Ordinary Work: Lessons from a Well-Dressed Man
This is part of a new series on the blog surrounding the ordinary faithfulness of the body of Christ and the work of the Spirit throughout it. Click here to see all of the pieces. My hope is you will be encouraged and spurred on to be faithful in the small.
His bow tie was perfectly situated. Half of my classmates in the lecture hall wanted to laugh, the other half thought it was cool. All of us were nervous. The class was known for its difficulty, due for the most part to the well-dressed man standing before us. For the next seventy minutes, I joined my classmates with silent groans as we looked at the grading rubric that would be our standard for the next sixteen weeks. My pride beckoned me rise to the challenge the man in the bow tie dared me to accept. Yet as the weeks unfolded, I found that Professor Boyd had much more to teach me that semester than Perspectives on Communication.
For the following weeks we learned about concepts like dialogue, rhetoric, and ethnographic studies. Through our lectures and yes- even bow tie-tying demonstrations- we were taught the material, not only with the goal of good grades, but for the purpose of knowledge. Though I struggled at times, I couldn’t help but come to class wanting to learn. Woven into each lecture, my professor shared not just a textbook, but he shared his passion with us. Not long into the class we discovered another passion he held beyond the syllabus on our desks.
The first time I saw the lyrics to a Christian song on the overhead screen, I did a double-take. Did he really use that to explain a term? Later we would read a chapter in one of the gospels and would listen to stories from his family’s missionary trips for examples. Each time never felt forced, like some sort of persuasion tactic for his secular students. Instead, it was merely the out flowing of a life so intertwined with his faith that he couldn’t help but share it with those around him.
As a 19-year-old student, fresh out of the bubble of her Christian upbringing, I entered each day with questions. How will I serve the Lord with my job? Does it even matter what I do? The godly role models of my family and church mentors growing up had spurred me on to seek after Christ. Yet as I embarked on an adulthood to claim my own, I wondered what it would look like when teaching met the hard truth of reality. My professor gently modeled the answers I needed that semester.
In caring for and challenging his students he exemplified a life that did not differentiate between secular and sacred. He demonstrated that the gifts God calls us to use (Rom. 12:6) are not exclusive to the church. We’ve been gifted in vocations, and even they matter to God. That semester I saw how our jobs can be a place to proclaim our love for Christ to those around us, but even more so- I saw how that proclamation does not end when we stop speaking his name. It continues on in the actual work- how we answer that email, how well we paint that trim, or how diligently we tackle that pile of paperwork. These ordinary acts are not just means to an end, but they are the blessing of the God who has given us a world to tend and cultivate (Gen. 1:28).
Though it may be tempting to want to await the kingdom of Christ from the sidelines, separating the secular from the sacred- the Holy Spirit does not work this way. Not only does the Spirit unite us with Christ, but the Spirit also draws us out into our different spheres of influence to bear his fruit. Perhaps it’s a classroom, a conference room, a field of beans, or a PTA meeting. Each one is an avenue where the fruit of the gospel grows. Though it may not feel it, these ordinary tasks of our days are really our chance to tend the world that God has made- making it more beautiful, ordered, or temporarily restored.
That email with our boss or the decision with a coworker is not a secular event simply because we are not discussing the gospel. It is a chance to love and honor the image-bearers God has placed around us. Sometimes we may have deep conversations and opportunities to share the gospel and the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15), and we should seek them out. Yet the seemingly monotonous moments and days in-between are not any less of a chance to give glory to our Father (1 Cor. 10:31).
My professor was not the only one to model this perspective for me. Later on I’d hear the gospel presented from a TA after caring all semester for his students. I prayed with the gentle and diligent nurse beside my hospital bed before a C-Section. I’d see the hope of Christ shine in a co-worker throughout each menial task for the day. Each time, these brothers and sisters reminded me of what it looks like to view vocation as sacred. They approached their ordinary tasks with excellence, joy, and faithfulness, and they grasped the opportunities they could to share why they had such a hope.
While we await our Savior in our earthly home, Jesus tells us to abide in Christ like a branch attached to its life-giving vine (Jn. 15:4). I caught a glimpse of its beautiful fruit that semester in something as boring as a lecture hall. Whether we are discouraged, disenchanted, or bored- our ordinary work matters. It, too, is sacred. As we draw nearer to our Savior, his fruit will surely show through each avenue of our lives- whether we are sitting at a desk or tying a bow tie.