Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

A Theology of Maths?

November 1, 2012
01 Nov 2012

A Theology of Maths?

When I was at uni my friends and I were more confident in our theology of sex than in the theology of our academic subjects. Yet what had we paid to go to uni for? What did we spend most of our time doing? (Don’t answer that question – there’s another blog on that!)

We love to talk about sex and as a result we have a pretty developed theology. We know how the Bible shows us God’s intent. We can explain how the Christian approach differs from popular culture. We can express why God’s way is beneficial. We know what it means to be distinctive.

But do we know what it means to be distinctive in our studies? I mean, in a way that is about more than just being diligent, stewarding our talents and getting our essays in on time (though important).

20th-century Dutch theologian and former prime minister (read: legend) Abraham Kuyper once said, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

In other words, we shouldn’t box God out of any part of our thinking. If we call Jesus Lord, we should expect him to shake up every area of our lives, including our study.

We mustn’t limit our Christian understanding of academic thought to a handful of ‘grill a Christian’ topics like evolution and medical ethics. There is a desperate need for thinking Christians in every discipline.

So what is a Christian take on criminology? Jesus’ view of linguistics? A theology of maths?

It’s not something you can work out in 5 minutes, I can say that much. I wrestled to see God’s perspective of Art History for three years – to think Christianly about all art, not just the explicitly religious bits. It’s hard work! I got so far on my own, but would have got much further if I had talked to the other Christians in my department.

So this is my challenge to you for the year ahead: Find some Christian course mates and try to work out a theology of your subject. Read around. See how different Christians have thought about it throughout history. Be challenged.

Once you get a full-time job you have nowhere near the same kind of time. It’s harder to work out a theology of education once you have a set of books to mark every night. It’s harder to work out a theology of governance once you’re a busy civil service researcher…so use this precious time!

Some good questions to start with:

  • Why were you drawn to study your subject?
  • How does your subject bless mankind?
  • Where can you see your subject in the Bible? (try Genesis for a start)
  • What are the secular assumptions that lie behind the way your subject is taught?
  • What might it mean to bring your subject back into God’s way, to ‘redeem’?

 

Sarah-Jane Marshall

Sarah-Jane’s main role within LICC’s WorkForum is looking after the WorkStart project, helping those in their 18-30s transition well from education into full-time work and flourish in their first decade at work.

 

Ten At Work – Audio

November 28, 2011
28 Nov 2011

Below you will find the audio for a series of 10 lectures by John Parmiter, based on his book ‘Ten at Work: Living the Commandments in Your Job’. In each lecture, John reflects on one of the commandments and its relevance in the modern workplace.

 

John is a town planner, surveyor and an LICC Associate speaking on a range of workplace issues. A partner at Roger Tym & Partners, John advises on planning policy and development projects for public and private sector clients. His book, Ten at Work is published by IVP in November and will be launched at LICC on Monday evening, 28th November.

 

 

1. Discovering Contentment – Listen here

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” Exodus 20:17

‘We allow our thoughts to rob us of our present enjoyment because of our inability to exercise contentment.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

2. Remaining honest – Listen here

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” Exodus 20:16

‘Some people think that lies are mostly harmless or are only a temporary problem. Perhaps we talk about ‘white lies’. But as we tell that ‘little’ lie to shift the blame off us, we transfer it on to someone else. We may have managed to get ourselves off the hook, but we have just put someone else on it.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

3. Prospering with integrity – Listen here

“You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15

‘While this commandment is, at face value, a prohibition against stealing any thing at any time under any circumstances, it is so much more than mere protection of other people’s possessions. Yes, there is an obvious impact of stealing on the life of any community, and the community will punish the transgressor, but the essential feature is that the transgressor loses not only freedom (both temporal and spiritual) but the presence of God.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

4. Maintaining healthy relationships – Listen here

“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14

‘The workplace is often a social setting and so a primary place for forming relationships, which is good. Workplaces that foster healthy relationships can also be places of real fulfilment and blessing. Given the right circumstances they can be places where marriages and healthy relationships are valued, appreciated, supported and safeguarded, but much depends on the prevailing culture.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

