The Spiritual Discipline of Work

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Preached in Spanish at Luncheon for the Soul, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA. February 27, 2019


Introduction

Good morning. Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. My wife, Maryam, and I live in Centreville, Virginia and we have three grown children. I am a Christian author and volunteer pastor.
 
Today’s theme is the spiritual discipline of work

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Holy father. Draw us to yourself this morning. Open our hearts; illumine our minds; and strengthen our hands in your service. In the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Scripture

Today’s scripture reading comes from Colossians 3:23-24. Hear the word of the Lord:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Story

What was your favorite job and what activity was totally horrible?

In my work as an economist, many times I have said that about one in three years were good. Two years in three were bad because of changes in management or conflicts among managers in the middle of a project. When priorities change in the middle of a project, it is impossible for the project to be a success from the perspective of leadership. It does not matter that the work was extraordinarily good because the office was constantly stressed out and promotion was nearly impossible over many years.

For this reason, today’s scripture reading is particularly meaningful to me. We work for the Lord and not for men.

What was your favorite job y what activity was totally horrible?

Lesson

Every time there is pain or stress in our lives, we have a decision: are we going to turn to God and give it over to Him or are we going to turn into the pain and we feel sorry for ourselves? This second alternative is sometimes known as idolatry.

The gravity of the sin of idolatry is obvious because our faith, time, energy, and money point to the things that we really worship (Giglio 2003, 113). The center of these activities may be in our work—in or out of the church; in or out of the home. Work can many times be a source of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Jesus understands (2X). At one point, he described a scene of lilies and kings. Afterwards, he advised:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”(Luke 12:29-31 ESV)

In other words, work is important, but the Kingdom of God is more important.

As God designed it, work has dignity. The Bible begins showing a God who works—he creates (Welchel 2012, 7). God’s only son worked with his hands as a carpenter. Thus, when we work with our hands work also has dignity. Remember that almost all of the disciples worked as fishermen—do you think that they return home smelling like lilies? One of the most radicals things that Jesus did was to eat and drink with working people (Mt 11:19).[1]

Paul’s attitude about work was significant for two reasons. First, our work for human bosses is also work for God (Col 3:23-24). Second, many times we work for brothers and sisters in Christ—the family of God. Would you want to disrespect your family? (Phlm 1:16 ESV)

One of the most influential writers of the church historically was a veteran who worked in a kitchen. He did not write very much, but he dedicated his work daily to God in prayer. Brother Lawrence (1982, 23) wrote:

“We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterwards for the privilege of having done it for His sake.”

He simply applied the advice of Paul to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thess 5:17) and the spiritual giants of his day beat a path to his door.

One method for spotting prospective idolatry is to ask about your identity. When you are introduced to a new neighbor or maybe someone at a party, how does your spouse introduce you? Is it by your marital status, favorite sports team or profession?

What keeps you busy? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s close with a Word of prayer.

Loving father, we praise you for giving us useful work to do. We praise you for equipping us for work in your church. Thank you for giving us new eyes to see our work, our bosses, and our responsibilities. The harvest is ready. Prepare us to assist the laborers. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1]This citation comes from the parable of the brats, one of my favorites (Matt 11:16-19).

References

Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe.Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.

Lawrence, Brother. 1982. The Practice of the Presence of God(Orig Pub 1691). New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

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The Christian Memoir

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Christian Memoir

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Memoir talk scheduled for Sunday, March 19, 2017, at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, McLean, Virginia (www.Lewinsville.org) in the Chapel following the 11 a.m. worship service. All are welcome.

Introduction

A memoir is an autobiography with a theme.[1] A Christian memoir is an autobiography with a focus on God’s role in our own character development, which requires both the passage of time and reflection. The Christian memoir communicates the Christian walk effectively because, like Jesus’ own use of parables, we remember stories better than other forms of communication.[2]

Some philosophers believe that Western Civilization, for example, began with a Christian memoir, Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, which related the prayers of his mother to his confession of sexual sin, and conversion to Christ. Augustine’s biographer, Peter Brown writes:

“The Confessions…is not a book of reminiscences. They are an anxious turning to the past. The note of urgency is unmistakable. Allow me, I beseech You, grant me to wind round and round in my present memory the spirals of my errors…

