Vocations 2: The Book of Common Prayer and Work (Pt 1)

Vocations 2: The Book of Common Prayer and Work (Pt 1)

 

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 Work

Almighty 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.

Redemption Including Redeemed Work

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 Philippians:

Finally, 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.

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