5. Keeping the peace – Listen here

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

‘The anger expressed daily in our workplaces is rarely commented on; we just seem to take it for granted. We tolerate aggressive individuals because they are productive. Worse still, we bring our work culture home with us, as we berate our family members for poor performance or missed deadlines!’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

6. Living with our past – Listen here

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

‘We need to acknowledge the wisdom and experience of older people at work and encourage them to take on the role of mentors to younger workers. We should treat them with respect, and encourage and support ways of keeping them productive and useful if they are able, for the good of the organization and their own self-esteem.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

7. Keeping a balance – Listen here

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Exodus 20:8

‘The fourth commandment is the longest and the one most directly relevant to work. But it’s not just about work. The Sabbath is so much more than the restful end of a weary week: it is what the week has been working towards: a day that belongs to God, one that he has poured his blessing into and one that is holy (separate). It is a day set apart from other days, when we can delight in God and his creation, rest like him, and reflect on how he has blessed us.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

8. Maintaining respect – Listen here

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

‘This commandment tells us that God’s name matters: to God himself, to us, and to everyone else, even if they don’t recognize it. It matters to God, as he is holy, the name above all names. It matters to us, as by elevating ourselves we are downgrading God, which is spiritually corrosive and unhealthy. It also matters to everyone else, as our work culture demonstrates too many examples of pride, arrogance, one-upmanship, power-broking and me-first behaviour, which harms and dehumanizes people.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

9. Working in freedom – Listen here

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Exodus 20:4

‘Our work culture is suffering from an unhealthy worship of success, fame, influence and money. Or all three! And it is harming us and those we deal with, infecting our whole work culture.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

 

10. Staying focussed – Listen here

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-3

‘When I go to a networking event I find that I talk myself up: I describe significant projects I am involved in and impressive clients I am working for. I do all this to impress others because I work in a me-first work culture which influences me.’ John Parmiter

Download the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

Why the Workplace Matters

October 10, 2010
10 Oct 2010

Taken from Supporting Christians At Work, LICC Mark Greene 2001

“We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.” Towards the Conversion of England, 1945

I am convinced by this.
The workplace is where many of our people are.
It’s where people who don’t know Jesus are.
It’s where Christians can work to transform society.

It’s obviously not the only place where Christians can make a difference today. Christians can make a difference in schools, in retirement clubs, in shopping centres, in football clubs, in neighbourhoods… Christians can make a difference wherever God has placed them. The point is not to elevate the workplace above all other contexts, but simply to apply the same logic to the workplace as to other places – God has placed His people there. And He wants to use them there. And they need our help there.

Work is not a side issue for a special interest group; it’s an issue for the whole church. After all, the vast majority of Christians work – some paid, some not – at home, in the ‘secular’ workplace, at school or university. The church should be concerned about the workplace because our people are there. And those in our church who don’t do traditional forms of work should be concerned about it because many of their brothers and sisters in Christ do. And need their support. Just as the ‘workers’ need to support the retired, the married support the single, and the single support the married.

This guide is intended to help you help your people make the most of their time at work – for themselves, for the sake of their co-workers, for the health and vitality of the local church, for the growth of God’s kingdom, to the glory of God.

Most pastors couldn’t possibly work any harder. But can we make our people more effective where they are most of the time? As the management guru, Richard Farson, put it, “… the real strength of a leader is the ability to elicit the strength of the group.” This guide is focused on resourcing you to help the workers. Inevitably, it repeats one or two concepts from ‘Thank God it’s Monday,’ my earlier book addressed to workers. Overall, however, it is intended to complement, not repeat, the print and video materials that have been produced.

 

The good news

You’ve got something the working people in your church want. They don’t think you’ve got it. But they will recognise it when you give it to them. They want support in their increasingly work stressed lives. They want to find meaning and purpose in their work. And they’d like to feel that God is using them day by day.

Most ministers and leaders can deliver this.