It is also a poignant book. In it, one constantly senses the tension between the ‘then’ of the young man and the ‘now’ of the bishop.” (Brown 2000, 157)

Do you feel the theological strain here? The New Testament has been described as both the breaking out of the Kingdom of God (already) with the cross and resurrection and yet the unresolved spiritual warfare of the current age (not yet). This tension between the “already” in Christ and the “not yet” of our human sinfulness occurs, not only in the New Testament, but also in our own faith journeys. Christian memoir is therefore painful not only because we must relive our past but also deal with this spiritual tension.[3]

The Spiritual Discipline of Writing

Part of the need for distance arises because pain forms our character more radically than pleasure. With each pain in life, small or large, we are confronted with a decision—do we turn into our pain to throw a pity party or do we turn to God to give it over to Him? In a real sense, our characters are formed by these “Gethsemane moments” as we journey through life (e.g. Matt 26:39).

Questions that might be asked to help expose our Gethsemane moments include:

  • What were the important milestones in your faith journey? (e. g. Jos 4:1-7)
  • Who were your most important mentors in the faith? (e.g. Luke 24:25-31)
  • What faith stories were especially meaningful to you? (e.g. Exod 12:17)
  • When was God’s presence especially obvious? (e. g. John 8:28; Blackaby 2002)

Writing a memoir helps this process of reflection, which makes it an important spiritual discipline.

If writing is in general a spiritual discipline, writing memoir is especially challenging. In preparing my own memoir, mechanically, I mapped out the different stages of my life into an outline and then looked for key challenges during the stages. This process parallels the Greek distinction between chronos time (the stages) and kairos time (the challenges). Reflecting on these challenges turns up raw, unprocessed emotions, which can hijack the whole effort. Part of the incentive for writing was to lay claim to my past and to work through those emotions. Still, not everyone is so adventurous and willing to spend their spare time reliving their Gethsemane moments.

It is worth pointing out that while my own memoir, Called Along the Way: A Spiritual Memoir, is a call story, a call story is a special type of Christian memoir which focuses on vocation (e.g. Acts 9:4-6). But memoir need not focus on vocation and the vocation need not be pastoral ministry. We are all called to faith (Mark 10:49) and we are all called to different vocations, which may be only for a season. Thus, not all Christian memoirs are call stories.

Recognizing Important Stories

The importance of storytelling has been long recognized among clinical psychiatrists. Child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim (1976) saw fairy tales as playing a key role in child development because the stories offered children a template for understanding their own emotional struggles. Another psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, was famous for his ability to reach particularly difficult psychiatric patients through hypnosis; yet, under hypnosis when presumably he had more leverage to offer patients suggestion, he preferred to tell them stories of healing, which allowed him to step around the problem of patient resistance (Rosen 1982).

Savage (1998) writes about using stories to identify emotional content in the context of pastoral visits. Savage cites five classes of stories as particularly helpful to recognize:

  1. Reinvestment stories where our loyalties change dramatically, as in switching careers.
  2. Rehearsal stories where events from the past have current meaning, such as Bible narratives.
  3. “I know someone who” stories which oftentimes mask the true storyteller.
  4. Anniversary stories which occur regularly at a particular calendar time, such as Christmas.
  5. Transition stories which are three part stories, such as a trip to the hospital (why, what happened, and what comes next) (Savage 1998, 95).

Savage makes the point that we cannot help but tell our stories. It is particularly interesting when you catch yourself telling a story, perhaps one that you have told for years, and suddenly realize that that story captures a painful experience that you had either forgotten or suppressed.

Motivation to Write

Identifying the stories that people tell points to the motivational content of their communication and allows the pastor to relate to them on a deeper level. This is why storytelling is important in pastoral ministry and it helps explain why Christian memoir provides especially poignant witness.

Consequently, the current need to write Christian memoirs arises not only from our desire to claim our own history, but also to witness to our children and grandchildren. For many of us, it has been painful in this generation to watch our children fall away from the faith. While historically children would fall away from the church during their single years and return when they have children, this pattern has been broken in the millennial generation (Kinnaman 2011). Still, as Christians we know that the stresses of life invariably lead us back to God, we do not know when that will occur. Consequently, a Christian memoir could serve as a trail of crumbs for our kids to follow their own way home in Christ after our own passing.

