Read part one of our series on Vocation here.
In light of the Labor Day holiday, I thought it would be
timely to write up the next segment in our blog series on Vocation, by
discussing what the Book of Common
Prayer has to say about work and
labor. With the obvious exception of the
Holy Bible, there is no book more important to Anglican life than the Book of Common Prayer. It should not be
surprising, then, to find that the Prayer Book has some wisdom to share on the
general topic of vocation and on the specific topics of work and labor. In subsequent posts, I intend to look at
other aspects of vocation through the eyes of the Book of Common Prayer.
In the 1928 edition of the American version of the Book of Common Prayer (that is, the
version we use at All Saints), we find the word “labour” occurring 46 times,
and the word “work" occurring 362 times. While many of the instances of
the Prayer Book using the word “work” refer to things other than our vocational
labors (such as good works, works of righteousness, the Lord working his will
in us, et cetera), thanksgiving and
prayer for our daily work is scattered throughout many of the services. I found
three of these examples to be especially profound and poignant with respect to
how Anglicanism’s most important resource wants us to view our work in our
various vocational callings. Today we’ll look at one of these examples; over
the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the other two.
For Every Man in his
God, our Heavenly Father, who declarest thy glory and showest forth thy
handiwork in the heavens and in the earth; Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our
several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which
thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with
singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for
the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen (p. 44)
The first passage on work is the most obvious: the prayer
“For Every Man in his Work.” In this passage, we find one of the purposes of
our work, as well as ways that work should be different for Christians than it
is for the World.
It may be surprising, but this prayer shows us that one of
the reasons we are to work is that our work is part of God declaring his glory
and showing forth his handiwork. Furthermore, our work on earth reflects God’s
work in heaven and on earth. Our work is to bring God glory, and we work
because God works.
Made to Work . . .
and then we Fell
This is reminiscent of the Creation accounts in Genesis,
where God makes all of Creation simply because it was good for him to do so.
Then, God makes man and woman for the purposes of working and tending his
creation. Even in granting Adam and his descendants dominion over creation, it
was always for the purposes of taking care of what God had made, not to destroy
and twist it for our own desires. Prior to the Fall, Adam’s work included
naming the animals (demonstrating both Adam’s lordship over them and what we’d
call scientific inquiry about them), having children, tending the Garden, and
enjoying the fruits of all this work.
After the Fall, Adam was still to do these things, albeit
with much toil and hardship. The curse of the Fall is not work itself, but rather
work that is tedious, difficult, and at times unfruitful. The combination of
the corruption of our work and sin’s corruption of our natures means that we
are now often inclined to use our work for greedy purposes that promote selfish
or evil ends. Our work often results in us being oppressed or oppressing
others. We often cooperate in ugliness and in untruthfulness, serving our own
ambitions rather than God’s purposes. We often find ourselves entrapped work
that seems trivial, purposeless, or to which we feel unsuited and in which we
feel unfulfilled. We end up living for the weekend or for retirement, and see
much of our regular daily lives as a waste of time.
With the coming of the Messiah, we get the down payment of
the reversal of the Fall, including the redemption of work. As the prayer above
notes, Our Lord came as a servant. He
also was known as the son of a carpenter. That is, Jesus himself engaged in
vocational work, both in his early life, and in his later ministry. In Christ,
we are able to follow his example, and change even tedious work into something
that can glorify God.
This prayer also points out characteristics of work that
glorifies God: work done in truth, work done in beauty, work done in righteousness,
and work done with singleness of mind. This echoes St. Paul’s admonition to the
brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever
things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be
any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned,
and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with
you (4:8-9, KJV).
It is when our work conforms to these words of Scripture and
this prayer that we will find fulfilment and vocation in it. Sometimes that
means we change our attitudes. Sometimes
that means we change our jobs. Often this takes stepping out in faith and
trusting in God’s provision so that we are servants to him rather than to mammon
(that is, money). The truth is, every job, career, calling, vocation, et cetera, can still be marred by the
curse of the Fall. But God has redeemed us from the curse, when Jesus became a
curse for us. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we have the hope of our own
resurrection in the World to Come, when all of the effects of the Fall are set
to rights again and all our work is performed in the fullness of God’s glory. In the meantime, we use our work in truth,
beauty, righteousness, and singleness of mind, for God’s glory, and not for the
service of mammon, repenting when we fail, and trusting in God’s help.