We’ve been trained in Bible study – we can find out what the Bible says about issues. We’ve been trained in communication – we can get the message across. But we probably haven’t been trained, unless we’re relatively new ministers, to see the importance of work to our people spiritually, or to recognise the importance of the workplace in mission, or to know how to help our people minister at work.

“How can I be more like the image of Jesus at work? That’s my daily prayer. That I could become more like a mirror image and less like a bit of murky aluminium.” Ashley Potter

 

The bad news – off the agenda

What the workers are saying now:

“I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school and they haul me up to the front of the church to pray for me. The rest of the week I’m a full-time teacher and the church has never prayed for me. That says it all.”

Sometimes it’s not what we do that’s the issue; it’s what we don’t do.

Indeed, national research across the denominations makes disturbing reading. The workers say that church communities do not support them to any significant degree at all in their work. Not in the preaching, not in the teaching, not in the worship, not in the pastoral care.

Indeed, they go further. 47% say that the teaching and preaching they receive is irrelevant to their daily lives. And it is least relevant where people spend most of their time – work and home. When asked how helpful preaching and teaching was to various areas of their lives, respondents said that it was quite helpful in ‘personal spiritual issues’ but less helpful for issues related to church life, less helpful still for issues related to home life, and not very helpful at all for issues relating to work life:

Helpfulness rating by life area (0 to 4 scale)
Personal: 2.57
Church: 2.12
Home: 1.83
Work: 1.68

In fact, 50% of the Christians I have polled have never ever heard a sermon on work. Never. Not one. 75% have never been taught a biblical view of work or vocation. These are startling statistics. Contemporary Christians are simply not being equipped for life where they spend two-thirds of their waking time.

If we really believe that the word of God equips the person of God for every good work, then why is it so many Christians believe that their job is not as holy as their minister’s, that the quality of their work is of secondary interest to God, that the workplace is no context for ministry or evangelism, and that working in the home is a third rate choice?

There is a danger that we will view church members exclusively in terms of how they can contribute to the church in the neighbourhood, rather than how they might also contribute to the growth of the kingdom of Christ, wherever He has placed them. Do we run the risk of letting our desire to build a strong local church distract us from asking how God might want to use our people outside our local context? And might not a local church in fact grow stronger if our people were being used outside our locality?

The problem is clear, but its depth might be surprising. After all, none of us believe that our teaching is irrelevant. As Steve Chalke said: “Irrelevance is unconscious; it creeps up on us unawares.” Furthermore, most ministers today have worked in the marketplace, so surely we’re alert to its challenges and opportunities? Theoretically, that’s the case, but most ministers who’ve done other jobs didn’t necessarily see those jobs as a context for ministry. And nor did the churches they were in. Supporting workers was not part of the ministry model anyone inherited. In addition, as we shall see, the conditions of contemporary work have been changing so quickly that people who left the marketplace three or four years ago to go into ministerial training might well be out of touch with today’s increasingly demanding environment.

Britain’s workplaces are filled with all kinds of people, with all kinds of problems – illness, fear of redundancy, adultery, grief, confusion, purposelessness, promiscuity, ethical conundrums, criminal negligence, racism, dirty tricks and so on. Oh, that we would encourage our people to see their colleagues the way we see our people – with compassion, understanding, and a heartfelt desire to see them free and fulfilled in Christ. And what a difference that would make to so many people – to be released into confident ministry where they are.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Colossians 3:23-24

 

Why the workplace matters to the local church

“If we could really get hold of this workplace material, it would radically transform our church.”

Revd Gary Rowlandson explains: “You see at the moment people come to me on a Sunday and they’re saying, ‘Feed me up, fill me up, bandage me up – get me ready for another week out there.’ And in a way it’s a constant drain. But if they really saw their work and workplace as a context for ministry then they’d be coming back to the church feeding us and filling us with all the stories of what God has been doing out there… The whole church would be being refuelled, not drained.”

Gary’s point is reminiscent of what Jesus says to the disciples after he has ministered to the woman at the well. Jesus is tired, hungry and thirsty and he sends the disciples off to buy food. The Samaritan woman arrives, going about her daily work, and Jesus has a chance to minister. Her life is transformed. When the disciples return they find him looking refreshed. He hasn’t eaten anything and, as far as we know, he hasn’t drunk anything, but the chance to minister re-energises him: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).