Mechanics of Writing

Earlier I made reference to the mechanical process of writing, which for me has been rather lengthy. Even before I started my own memoir, I assisted my father in publishing his, which served to help me understand my own history better (Hiemstra 2016). I started out with a chronological outline of the stages of my life: childhood, youth, young adult, college, graduate school, places worked, and so on (Peace 1998). Then, I looked for important points in my character development and difficult transitions which I then ordered with my outline. I then blogged this outline writing a reflection each week on Friday from January 1, 2016 through February 2017.

The actual writing was finished in November 2016 and I finished my first edit in December. An important task in the first edit was to bring each of my reflections up the standard of writing that evolved over the course of the year. In particular, Joseph Williams’ Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace had an important influence on my writing style mid-year and I needed to go back to earlier reflections and re-write them to incorporate the insights learned.

In the second edit in January 2017, I organized my draft into four parts,[4] still roughly chronical but focused on my faith transitions: coming to faith, consolidation of faith, realization of call, and beginning of seminary. These four parts highlighted the theme of my memoir—the call to ministry—and, in doing so, it became obvious that I left out several important stories, which then had to be written.

Note on Writing Styles

While autobiography tends to focus on reminiscences, Christian memoir focuses on divine encounters, which may be told in the first person or through narratives about the people and events that help stage them. For someone who has been a technical writer for most of his life, I found books on writing fiction most helpful in drawing out the most important events and influences on my life.

Fiction writers are experts in observing character and character change, and they often write with an indirect style, where character is revealed through description or dialogue rather than naming emotions and perspectives.[5]  For this reason, I have included a number of references that were helpful in my own writing and thinking.

Footnotes

 [1] (Silverman 2009). Also see: (Karr 2015).

[2] Sachs (2012) talks about this point a great length. King (2012) writes some of scariest horror stories and talks about his own life and craft.

[3] Spiritual tension was a theme in my last book, Life in Tension (Hiemstra 2016b).

[4] Warren (2016) sees fiction written best as a four-act play. I applied her framework to my own story and realized that I had left out stories from my past that were key to my development but which I simply did not understand the significance of.

[5] This style is popularly known as deep point of view or just point of view (POV). See, for example: (Kress 2005). Authors employing this style include Angelou (2015) and Lee (2014).

[4] This style is popularly known as deep point of view or just point of view (POV). See, for example: (Kress 2005). Authors employing this style include Angelou (2015) and Lee (2014).

References

(Many of these books are reviewed on T2Pneuma.net)

Angelou, Maya. 2015. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Orig Pub 1969). New York: Ballantine Books. (Review)

Augustine. 1978. Confessions (Orig Pub 398). Translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. New York: Penguine Books. (Review)

Bettelheim, Bruno. 1976. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf.

Blackaby. Henry and Richard.  2002. Hearing God’s Voice. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Brown, Peter. 2000. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Orig pub 1967). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hiemstra, Stephen J. 2016a. My Travel Through Life: Memoir of Family Life and Federal Service. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2016b. Life in Tension: Reflections on the Beatitudes. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Karr, Mary. 2015. The Art of Memoir. New York: Harper Perennial.

King, Stephen.  2010. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner.

David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins. 2011. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.  Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Kress, Nancy. 2005. Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Lee, John E. Jr. 2014. Born Rich: In a Time That is Gone Forever. Aliceville, Alabama.

Peace, Richard. 1998. Spiritual Autobiography: Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Rosen, Sidney. 1982. My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. New York: W.W. Norton.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Silverman, Sue William. 2009. Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Warren, Susan May. 2016. The Story Equation. Minneapolis: My Book Therapy.

Williams, Joseph M.  2003. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. New York: Longman.

 

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What is Spiritual About Marriage and Family?

Maryam and Stephen 1984
Maryam and Stephen 1984

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage impacted you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In the book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea (Keller 2011, 13).

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants. This implies that marriage, in and of itself, can function as a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) [1]

In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component [2]. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration, not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s eternal work in creation [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason marriage is formative is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily [4].

As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. This is probably the reason that God places such a high priority on marriage. We should too.

