God’s Presence at Work: Workplace Confessions from Book #1

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Eight Confessions for the Workplace 

Presence. What does it look like to both know and practice God’s deep presence in our day-to-day working lives?

Identity. Rather than success, fame, or fortune, what does it look like to find our deepest working identity in God and God alone?

1,617 years ago St. Augustine of Hippo penned one of the most famous pieces of literature in the history of the Christian faith, The Confessions. In those hallowed pages, Augustine reflects on the intimate presence and persistent work of God in his life with a raw vulnerability and a unique authenticity. Augustine struggles with universal questions about ambition and competition, gifts and calling, money and power, sex and seduction, and meaning and purpose. He struggles with these questions, all the while experiencing the simultaneous feelings of being both deeply in love with and deeply confused and frustrated by God.

The question for us is this: What do 21st century professionals have to learn from a 4th century African saint? The following is a series of eight short reflections on the relevance of The Confessions to the life of the Christian professional today.

 

God’s Presence at Work: Workplace Confessions from Book #1

“Speak to me so that I may hear. See the ears of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and ‘say to my soul, I am your salvation.’ After that utterance I will run and lay hold on you. Do not hide your face from me (Psalm 26:9). Lest I die, let me die so that I may see it.”  Confessions, Section 1.5

“Where is God in all of this?”

Christian professionals serving in a fast, secular, and globalizing marketplace commonly struggle with a sense of God’s presence, work, and relevance in their daily lives. God seems distant, Sunday’s worship feels remote on Monday, and work seems to roll on with a machine-like inevitability. The miraculous, the profound, and the “spiritual” feels a long way off.

On the first page of his Confessions Augustine famously declares to God “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Augustine continually argues that human beings are always and everywhere ultimately longing to know and be known by God. It is that critical gap between God and us that is the ultimate cause of our restlessness and angst. We were fundamentally designed for intimacy with God, who is our ultimate “Sweetness,” as Augustine famously calls God.

While Augustine has been declared a “saint” we see in the opening pages of the Confessions that he struggles, like all of us, with the very common fear that God is silent and absent from the mundane daily activities of our work and life. Augustine too felt that God sometimes seemed a long way off. In this (perceived) divine absence, Augustine confesses that he begins to shrivel up.

This perception of divine absence is common. Augustine’s response to it, however, is rather uncommon. He fights back. In the passage above Augustine refuses to accept this perceived silence. Augustine implores God to come near. He pleads with God to make himself known. Augustine acknowledges that God is indeed present and speaking, but that his own ears have closed themselves to his voice. And so he pleas, “Speak to me so that I may hear. See the ears of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and ‘say to my soul, I am your salvation.”

Through out the first book of his Confessions, Augustine models for us all a life that longs for intimacy with God- intimacy not simply in his private life, but in every aspect of his public life as well. Augustine pleads and demands that God make his voice heard. He confesses that he has grown deaf to God’s voice and that he stands in need of a “divine ear-cleaning.”

These Confessions lead me to ask myself a number of questions about God’s presence and voice in my own working life. First, how do I respond when it feels like God is far off from my day-to-day tasks? Do I just shrug my shoulders and try to move on without God’s presence and guidance? Do I accept that I am my own god? Or, do I engage God in a struggle, in a fight? Do I ask—no—do I demand that God make himself known in my workplace? Do I confess my deep need for His voice? Can I say the following prayer with Augustine? “Do not hide your face from me. Lest I die, let me die so that I may see it.” How, in the end, will I respond to these moments of perceived silence and absence?

Matthew is the Director of the Cascade Fellows and the Fuller Institute for Theology and Northwest Culture in Seattle, WA. His main research areas include theology, culture, work, and economics. He studied Political Science at Whitworth University. He earned an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary along with doctoral degrees in Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and Systematic Theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. Matthew currently serves as the Director of Fuller Institute for Theology and Northwest Culture in Seattle. He teaches courses at Fuller Seminary Northwest in theology, ethics, and culture. In 2011 Matthew was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research in the Netherlands on the contemporary conflict between Islam and secularism in Europe. While he has published articles and chapters in a number academic journals and books, he has also published in a number of popular level journals on faith and culture including Comment Magazine, Fieldnotes Magazine, and the Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue Journal. Matthew lives in Lynnwood, Washington with his wife Heather, their three sons Calvin, Kees, and Cademan, and a dog named Henry.

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