That’s what can happen when your people begin to come back to church telling the stories of what God has been doing – they’re excited, re-energised, and the faith level of the whole church rises. It’s an important perspective.Where is the church really the church? Where is the work of the church being done? How are the people of God to be encouraged? The reality is that if the church’s work is the work done by the people of God, then it can be done anywhere where the people of God are. And when the people of God have the opportunity to tell others about what God has been doing, it is encouraging to both teller and told.

 

The great mission field

There are lots of methods of evangelism taking place in today’s church – door to door, singing outside Tesco, sketchboarding, inviting friends to Seeker services, developing relationships with our neighbours, Alpha and so on. All good things.However, these primarily neighbourhood-oriented strategies are not as effective as they would be if they were working in concert with effective work, school, college-based ministry.

In reality, the one place where many people are not actively encouraged and equipped to make a difference is the place where they spend fifty, sixty, seventy percent of their waking hours. The one place where Christian and non-Christian have to meet. The one place where the playing field is even,where Christian and non-Christian are subject to the same corporate culture, the same pressures,may have the same boss… the one place where the non-Christian can actually see the difference that Christ can make to a life – not for a couple of hours over dinner but for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty hours a week over a couple of years. The workplace.

The national Church has done its research. It has concluded that the number of people who even know the basics about the claims of Jesus is growing fewer and fewer – so few in fact that last Easter The Sun ran three double page spreads to explain the festival to its readership. The Church has concluded that we need to build bridges to the unchurched, to go to the fringe and beyond, that we must learn to speak their language. But the response has been to send us out on the highways and byways, to neighbours who are often only marginally interested, to knock on doors, to talk to people who, on the whole, we don’t know very well. Church-based evangelism is often a cold contact farm.

Meanwhile, back in the workplace, the average Christian has already built bridges to ‘the fringe and beyond’, has already developed relationships, and already speaks their co-workers’ language. Warm contacts. And, on average, over a hundred of them. Certainly, church attendance has fallen over the last decade. We’re down to 7.5% on a Sunday. Still, that is one in thirteen of the adult population. It’s surely still enough people to change Britain. But are we encouraging people to go out and fish in pools and puddles when they are sitting on a lake full of fish? Often, the people who know Christians well don’t live next door; they work at the next desk. But how many churches are equipping their people to minister in the workplace? A growing number, but still just a few.

 

Why a focus on workplace might affect male attendance

A greater recognition of the importance of work may well have a radical impact on the attractiveness of the Church to men. Many pastors have an opportunity to relate to some of the women in their area. Even today, fewer women work outside the home than men, and they tend to work fewer hours. So the church may often fulfil a vital social role by providing mothers with young children an oasis in the form of ‘mums and toddlers’ groups. But today,with men often working at a significant geographic distance from the church, there’s little opportunity to connect to them, to build relationships with them. That’s how a focus on work can help. Men need to know that the Gospel is relevant to their working lives, and that God cares about their work. That’s why visiting men at work can make such a powerful difference to the relationship between pastor and men.

 

Why a focus on workplace might affect female attendance

The battle between caring earth mother/home-maker and career woman remains unresolved. Interestingly, contemporary feminists now find themselves lining up against each other on either side of the debate. Whichever path is chosen, for whatever reasons, women who work – home or away – need the support of the church as they seek God’s will for them and their families. Such support is vital in a culture where guilt or lack of self-esteem seem to be the common by-products of whichever path is chosen.

 

Why workplace ministry is vital to youthwork

There’s a chorus we used to sing in my church “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you. I am not afraid… no, no, no…”We always sang it in the first twenty minutes when the young people were still in the church. Probably because if we waited until they’d left, the adults wouldn’t be able to do the actions or shout “no, no, no” nearly so enthusiastically. I loved the song, but I became increasingly uncomfortable about singing it, because I increasingly felt like a hypocrite. There we were exhorting our kids to be ‘bold’ for Jesus when, in their social context, just to mention that you go to church was about as fashionable as standing on a train platform wearing a blue anorak, writing down numbers and whistling Barry Manilow tunes. There I was exhorting them to make this stand for Christ. But was I making such a stand? Had I taken a risk with a neighbour? Were others taking risks with their co workers?

