Offer Your Work as a Living SacrificeDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
Workplace Christians today trust that God is active through the decisions and actions of non-Christian people and institutions. Ezra trusted God in this way too. His narrative reveals that Cyrus, the King of Persia, was God’s chosen instrument, whether or not Cyrus himself recognized that. Similarly, the actions of our boss, coworkers, customers and suppliers, rivals, regulators, or myriad other actors may be furthering the work of God’s kingdom. That should prevent us from both despair and arrogance.
If Christian people and values seem absent from your workplace, don’t despair—God is still at work whether you recognize it or not. On the other hand, if you are tempted to see yourself or your organization as a paragon of Christian virtue, beware! God may be accomplishing more through those with less visible connection to him than you realize. Certainly, God’s work through Cyrus—who remained wealthy, powerful, and unbelieving, even while many of God’s people were only slowly recovering from the poverty of exile—should warn us not to expect wealth and power as a necessary reward for our faithful work. God is using all things to work towards his kingdom, not necessarily towards our personal success.
God’s work continued as many Jews took advantage of Cyrus’ decree. “Every one whose spirit God had stirred” prepared to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5). When they arrived in Jerusalem, their first job was to build the altar and offer sacrifices on it (Ezra 3:1-3). This epitomizes the chief sort of work chronicled in Ezra and Nehemiah. It is closely associated with the sacrificial practices of Old Testament Judaism, which took place in the temple. The work described in these books reflects and supports the centrality of the temple and its offerings in the life of God’s people. Worship and work stride hand in hand through the pages of Ezra.
Of course, Christians no longer make sacrifices like the ones described in Ezra. Instead, Paul calls us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), humbly serving the body of Christ in all that we do. In the letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that our "bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God" (1 Cor. 6:19). Our bodies do not belong to us. Our work does not belong to us. Therefore, just as the Israelites did not fear the people around them when they offered their sacrifices, we are not afraid to honor and worship God every day as we go about our work.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How might God be calling you to be a living sacrifice in your daily activities? If you are in a place where you need encouragement that God is present in your work, think about moments of grace from the past week. If you are tempted to think of your workplace as a paragon of Christian virtue, ask God to give you a humble and honest perspective.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, in some ways passages like these about sacrifices and burnt offerings can seem very distant from our world of mobile phones and social media. First of all, we thank you that you are eternal and powerful, just as relevant to the Israelites of Ezra's day as you are to us.
Help us see you clearly in our work today. Forgive us, Lord, when we think more highly of ourselves that we ought to think. Give us an honest perspective of ourselves and our work. Encourage us by revealing yourself in small moments of grace throughout the day. May we pray today without ceasing and so be aware of your presence. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: This week I'm taking a short break from our devotional study of Ephesians to focus on issues related to our work as Christians. The following reflections are based on an article I did for the Theology of Work Project which investigated what the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther teach us about our work. I highly recommend the Theology of Work Project website. It provides a unique resource for Christians who are wanting to make connections between their faith and their daily work. I also want to thank my colleague, Marcus Goodyear, for helping me to produce our reflections for this week.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.