Experiencing God’s Presence at Work - Denise Daniels, Shannon Vandewarker (Podcast Episode 7)
What if you could experience God's presence in the midst of your ordinary, everyday work? Guests Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker are the authors of Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Additional Resources Referenced
Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work by Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker
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Leah Archibald: We often think the best way to experience God is to get away from our work, to retreat, to disengage. But what if we could also experience God's presence and personal transformation in the midst of our ordinary everyday work? With us today are guests Denise Daniels, and Shannon Vandewarker, they are the authors of Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work.
Denise is a professor of management at Seattle Pacific University, where she is the Executive Producer of Faith & Co, a documentary video project highlighting the stories of Christians in business who are wrestling with what it means to live out business as their calling. She's also the co-principal investigator on a research project examining how people in the United States understand and engage their faith at work.
Shannon is passionate about helping people find God in their ordinary everyday lives. This passion was fueled during her years of study as she earned her BA in Biblical Studies from Azusa Pacific University and a Masters of Divinity from Bethel Seminary. Shannon has worked with professionals in many different industries, helping them create a vision for whole-life discipleship. Shannon writes about finding God in the ordinary on her blog, ShannonVandewarker.com.
Denise and Shannon welcome.
Denise Daniels: Thanks Leah, it's good to be here.
Shannon Vandewarker: Thanks for having us.
LA: So let me ask you both, what does it mean to work in the presence of God?
DD: Well, it's a great question. This is Denise, and when Shannon and I first started working on this project, we were working with a number of people who were trying to figure out that question of; how do we experience God in the midst of our every day work? And I think a lot of times we think about devotional practices, or spiritual disciplines as something that we do as an add-on to our day. And we really wanted to start helping people think about what might it mean to engage in those practices throughout the day, not as something to do extra, not as something as one more thing on your to-do list, but more so how do we think about and understand and see God's presence in the midst of our everyday ordinary lives?
SV: I would add too that working in the presence of God is... I mean the obvious answer is that we're always doing it, right? But we may not know or realize that we are. And so when we look at scripture, we see God being Emmanuel, God with us, meaning that God's with us in these really mundane meetings and emails and tasks of our day. And so working in the presence of God means cultivating this kind of more of an awareness of Him, seeing where maybe we've missed God. And then that ties in with these spiritual practices, because they then enable us to have this awareness in our minds, in our spirits, even bodily of God's presence with us in the midst of these really mundane things that make up each of our vocations.
LA: So tell us about these spiritual practices that you write about, how do they help you connect with God over the course of your work?
SV: Sure. So we started looking at these classic spiritual disciplines, and how they've helped people create this awareness of God's presence throughout history. But often they're done in the midst of environments that are controllable. So often we read scripture or engage in prayer practices at home in front of a fire, in our favorite chair, where we can determine who walks in and out of our front door. But if we make the small tweak to engaging in these spiritual practices, either in the workplace or around our work, it's a very small tweak to these practices, but that small tweak can open us up to recognizing God's presence in places where maybe we haven't experienced His Presence before.
So for instance, reading scripture in your work space, reading about loving your neighbor is really different at home in that favorite chair than it is in your office where a co-worker who you clashed with yesterday is walking by. So we read scripture differently in the midst of those environments. Similarly, engaging in other practices, like surrendering the calendar, which I'm excited to talk about later in the podcast, and other practices, seeing your work space as holy ground, all of these things just help enable a fuller experience of God. Since we spend most of our days, most of our lives working, we often can miss huge chunks of where God might be at work. And so these spiritual practices help us connect and become aware of where maybe we missed God working, and can open up a whole new realm of seeing and experiencing God, hearing from him, being used by him in new and different ways.
LA: Denise is there anything that you wanna add to Shannon's answer?
DD: No, Shannon did a great job.
As she was talking, I was like, "Oh, and then also when you're sitting at home in your easy chair," and then she says, "And when you're sitting at home, in your easy chair."
LA: So tell me Denise what has it been like for you to incorporate spiritual practices into your work day?