Our young people need to see how adults who care for them make a stand for Jesus in the 9 to 5. And they, like we, need to be trained to see that their studies, not just their leisure time, matter to God. Just as adults need a biblical perspective on the work they do, so our young people need a biblical perspective on the work they do. They need a biblical view of maths and biology and literature and geography and history. Otherwise they will grow up with a mind that divides their 9 to 5 from their 5 to 9. Christianity will become a leisure-time pursuit. Their Christian thinking will be limited to considering personal behaviour and their leisure activities. So we will discuss Harry Potter with them but not, for example, the often anti-Christian English texts they pore over for their GCSEs. They deserve more than that. If adults don’t regard their work as part of God’s jurisdiction, it’s unlikely their children will either.

 

Mark Greene

He’s Got It, You Want It

April 27, 2010
27 Apr 2010

‘Covet’ is not a common word these days; it means desiring something that is not ours. It’s about what we want, or, as the Hebrew word implies, what we seek to acquire. Actually, surveys in Britain indicate that people are no happier now than they were 50 years ago. Money alone does not increase happiness once a basic threshold is reached. Why? It’s mainly because people compare their incomes to those of others. In a rich society, the Jones’ get richer too! Your bonus was fine – until you heard what your colleague got.

Let’s take a closer look at the specifics in this tenth commandment: Our neighbour – it could be a competitor, a rival team in your organisation, a colleague. A house relates to all your assets. A wife refers to right relationships, including colleagues. A manservant relates to the workforce, a competitor’s employees, a rival team. An ox, in today’s terms, includes equipment, intellectual property, software, systems, pipelines, machinery. A donkey, the means of transport, today relates to distribution systems, warehouses, shipping and logistics. In the corporate world coveting is rife. Pension schemes get raided, and leave thousands in difficulty. A cost-cutting programme motivated by boardroom greed leads to redundancies. Cashflow boosted by paying late leaves suppliers and contractors in trouble. The Bible does not condemn money; it is just realistic about it – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” God is not opposed to money, but he is opposed to worshipping it. Too many people in the marketplace do just that. At money’s altar, they sacrifice contentment. John D. Rockefeller, once the richest man in the world, was asked, “How much money does it take for a person to be really satisfied?” His reply was, “Just a little bit more.” We worry about not having enough, and about losing what we have. The more you earn, the more commitments you make: a larger house with a bigger mortgage, more goods, and more holidays. Unless you trust God with your job and earning capacity, you will ultimately be a slave to it, relying on your own strategies to maintain your apparent security. Work is stressful. The relentless pressure and endless hours wear us down physically, emotionally, spiritually. We yearn for greener pastures; but what we need is to make peace with the pastures we are already in. I suggest six habits that will tackle the corrosive effects of coveting:

 

1. Cultivate the creator
The key to lasting contentment is to let God shape our desires. The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:1l, “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you.”

2. Cultivate gratitude
Covetousness can rob us of what we already have. If you have enough, be content with it. Have a positive attitude about your situation. Start each day by thanking God. Then thank others – including the receptionist who greets you.

3. Cultivate stewardship
At a funeral, a relative was asked, “Did George leave much?” He replied, “Yes, he left everything!” Death strips us of all possessions. What we have is effectively on loan. True contentment is not found in having everything we want, but in not wanting everything. Don’t hold out for more; hold what you have lightly.

4. Cultivate relationships
Love people and use things. If we start to love things, we will end up using people. In the workplace, we can be so stretched to get things done that people get done in.

5. Cultivate giving
Jesus talked a great deal about money and possessions – 16 of his 38 stories related to them. He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” As CS Lewis put it, “Biblical charity is more than merely giving away that which we can afford to do without anyway. It is sacrificial in some way; it is about not expecting any return.”

