Our team is busy with the work that lies before us.

I often think about the fact that a few years ago, I might have deemed this job as lesser than other kinds of Work. You know, more spiritual Work. But then Tozer challenged me:
"It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, but why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act."
I kept this statement on my wall for years as I pushed a mouse, implemented colour schemes and interacted with coworkers at my previous job in North America. It was part of a long, maybe life-long, process for me: learning what it means to do even common work in an uncommon way.

As I was preparing to move over to Asia, a fellow believer referred to my upcoming move for "secular employment." A friend and I laughed about it later—the comment sounded so cold. It sounded lesser than moving overseas for, you know, more spiritual Work. Like perhaps my highest goals were simply money and pleasure (an empty attitude for which any believer should be rebuked). But perhaps it showed how general Christian thinking sees a chasm between so-called "sacred" and "secular" vocations.

In the classic film Chariots of Fire, Eric Scott,
a gifted Scottish runner, speaks with his sister on a green Scottish hillside. She is frustrated with his fascination with making the Olympic team. She wants him to think of God's work in China and to stop pursuing his worldly goals of running. Foot racing to her is common, not spiritual.

I could relate to her concern, so Eric's reply challenged me. "God made me fast…. I feel the pleasure of God when I run. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt." He knew there were pressing needs in China. But he also knew that not everyone could race in the Olympics, and that God had gifted him in that way. He had found his place for that time: using his physical ability to the glory of God. Today, Eric is more remembered for his Olympic participation than for his later work overseas. He showed that running, too, could be sacred: "the motive is everything."

Martin Luther instructed, "Believe in Christ and do whatever needs to be done in your profession." This simple sentence boils down one's life to its bare essentials: what you believe, and what you do. These would be two good questions for any believer to keep in mind each day:
(1) Am I believing in Christ today? and
(2) What needs to be done in my profession today?
I think Luther would agree that the answer to the first indelibly colours the second.

We often tote this idea that we can separate our inner life and our outer life. This is a false dichotomy. The two are intimately connected: with your inner man you believe, and with your outer man you act upon what you believe. You will work in a way that shows forth the reality of what you believe. If the way you carry out your profession is not affected by Christ, then I wonder if you believe in Him. Faith in Him will, it must, affect how you go about daily life and work, be you preacher or peddler.

Our world knows a lot about priests, capital "P"
. Just pick your culture and continent. Gurus who sit cross-legged in front of attentive audiences. Preachers in crisp shirts and ties with smiling, freshly-washed families. Monks trudging long paths in their orange robes. Priests in velvety gowns that ripple around their ankles. Shaman with their drums and ceremonies. Imams gathering followers in the parched Sahara. Humans look for spiritual leadership and are often attracted to the pomp and ceremony such leaders may provide.

But our Book speaks of the priesthood of all believers.
It seems to discourage even the use of formal titles for true spiritual leaders in our midst; we are all one in Christ Jesus. I know many priests, lowercase "p". They look like graphic designers, engineers, drywallers, photographers, firefighters, housewives, mothers, sales managers, pastor-teachers, medical personnel and cross-cultural workers. In God's sight, one is no more priestly than another. They are the plainclothes priesthood. Lowercase "p".

They are people who do whatever they do in a way that reflects a growing understanding of ultimate Reality. Everyday humans who realize that their everyday work—as ordinary or extraordinary as it may seem—locks into God's ultimate purpose. David said it best; only by embedding our lives in the life of the everlasting God can the work of our hands take on an everlasting quality. 

And that, my friends, is uncommon. That is sacred.

1 comment:

  1. I guess this is one of your best texts! I'm amazed with such deep reflexions you've made about our daily work! I'm glad I met you Julie! You're an inspiration to me!