DD: Yeah, Shannon and I really come at this quite differently. And I would say the way I conceive of it in my own mind, is that Shannon is kind of naturally bent this way and I'm not. And so I come at it cognitively. I'm an academic, and so when we started talking about this book, I was like, "Yeah these are really good ideas, these are things I really should try in practice." And so that's what I did, and I really kind of approached it in a very kind of systematic cognitive way of, "This is how I'm going to start trying to attend to the ways that God is working around me and the ways that God is active in my world."
And the cool thing about it is that that actually is what emerges, is that you start to see God's presence in ways that you maybe hadn't ordinarily seen. You start to notice that your own orientation is a little bit different. And I like the way that Shannon framed it in terms of tweaks, because it's not changing wholesale your life, it's just really trying to be oriented and attuned to God's presence in the daily moments.
LA: Denise, could you give me an example of maybe a challenge that you faced at work and a spiritual practice that you brought in and how that helped?
DD: Well, let me talk a little bit about two practices real quickly that I've really started to try to implement on a regular basis. And I will say, we wrote this book, we've got 11 chapters that correspond to 11 different practices. I do not do all 11 all the time. And so if that gives anybody out there some freedom to think, "Oh, I don't have to do all these," I hope that that's a good thing.
LA: Thank God, that gives me freedom.
12:19 DD: So I do a couple of them all the time, or I try to do a couple of them on a regular basis, and then there are others that I turn to in moments that feel needful.
But a couple that I have been trying to engage in pretty regularly, are liturgy of commute and work place as holy ground. And both of those are at the beginning of the day, it's orienting to how I get to work, and then how I literally walk into my building. And so, liturgy of commute is just what it sounds like, as you're commuting from your home to your work, how do you engage in that time and operate it as a liturgy? How can you recognize God's presence as you go about that movement from point A to point B? And so, for me, as I'm crossing particular streets, it reminds me to pray for particular things. So as I'm leaving my house, I actually pray for my family that I'm kind of walking away from, and then as I'm getting in my car, I reorient and I start praying for that journey. As I cross particular streets I pray for particular people who are in my life or who are engaged with my work in particular ways. And so that has really helped me use that time in a way that's not just zoning out listening to the radio, but preparing me to get to into my work place.
And then the other is kind of an addition to that, but it's considering and thinking about work place as holy ground. And the basic idea behind this is that if we believe that God is present everywhere, then in your workplace, God is there and everywhere God is is holy. And so as we walk into our workplace, how does that reorient our thinking? If God is in this place, what does that mean about the work that I am doing in this place?
And so, I have a couple of kind of physical practices as I walk in that help me to do that. So I have both a card key and a regular key. The card key gets me into the building and my regular key gets me into my office, and as I swipe my card key I orient and I pray, "God, this is your space. Help me to be your hands and feet as I move into this building." And then as I walk into my office and again there's a motion of turning my key, and it's again, a reminder to me to recognize, Lord, I'm walking into... And I think about it as sort of a holy of holies, and I know that's maybe profane almost, because my office is not the exact same thing as the holy of holies, but there is this moment of crossing that threshold where I bring myself and my day and who I am and what I'm doing in front of God, and say, "This is your space help me to do in it, what you would have me do."
What that does then is it changes not only how I think about the work that I do, but really about the people that I interact with. As other people come into my office they are on holy ground. And so what does that mean about how I think about them, how I talk to them, how I engage with them, how interruptible am I in those moments? Am I irritated when somebody comes in? But if that's God's holy space, then God is bringing that person into that space and I wanna recognize it in that way.
LA: Have you noticed a change in your own attitude since doing this practice?
DD: Yeah, because it was really easy for me. I tend to be very work-focused and so I wanna get stuff done. And when somebody knocks on my door or walks in, I'm like, "Argh! I'm in the middle of something, can't they see that?" And what it has helped me to do is to reframe that a little bit and think, "Okay, God is interrupting me, what does God want me to do or say or engage this person for? What is the purpose of this interaction?" And so I think it helps me to see people much more through God's eyes, than as somebody who's distracting me from what I'm trying to get done.
