God’s Presence at Work

Crop master working with jointer on a piece of beautiful furniture

 

Where do you encounter God’s presence in your everyday life?

 

“At work” isn’t usually the first answer that comes to mind. I asked a question like this in an informal social media poll, and only one person explicitly mentioned encountering God at work: a nurse who says she sees how God is a “miraculous provider, sustainer, [and] comforter” through “conversations with [her] patients.” Everyone else mentioned non-work settings: nature, family, Scripture, and (for more than one person) morning coffee.


I’m in that camp, too. If given a choice, I’d take the open hours of a spiritual retreat, with prayer time and a hike in the woods. That feels like a better opportunity to attend to God’s presence than opening my favorite project management software in the morning when I sit down at my desk.

This post is part of our series Finding God at Work. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources.

There’s something about the way we imagine encountering God that, for many of us, causes us to put it in a separate category than our normal workday. Maybe it’s because events that are dedicated to helping people encounter God tend to be removed from work in both time and space: weekend worship services at church or weeknight small groups in a home. If you have a regular prayer time by yourself, you probably don’t do it as part of your workday routine.


But if we don’t imagine encountering God in our normal workday, it’s not because he isn’t there. If we can find God in the middle of our work, then our work—whatever it is—can become a place where we experience spiritual change and growth: a workshop of the soul.

 

God is at Work

Consider the Bible’s promise that God is with us. The presence of God is both our mainstay in the difficulties of life and our starting point for spiritual growth. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV). That’s both a word of encouragement and an explanation of the whole of life with God. It’s only possible to follow Jesus, to put his teachings into practice, because he is with us by his Spirit.

 

As Paul so beautifully puts it, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV). Any progress that we make in putting on the character of Christ comes as a result of inhabiting God’s presence. The more that we can open our minds, hearts, and bodies to receive the beauty, goodness, and truth of God, the more luminous we will be in the world as icons of his love.


That brings us to the workday. As a context where we spend half or more of our waking hours, work is a wide-open landscape for spiritual adventure. If it’s true that God is with us by his Spirit, then he’s always with us at work. We can enjoy God’s presence, guidance, and help throughout our working hours. If we open ourselves to his influence at work, God can make work a sacred space and time, a laboratory for his mission, and a furnace for his sanctifying power.

 

Practicing God’s Presence at Work

Turning to God in A Busy Workday

The challenge, of course, is distraction. It’s one thing to acknowledge that God is with you at work. It’s another to bring your mind and heart before God while you carry out the tasks of the workday. A classic teacher of this spiritual habit of “the practice of God’s presence” is seventeenth-century Carmelite monk Brother Lawrence. Lawrence was the cook at his monastery, and was noted by those who knew him for his “uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit” even “in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen.” Then, as now, someone who is calm and gracious under pressure stands out!

 

Brother Lawrence’s method of connecting with God is simple: “speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen.” When the mental occupation of the task at hand prevents using words in prayer, simply keeping God close in mind and heart is enough; Brother Lawrence once told a friend that “his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of GOD.” 

 

Another nurse I know tells me that the distractions of hospital stressors and the constant presence of disease and death don’t always put her in mind of God’s presence. But if she makes an effort, it changes: “if I remember that God is with me, and that by him being with me, my work as a nurse is like being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are suffering, it can be a holy time.” Simply turning our attention to God in the midst of hubbub can be enough.

 

Games with Minutes

A similar spiritual approach was taken in the twentieth century by missionary and linguist Frank Laubach, who attempted “games with minutes” in which he kept drawing his attention back to God while attending to whatever task was at hand. In a journal entry, he recounts the effect of this work to be mindful of God on his sense of intimacy, “For a lonesome man there is something infinitely homey and comforting in feeling God so close, so everywhere!

 

Taking Laubach’s gaming approach to the spiritual challenge is an encouraging way to keep it light-hearted. How often do you think you could think of God in the first hour of your workday? What could help you open your mind to him as the day begins? When you get immersed in a task, what could prompt you to converse about it with God as you go?


As you answer questions like these, you might be surprised to see how easy being mindful of God at work becomes. Brother Lawrence counsels us: “in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but . . . after a little care we [will] find His love inwardly excite[s] us to it without any difficulty.”

 

God Sands Down Our Rough Edges at Work

My father and I recently did a drywall project, replacing a panel of my living room ceiling after I accidentally put my foot through it from the attic. He showed me how to sand down the drywall mud after it had dried in order to get a smooth surface.

 

When it comes to the rough edges of our souls, God is a master sander. He knows exactly how much abrasion we need. Too much would leave us raw, while too little would leave us with bumps we don’t need. This is another way that God shows up in our work, if we will let him: using the challenges of work to shape our souls.

 

Suppose you need to grow in the virtue of patience. (Who doesn’t?) The habits of the coworker who gets on your nerves may be just the spiritual challenge you need to grow into a more gracious person. Or suppose you take on a project that raises your stress levels. What if this is a chance for you to increase your resilience?

 

If we go into our workdays expecting smooth sailing, troubles will catch us off guard and annoy us. But if we anticipate that God is at work in the middle of difficulties, we can greet them as the spiritual sandpaper we need to become the kind of people we want to be.


That’s not to say that there aren’t work situations that go beyond helpful challenge—injustices, abuse, raw suffering. We should not imagine God as the author of these evils. But even in the middle of more serious trials, we can draw close to Jesus and find that God is crafting beauty in our souls through it.

 

God Fashions Beautiful Souls at Work

If the difficulties of work are a kind of spiritual sandpaper to wear down patterns that need to change, then the opportunities of work are like spiritual building blocks. God is a master carpenter, framing out the house of our souls. He can use the effect that work tasks and projects have on us like a measuring tape and level, fitting the right two-by-fours into the right places.

 

If you’ve ever had the feeling of a work project really humming as you use your gifts to serve others, you know how gratifying it can feel. Usually, in that zone of healthy productivity, there’s an element of self-discovery. You learn something about who you are and what made it possible for you to do the project in the way you did. I think of my coworker Barb, who started out as a volunteer in her front desk role. Her combination of interpersonal warmth and quickness to adapt to myriad changing details was so strong, she was hired to do the role regularly; she’s now in her eighth year on staff.

 

In theological context, this kind of self-discovery is connected to the doctrine of creation. God made us and is making us into the human beings he intended for us to be. By the Holy Spirit, that includes our sanctification into Christlike character. But every good and whole aspect of our personality and being owes itself to God’s creative hand, even as it unfolds in real time. So when your work helps you become more of who you really were meant to be, it’s God who’s creating you.

 

That’s an encounter with God that I want to keep having!

 

Reflect and Practice

  • Is it easy or hard for you to think of work as a place to encounter God? Can you think of any specific moment when you have found God at work?
  • What would it look like for you to “practice God’s presence” at work? Are there steps you can take at the beginning of each work day, or at specific points throughout the day?
  • If your work is not a traditional job, do some of these same ideas still apply? What would it look like to turn your attention to God while doing your homework? While nursing your baby?
  • What “spiritual sandpaper” are you feeling at work these days?
  • Is there some way that your current work is helping you become more of who you’re meant to be?
  • How can you thank God for continuing to create you in all your uniqueness?

 

Photo by Ono Kosuki on Pexels.

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