6. Cultivate priorities
If we don’t live by priorities, we will live by pressures. From a biblical perspective, I believe the priorities are:

– God
– Spouse, or closest friends
– Family, if you have one
– Work
– Church

If we make knowing God the top priority, everything else will start to fall into place. Just as one cultivates a field, cultivating a relat ionship with God will bear fruit – fruit that is good and fruit that will last.

 

‘What we have is effectively on loan’

‘True contentment is not found in having everything we want, but in not wanting everything’

 

John Parmiter
Planning Consultant, LICC Workplace Associate

Working for eternity?

April 22, 2010
22 Apr 2010

I was shocked to hear a preacher refer to his previous job at a newspaper, saying, ‘What’s that got to do with the kingdom of God?’ Jesus taught that the reign of God is in the world, in the mustard seeds of truth, integrity, justice, compassion and all the values that we are to embody in precisely such places as the world of media, not merely for evangelistic dividends, but as salt and light in society. For, in the end, what does God intend to redeem? Just souls? No, whole human persons – including all that they have become and accomplished in and through their work. We are not saved as body-less, work-less souls, but in every dimension of our identity as working human beings. Of course, work is also fallen. But work is part of what God redeems when he saves us in Christ. Just for ‘heaven?’ No, God’s mission is the redemption of the whole creation – indeed that is the scope of the reconciling work of the cross (Col. 1:20). ‘All things…on earth,’ says Paul. But all things on earth are not what they were in Genesis 1 and 2. The creation now bears the marks of human work over countless generations. And all of that is under God’s restoration order – not just for demolition and obliteration, but for purging and renewal. Revelation pictures all the accomplishments of human work – and the resultant wealth, glory, and culture – being brought into the eternal city of God – the new creation. Purged of sin and evil, yes, but not dropped in some cosmic trash-can.

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it… The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.”
Rev 21:24-27

This is a perspective that gives value to all honest work. The splendour of kings and the glory of nations are built on the work of countless millions of nameless ordinary people. That’s why I greet, thank and encourage the man who sweeps the streets around our house. His work matters to me, and I believe it matters to God and is a tiny part of what will one day be the splendour of the city of God.

 

“Work is part of what God redeems when he saves us in Christ”

 

Chris Wright
International Director, Langham Partnership International

Better Boasting!

February 18, 2010
18 Feb 2010

What would you balk at if everything had to go? Could you put your book collection, your CDs, your car in the shredder along with everything else? Now take the idea one stage further: what about your good looks (!) or your intellect? Or your pay packet? Part of the reason we’re reluctant to lose these things is because we’re genuinely grateful for whatever measure of health, wisdom and prosperity we have. Gratitude is a good and proper response, and we should never stop thanking God for all he’s given us. But there’s a fine line between gratitude to God for what we have, and pride in the things we have which others don’t.

On a macro scale, we feel compassion for those in the world who genuinely appear to have little. On a micro scale, it’s easy for us to feel pleased with ourselves if we have that little bit more than our immediate neighbours. Isn’t there a secret pleasure in feeling slightly superior to someone else? Jeremiah doesn’t let us get away with this:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD Jer 9:23-24.

His words are a good barometer for measuring our attitude: is it gratitude, pride, or a bit of both? Wisdom, strength and riches are all good things given by God – and while we don’t have them in equal measure, those who have any of these undoubtedly know their benefit. But really, they are simply gifts from God. Because of this, they’re nothing to be particularly proud of. Let this sink in for a minute. It doesn’t matter how much we earn, or how intellectually superior we are, or how muscular, fit or pretty we are. This is God speaking, and he says that we should boast of nothing except our knowledge of him and the things he values.