LA: I love it. And Shannon you mentioned a different spiritual practice earlier of surrendering the calendar. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
SV: Yeah. When we think about surrendering the calendar, it's a practice of taking our to-do lists, or our calendar, it could be on a phone or a paper calendar. But actually taking that physical thing and praying through it. So it could be at the start of a week, as you're planning your week, it could be at the start of a day, the break in your workday, as you're entering into the afternoon and entering into meetings. But it's a practice of taking those things and listing them in the presence of God, and then asking God for what he would add to that list. Or, what He would have you say in that meeting, or how he would have you interact with that person that's on your calendar. And then taking some time to listen, to hear God's spirit and to really prioritize what God would have rather than just checking off boxes and trying to get things done.
Denise, I had to laugh when you were talking about getting irritated when somebody walked into your office, because you just wanted to get stuff done, because for me that's what this practice has been. My life is very full and I have a lot of different pieces to my work... And I also have very short periods of time, in which to get things done. And so often when I'm writing my to-do lists, it causes anxiety for me, because I realize there's no way that I could ever get all of this done in the amount of time that I have. And so, this practice has really slowed me down to really prioritize, "You know what, everything that needs to get done, will get done today in God's spirit and in God's timing. And if something is left undone I can then offer that back to God also." And often what happens is, it's a re-orienting for me of my spirit to God, to His priorities for what he would have me do.
SV: And it's been interesting, because it's not just actual things that are added to the to-do list as I listen, but it's often attitudes that need to be changed. Or often I hear God's spirit adding things like; do this with joy, add some laughter in there, so that it's not just kind of head down hustle, hustle, hustle and get everything done, but it's actually a transformational experience because how we work actually affects who we are.
And so do I wanna just be somebody who checks off all of the boxes, and says, "I got my to-do-list done today," or do I wanna be somebody who actually works with joy, who works with wisdom, who isn't frantic to try and get everything done, So it's been very transformational and continues to be transformational for me as I enter into the practice, and some days, the anxiety of it, I think the temptation for me is for the anxiety to take over rather than to enter into the peace and the rest of offering this and surrendering this to God.
LA: Well, Mark did an experiment this past month of doing this practice of surrendering the calendar. So Mark, I'm so curious to hear how that went for you.
Mark Roberts: Sure, happy to talk about that, but I preface it by saying, I tried liturgy of commute and I just failed, it just didn't work. Partly that may be because I'm driving in Southern California, partly I think I have so many years of a certain frame of mind in commuting that this was just like an impossible challenge.
LA: There should be a caveat on the book like: Works everywhere, but LA, it doesn't work in LA traffic, choose a different spiritual discipline.
MR: Seriously, so I appreciated actually Denise, your initial comment that you're not doing all of these, 'cause I really think as people work through the book, some things will really connect and they'll be into and some won't as much. And you're giving us freedom in your own example. So, my experiment with the commuting liturgy so far has not been so positive, because I find myself too often thinking really bad thoughts about other people. However, the surrendering your calendar thing has been really cool.
Now part of that, I'll tell you what I did. I have a to-do list program in my various technologies. And so every morning the first thing that appears on my screen, says, surrendering your calendar, so that's a good reminder, right on my to-do list, it's the first thing I do, and I'm reminded of it. So then I open my calendar and then I actually look at it. And as Shannon described, I think about the day and I pray through the pieces of the day, and as you've encouraged, I ask the Lord if there's something else I ought to be doing in this day.
And what I found, and it's very much like what Shannon said, so far there haven't been these dramatic moments of, "Oh my gosh, I need to reach out to so-and-so." Or some new thing occurs to me, although I won't be surprised if that happens at some point, but it really does reframe my heart about the day, especially if I have a day full of stuff I'm not looking forward to, which for me is... I like a meeting or two, but if I have a full meetings day, I'm really cranky when I start. And to actually surrender that to God, not only reminds me of whom I'm serving, but it really has enabled me to, in the surrender, to give up some of my bad attitude also, and to imagine that God might actually have good things, and His work to be done in places that I'm otherwise thinking is just a doggone meeting.