[1] A lot of ink has been spilt over the church’s traditional teaching that forbid remarriage after divorce. For a discussion of the various perspectives, see: Wenham, Heth, and Keener (2006). My point is not to advocate a position but rather to recognize that marriage has a sacrificial component that often gets lost in our era of no-fault divorce.

[2]  In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is also a sacrament.

[3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

[4] Marriage is so important in the Apostle Paul’s thinking that he used the household codes (Eph 5:22–6:10; Col 3:17–4:4) as a metaphor for relationships in the church. Paul writes: “. . .if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5)

REFERENCES

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Wenham, Gordon J., William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener. 2006. Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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The Spiritual Discipline of Work

May 001Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Luncheon for the Soul, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, September 17, 2014

Prayer

Merciful father. Beloved Son. Spirit of Truth.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  Thank you for the food that we have eaten and the hands that prepared us.  Open our hearts now to receive your word.  Silence any voice in our minds except yours.  Inspire the words spoken and illumine the words heard.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Opening Words

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

As some of you know, I used to work in construction during the summer as a student years ago.  Of the many things that I did, a particular job in McLean, VA comes to mind when I think of those days.  It was probably 1974 when I worked all summer to earn enough money to buy my first car—a used 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.

This job comes to mind because I met so many very colorful people and learned lessons that stuck with me.  I used to say that this job convinced me that I wanted to finish college and never again work construction.

Unlike today when there are many Hispanics in construction work, back then most people working around McLean, VA in those days were from West Virginia.  Many had police records.  In my workgroup—all day workers—there were two African Americans—one was quiet and the other was noisy.  The quiet one was arrested for robbing a bank at gunpoint; The noisy one used to chase me around with a razor.

My boss was not much better.  He thought it was funny to instigate fights among the men.  He went back to West Virginia one weekend and was arrested for getting drunk and shooting up someone’s trailer.  Normally after payday, he would hang around, drink, and play cards until any workers present lost their entire paycheck.  My boss was not much better.

In the middle of all this stuff, I got rather depressed. One morning I could not take it any longer.  I skipped work and spent the day in the museum of art downtown.  The next day my boss let me go.  But first, he gave me some advice—at the next job site you go to, bring along your tools, and tell them that you are a carpenter’s helper.  Later that morning, I did that on another job site and received not only a job but also a higher salary.

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

Scripture

Our scripture passage today is taken from Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse, an agricultural town about 110 miles east of Ephesus in what is now modern Turkey (Garland 1998, 17-33).  Commentators believe that Paul wrote this letter from Rome where he was under house arrest.  Paul writes this letter having heard that the church was faithful (vv 1:3-4), but has also been under pressure from false teachers, probably teachers trying to convince them to return to Judaism (vv 2:8-19).   In response to this pressure, Paul writes to them about the sufficiency of Christ for salvation and for life (vv 1:17-20; 2:6-7).

In chapter 3 where our passage is then focuses on the sufficiency of Christ.  Paul writes: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2 ESV).  He then proceeds to explain how to do this in practice.

The immediate context of our verses is a section referred to by scholars as the household codes where Paul gives advice to husbands, wives, parents, children, and slaves—every member of an ancient household (vv 3:18-22).  Our verses then provide the general principle or summary statement of Paul’s teaching:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (vv 3:23-24).

In some sense, our attitude in our work summaries Paul’s letter and a key focus of our lives in Christ.

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

Spiritual Discipline

The gravity of idolatrous sin is obvious. If our loyalty, time, energy, and money point to what we really worship (Giglio 2003, 113), then the heart of idolatrous activity has to be our work—inside or outside the church; inside or outside the home. Work is often also a source of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Jesus understands. At one point, he presented a word picture of lilies and kings. Then, he advised: “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried . . . Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:27–31) In other words, work is important; the kingdom of God is more important.

Work, as designed by God, is endowed with dignity. The Bible opens with God working—he creates (Welchel 2012, 7). God’s only son did manual labor! If Christ worked first with his hands as a carpenter, then working with our hands also has honor. Most of the disciples worked as fishermen—do you think they came home smelling like lilies? One of Jesus’ most radical acts was table ministry—he ate and drank with people who worked for a living (Matt 11:19).

The Apostle Paul’s attitude concerning work is significant in three ways. First, our work for human supervisors is also work for God! (Colossians 3:23–24). Second, many of the people that we work with and for are brothers and sisters—family—in Christ. How can anyone disrespect family? (Phlm 1:16). Impossible! Unthinkable! Third, Paul himself supported himself with manual labor as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3).

