Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mundane divinity

I was thinking yesterday, as I drove home from spending the evening with some friends, on how easily we undervalue the mundane. I run in, and have run in, a lot of very "intentional" Christian circles. We all place a strong emphasis on intentionally seeking out and engaging with others for the gospel. We tend to think in terms of living with eternity in mind. We strive to use our time in spiritually significant ways. That's a good thing, on the whole. There is certainly no lack of laziness and apathy in the visible church in America, right now, so intentionality can be a healthy counter to it.

On the other hand, I spent most of last week working, both at work and at home. I spent a good deal of time investing in my relationship with my wife, and a little with church friends. On the whole, however, I don't think the week qualified for "spiritually significant investments," at least from the outside looking in. On Saturday alone, I spent nearly 11 hours working on a blog design template for a project a friend and I are looking to launch sometime in the next month or so. The rest of the week looked similar. As you can imagine, there wasn't much conversation there. Neither did work afford many opportunities for deep discussions this week.

In short, my days were thoroughly mundane.

So, riding home, I was thinking about how I spent my time. I could easily make an argument about how the project I was working on was directed at a good spiritual goal. That's true, and it's an argument that holds water, as far as I'm concerned. But what about the time that I spend that isn't on that project? What about the time I spend writing code at work? What about all the hours I sunk into physics homework during the four years I spent in college? Could I have made a bigger difference in people's lives with an easier major? Could I have at least had more time to spend with people with an easier major, and could I now without this project? The answer to both of those last two questions is almost certainly yes, in some sense.

All of that begins to miss the point, however. We are called to glorify God in all of our lives. There is no separation in the minds of Biblical authors between the spiritual and the mundane, no Platonic or gnostic schism between the world of the divine and our own. There is just as strong a call to honor God in our daily activities as in our ministry activities. We are certainly called to minister to those around us. The need for clear proclamation of the gospel could hardly be clearer and could not be deeper. Churches have many holes in ministry that could be filled.

Yet that is certainly no different than it was at any time in the past two millennia of Christian history, or indeed since the beginning of time. Nor is God's sovereignty lacking, nor His ability to communicate to us through Scripture.

Three points that bear consideration as we think about what to do here:
  1. Work was instituted before the fall. Adam was set to tend the Garden of Eden before the serpent ever tempted Eve.

  2. Nearly all believers in God throughout all of history have been ordinary working folk. Only a very small percentage have been called to vocational ministry.

  3. Jesus spend over a decade of his life working as a carpenter in a little village in the backwaters of a small Roman province. I've no doubt there were "spiritual" things in that time, but the Son of God did no public ministry until His late twenties or early thirties.

My conclusion? —that perhaps God does not make the distinction that we tend to between mundane and spiritual activities. He calls us to excellence in all things, whether working for a paycheck, serving those in need, or discipling a younger believer. All of these have value before Him. I do not think that it is of no eternal consequence to provide for my wife, do good work for my company, and demonstrate character and integrity in my work. The consequences are different than for leading a Bible study, certainly, and we cannot let the mundane overwhelm the spiritual. Neither, however, can we cause our valuing the spiritual diminish our joy in and valuing of the everyday. It is spiritually significant to do work well, to study well, to fold laundry well, to do whatever it is that God is calling you to in this moment well.

We are not called to all do the same one thing well. Rather, we are called to do whatever one thing God has set before us well.

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