So for me that discipline, it's really been about a sort of a reframing of the day, a reshaping of my heart. And then just the very intentional regular surrender acknowledging God as Lord of my day, this day of me, I exist for God's service, and that actually has made a difference that I've really appreciated.
DD: I love hearing that, Mark, that's so cool, it's really fun to hear that example.
LA: Denise and Shannon as you were writing this book, were there any pieces of the Bible that you started to see in a different way or that surprised you as you were thinking in terms of spiritual practices for work?
SV: I think the surprising thing was that as we... We really wanted the book grounded in scripture, and there were certain practices that since we had committed to it being grounded in Scripture, I was a little bit nervous about, like, "Okay, let's go digging, let's go see if we can find evidence for this kind of a thing." And it was really fun to see evidence for all of these things in scripture. It was really fun to dig into different stories, and people's lives and realize, "Okay, none of this is new, this is age old. God's been at work since the beginning of time. And this might just be a different expression of how we might become aware of God in our midst, but throughout scripture, we see God doing that in people's lives. And so, it was actually a really fun adventure for us to dig in and see where maybe we had missed what God was saying, even in scripture.
DD: Yeah. And I would say, I would just give you a particular example. There's a lot of scripture that talks about work and so, we had kind of the usual suspects of the creation story where God is a worker and so on, but the one that really struck me when I first saw it, and at Shannon's pointing it out, was in Exodus. And this is the story, Exodus 3, is the story of Moses being called by God in the burning bush to become a leader of the Hebrew people in Egypt. And what's remarkable about that is that Moses is going about his work when that happens, he is caring for sheep, he's on a mountain side, he's by himself doing his work, kind of minding his own business, and all of a sudden God intervenes and God says to Moses, "Take off your shoes, you're on holy ground."
And that was really the impetus for our chapter on workplace as holy ground, because again, God is everywhere. And so God broke in to kind of tell Moses a particular thing in that particular time and in that particular place, and that may not be the message that God is telling each of us certainly. But at the same time, God is present with us and God is wanting to engage with us, and God is wanting to use us. And so to the extent that in our daily lives, whether it's with sheep or in a cubicle or whatever, to recognize that God is there and God is wanting to engage. That was a really remarkable passage for me when it was reframed as a workplace scenario as opposed to this kind of very familiar Bible story of Moses being called to be a leader.
LA: Something that I notice in Moses' story is a curiosity of approaching God. In that passage, Denise that you mentioned from Exodus chapter three, where Moses sees the burning bush, he had some curiosity about it, like, "Why is this bush burning up, but it's not consuming. I'm gonna go over there and take a look. I wanna know more." And I think there's in these spiritual practices for everyday work, we use these spiritual practices to have that same kind of curiosity, "God, what do you have for me next? Let me use a spiritual practice to see if you can speak into my next steps at work."
DD: Yeah, I think that's great Leah. And I do think that that notion of questioning is actually built into a lot of these practices, the question of, "God, what do you have for me in this? God, how would you have me attend to this particular circumstance or this particular person? God, where did I miss you? Where did you show up and I didn't see it?" And so, that curiosity or those questions really drive a number of these different practices. It's not so much a practice that tells you, "Okay, if you do these X, Y, Z things then your relationship with God will be right and your life will be good." [chuckle] It's much more about this dynamic between you and God, and a lot of that dynamic is a series of questions and conversations where you're asking and waiting for God to show you what that answer might be.
LA: Denise and Shannon, I'll go to you Shannon first. If you're wanting to give someone advice who's just starting to do a spiritual practice, or who's just wanted to start doing a spiritual practice to connect with God in their work, where would you advise them to start out?
SV: Sure, that's a great question. So we actually start in the book with having people think through their workplace rhythm. So most of us have kind of a routine that we go through in our work and we have people write out, "Okay, I get in my car and then I drive and then I go to this meeting and then I check my email and then I have this meeting once a week," and so on. And that's different for everybody, but becoming aware of that rhythm of how you work then enables you to see where you might implement one or two of these practices. So if you have a longer commute, your ability to connect with God through a liturgy of commute might be a good place to start. If you have a very short commute, like my 80-year-old friend, Jan, [chuckle] who said "Yes, I'm doing the liturgy of commute and I walk from my bedroom to the bathroom and I brush my teeth and then I walk from the bathroom to the kitchen, and I make breakfast."