One of the church’s most important spiritual writers was a disabled veteran who worked in a kitchen. He hardly wrote anything at all. But he committed his work during the day to God in prayer. Brother Lawrence (1982, 23) wrote: “We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterwards for the privilege of having done it for His sake.” He simply applied Paul’s advice: “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalian 5:17) And, the spiritual giants of his day beat a path to his door.

One measure of the idolatrous potential of work is to ask about identity. When you meet a new neighbor or someone at a party, how does your spouse identify you? Is it by your marital relationship, by your favorite sport’s team, or by your profession?

As Christians, our identity is in Christ.  Work has dignity because we worship a God who demonstrated the dignity of work in creation and everything that can thereafter.

Who do you work for, really? (2X) As Christians, we know how to answer this question.

Prayer

Loving Father. We praise you for giving us useful things to do. We praise for equipping us for work in your church. Thank you for giving us new eyes to see our work, our supervisors, and our primary responsibilities. The harvest is ready; prepare us to join the laborers. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

REFERENCES

Garland, David E.  1998. The NIV Application Commentary:  Colossians/Philemon.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.

Lawrence, Brother. 1982. The Practice of the Presence of God (Orig Pub 1691). New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

 

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Why is Work a Spiritual Discipline?

Foot washing

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (Colossians 3:23–24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The gravity of idolatrous sin is obvious. If our loyalty, time, energy, and money point to what we really worship (Giglio 2003, 113), then the heart of idolatrous activity has to be our work—inside or outside the church; inside or outside the home. Work is often also a source of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Jesus understands. At one point, he presented a word picture of lilies and kings. Then, he advised: “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried . . . Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:27–31) In other words, work is important; the kingdom of God is more important.

Work, as designed by God, is endowed with dignity. The Bible opens with God working—he creates (Welchel 2012, 7). God’s only son did manual labor! If Christ worked first with his hands as a carpenter, then working with our hands also has honor. Most of the disciples worked as fishermen—do you think they came home smelling like lilies? One of Jesus’ most radical acts was table ministry—he ate and drank with people who worked for a living (Matthew 11:19)[1].

The Apostle Paul’s attitude concerning work is significant in two ways. First, our work for human supervisors is also work for God! (Colossians 3:23–24). Second, many of the people that we work with and for are brothers and sisters—family—in Christ. How can anyone disrespect family? (Philemon 1:16). Impossible! Unthinkable!

One of the church’s most important spiritual writers was a disabled veteran who worked in a kitchen. He hardly wrote anything at all. But he committed his work during the day to God in prayer. Brother Lawrence (1982, 23) wrote: “We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterwards for the privilege of having done it for His sake.” He simply applied Paul’s advice: “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) And, the spiritual giants of his day beat a path to his door.

One measure of the idolatrous potential of work is to ask about identity. When you meet a new neighbor or someone at a party, how does your spouse identify you? Is it by your marital relationship, by your favorite sport’s team, or by your profession?

What keeps you busy?

[1] This citation comes from the parable of the brats—one of my favorite (Matthew 11:16–19).

REFERENCES

Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.

Lawrence, Brother. 1982. The Practice of the Presence of God (Orig Pub 1691). New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

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Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline

Maryam and Stephen 1984
Maryam and Stephen 1984

 “An excellent spouse who can find? They are far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

 By Stephen W. Hiemstra [1]

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage formed you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea [2].

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants and the relationship of church to Christ. This implies that marriage is a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s work in creation which is eternal [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God always draws us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that marriage starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason is that marriage makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses vex our spouses and they tell us. We sin less because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by using them on a daily basis.

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. Marriage is not exclusively about our own feelings. This is why other relationships are not marriage and why God places a high priority on marriage. We should too.

Almighty and loving God. We praise you for instituting and blessing our marriages. We thank you for the gift of children and for the way you transform us in our families. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and strength to care for our spouses and our children day by day. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Footnotes

[1] Reprinted from NCP Online Monthly, July 2014 (www.thepresbytery.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/July-News-from-National-Capital-Presbytery.htm).

[2] Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. Page 13

3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline

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