God gives us a checklist to make sure that we really know him and haven’t just recast him in our own image. He tells us that wealth, wisdom and strength are not His first priorities – yet as their Creator, his rightful boasting could easily put our paltry bragging into perspective. Instead, his priorities are quite different. Kindness is God’s covenant love persisting in grace towards us, even when we throw it back in his face. Justice is his rightful hatred and punishment of sin and evil. Righteousness is his eternally existing perfect nature that will characterise the new heaven and earth after the final judgment of sin. Jesus shows us what these look like, in grace and truth. How much would our conversation change if we stopped talking about the model of our mobile phone, the depth of our suntan, the size of our bonus or the engine in our company car? God is interested in our growth in knowing and understanding him, and our reflection of his character in our attitudes and behaviour.

This is boast-transforming stuff. God wants us to be people who love our family, our friends, our colleagues, our bosses, even our enemies. And who persist in loving them even when they lose their love for us. He wants us to be people who don’t just believe in fair play, but who stick their necks out in the pursuit of justice, standing up for those who are bullied at work, taking time to help underdogs in society, speaking up for Christian values in the way our businesses are run. People who know themselves to fall foul of his perfect justice, but who also know the extent of his gracious kindness to us, and who accordingly seek to do much for others. He wants us to be people whose lives know and reflect his righteousness, which he reveals to us in his Son Jesus Christ. God wants his loving-kindness, justice and righteousness to be what we boast about in our lives, regardless of the values our world pushes on us. Take a boast-check. What do you most value? How much do you boast about it?

 

‘There is a fine line between gratitude to God and pride in the things we own.’ – Tim Vickers

  

Tim Vickers

A Career in Killing or Merely Human Resources?

February 6, 2010
06 Feb 2010

As you look back on your life in work, as you look forward to the rest of your career, whence cometh your help in the nitty-gritty challenges, conflicts, and decisions of your daily job?

It was Psalm 144 that first made me realise that David was more than a cute shepherd boy who killed Goliath; more than a great King who defeated the Philistines; more than an adulterer and a murderer; more than a writer of great poetry of praise and complaint, of pain and joy, of agonised doubt and soaring certainty. David was, more simply, a man with a job; a man who had a career. David was a soldier, a killer. So was Saul. So was Jonathan. But David was better. A very skilled killer. Saul had killed his thousands, but David was in a different league – he’d killed his ten thousands. A fact that might have spawned a certain pride in his own ability. But – startlingly – Psalm 144:1 reads: ‘Praise be to the Lord my Rock who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.’ It’s a simple statement that expresses David’s clear consciousness that God helped him do his job better, helped him be a better killer. God had been involved not only in creating him with certain skills – ‘I praise you because I am wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14) – but also had been instrumental in his training.

Certainly, you can see this in his encounter with Goliath, his first great battle. At that stage, David was not a trained soldier, but he had an important transferable skill – he could sling a rock a hundred metres or so, and hit the target. This wasn’t simply a childhood game, but an important skill for a shepherd intent on protecting a flock from predators – wolves, lions, bears. He had learned not only to hit a target, but to hit it under pressure. So when it came to taking on Goliath, he was ready. Psalm 144 shows us that David could see that ultimately God was his trainer – even though he may have learned much about fighting from his brothers, and perhaps too from Saul and Jonathan. God had his hand in David’s career.

 

And God is not only interested in his people, God is involved in developing them to the point where they can achieve the purposes he has for them. This development in David’s case is not only in terms of character, not only in terms of giving him the physical strength to ‘bend a bow of bronze’ (2 Sam 22:35), but in terms of skill. God trained David to do the job God had called him to do. Is he doing any less with you? And does the God who loved David and called him to be a soldier care any less about you or the job he has called you to do?

David’s sense of God’s involvement in his work went beyond training to every aspect of his soldiering career. So, for example, late in his career he reflected: ‘You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn’ (2 Sam 22:37). David had spent years in intense man-to-man combat on invariably uneven terrain, and his ankle had never turned. This is a remarkable fact. As remarkable as, for example, a pacey striker like Michael Owen being able to look back on his footballing career and say that he had never pulled his hamstring. Which Owen, of course, cannot. Moreover, there was rather more at stake for David than another virtuoso goal. Such providential protection from an ankle injury on the battlefield translated into divine protection from death. In man-to-man combat, mobility and the maintenance of good balance are vital, particularly for swordsmen. A limping swordsman is highly vulnerable.