But for her, she said, "Oh, I can do this, I can start this liturgy, it's short, it's not an hour, it's not 30 minutes, but I can enter into this practice and see where God might meet me in that." So it's just becoming aware of how you work and then implementing, I would say, start with one and practice it for a week, two weeks, a month, and see how it might start transforming you. I personally think there's four practices in this kind of orienting to work, so how we start work. I think those four practices are really good entry point. So it's liturgy of commute, surrendering the calendar, reading scripture and...
DD: Workplace as holy ground is the other one.
SV: Workplace as holy ground, yes. So all four of those would be a great entry point to... Because we're kind of aware at the beginning of the day, how we start. Denise, do you have a different answer for that?
DD: Maybe slightly different. I think your first point about recognizing your own rhythm is really important. And if I were encouraging somebody who was coming at this for the first time, I would say, "You know, look at the chapter titles, skim through it, choose one or maybe two and try to practice that for a week or two. But certainly don't try all of them at the same time. You're gonna be completely overwhelmed and you're not gonna be able to do any of them well, and you're gonna quit."
And these are not all daily, some of them are weekly practices. For example, Sabbath, is not something that you're gonna necessarily do everyday, but you might wanna engage in a weekly Sabbath practice to see what that feels like and looks like for you.
The other thing that I would say about this for somebody who's brand new, is that I spent a lot of my life, and maybe still spend some of my life feeling a little bit guilty that I don't do more, that I'm not better, that I'm not more attuned to God, or that I'm not more disciplined about my walk with God. And I think that that mentality, that orientation is not from God. I think God really wants to engage with us and wants to be with us and have us recognize that God is with us. But I think that God wants us to experience that as a gift. And so I would really hope that people look at each of these disciplines as an opportunity of a gift that God is giving, and as an opportunity to see where God might be trying to show us something beautiful about the world, about Himself, about other people, about our work.
And so I think these practices are a way to access that. But I don't want people to feel like, "Oh it's just one more thing, I've got to add... Now I've gotta do this thing on my to-do list too." That is not what we're wanting and what we're hoping for from this book, it really is much more of how can we use these in a way that is natural in the rhythm of our real lives that doesn't make us crazy, that isn't overwhelming, but that does open us up to the ways that God is wanting to engage with us.
LA: Mark, do you have a last word, as someone who's just done an experiment in this, do you have a last word for our listener?
MR: Well, I really appreciate, Denise, what you just said in terms of not living in guilt or shame because I'm not doing enough, but really living in God's grace. I'm reminded of a... I went to a retreat once that Dallas Willard was speaking at, and... There was a Q&A, and one of the pastors asked, "Do you have any suggestions for me because when I get up early to have my devotions and pray, I keep falling asleep. So I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for what I might do?" And Dallas said, "I'm thinking you just probably need to sleep more and feel the freedom to sleep."
And then he went on to say, you know, as soon as you turn spiritual disciplines into things we have to do to become more spiritual, you really missed the point, that they are ways to experience God's grace, and it's probably true that God wants to give you the grace of some additional sleep, that that's what you need right now. And I just thought, "Okay I've been a Christian a long time, and I've never heard anybody say that about morning quiet time," and it was so freeing. And Denise in a sense you've said a similar thing. So I think my encouragement is on the one hand, yeah we're really wanting people to buy this book and it's not just 'cause we like you guys, but you've written a great book.
Number two, as you've said, experiment with some things, don't feel like you've gotta do it all or you're a failure at living your faith at work, that that would be utterly inconsistent with what you've written and with the gospel. So let this be an encouragement to creativity and experimentation and getting to know God better in the context of your workplace, as one of my friends says, "Not one more brick in your backpack."
DD: Yeah, exactly.
SV: Right, that's right.
LA: Denise and Shannon thank you so much for sharing your work with us today.
DD: Thank you, Leah, thanks Mark.
SV: Thank you for having us.
MR: Yeah, thanks, everybody.