Similarly, David saw God helping him in the most pressured and dangerous contexts of his work: ‘With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall’ (2 Sam 22:30). Even today, scaling a wall is a dangerous activity for a soldier. At any given moment, he only has one hand spare to defend himself, and is particularly vulnerable as his head and shoulders emerge over the top of the wall. Scaling a wall takes significant courage; yet David takes no personal credit for having such courage. Instead, he gives God the glory. In the toughest times, it wasn’t ‘me’ that got me through, it was God.

 

This consciousness of God’s involvement extended beyond training and protection, to David’s decisions as a commander. So, for example, when the Philistines attacked Keilah, he inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines?’ (2 Sam 5:19). This was an overall strategic decision. In asking the question, David recognised his own need for God’s wisdom. How easy it might have been for him who had, after all, killed his tens of thousands to be presumptuous and attack without reference to God. Or on the other hand, how easy for him to ignore the plight of his fellow Israelites. After all, at the time David was fleeing for his life from Saul. And as David’s own men pointed out: ‘Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!’ (1 Sam 23:3). The Lord’s answer to David’s question could hardly be simpler: ‘Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you’ (2 Sam 5:19).

David’s openness to God’s leading in the ‘macro’ strategic issue of whether or not to join battle is paralleled by David’s openness to God’s leading in the ‘micro’ issue of his tactics: ‘Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim: so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.”‘ (2 Sam 5:22- 23). David, an expert commander, sought God’s guidance in the detail. And God didn’t just say, ‘You’re experienced – you work it out.’ Instead, he provided the detail: ‘As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army’ (2 Sam 5:24). Should we fight or not? Should I take that job or not? Should we bid for that client or not? Should we take this product or not?

These questions matter to God. Of course, you can argue that David is a special case. And, at one level, he is. He was, after all, the man God anointed as King of Israel, the man whose descendant is the Messiah, the King throughout eternity. Nevertheless, God loves each of us no less than he loved David. I’m not suggesting that God will give as clear and unequivocal an answer to us for every decision – God guides in a variety of ways, and may treat each of us in different ways. Obviously, godly Christian soldiers do twist their ankles on the battlefield and are not immune to shrapnel or machinegun fire. But God is intensely interested in the whole of our lives, and every area may be brought to him.

David’s consciousness of God is the key. God is not just the God of the sanctuary; God is the God of the battlefield. This is whole-life faith. For anyone believing that God is not the God of Monday as well as of the Sabbath, then David’s experience is eloquent testimony not only to God’s theoretical interest in all of life but to his actual involvement in all of life. And the life in Christ is seamless. Jesus is as capable of teaching Peter through his work as he is through a sermon. In Luke 5, it is Jesus’ involvement in Peter’s fishing business that results in Peter casting his nets once again, even though he had caught nothing the night before. Peter’s response to the abundant catch is a searing recognition of his own sinfulness, and a worshipful acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity: ‘he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”‘ (Lk 5:8). In David’s life, there is no compartmentalisation of the ‘devotional’ life, the family life and the working life. Each has an impact on the other. His failure as a father led to civil war; and his failure to lead his army in spring time, ‘when kings go off to war’, led to that selfish abuse of his royal power – the procurement of Bathsheba, and Uriah’s subsequent murder. The consequences to David are not only personal pain and the anguish of unrepentant guilt, but also, after his confession, God’s decision that ‘the sword will never depart from your house’ (see 2 Sam 12). David’s reign would never again know peace, though God would never leave him.

 

There are, of course, an enormous number of lessons to be learned from David’s life and career, but these points are clear – David knew that his work and his life were really important to God. And that God wanted to be involved, because he made David who he was. He also made you who you are. He does want to be involved. And that makes all the difference in the world.

 

‘David was, more simply, a man with a job, a man who had a career.’

‘God is not just the God of the sanctuary; God is the God of the battlefield.’

‘In David’s life, there is no compartmentalisation of the ‘devotional’ life, the family life and the working life. Each has an impact on the other.’

 

Mark Greene