Note: Excerpt from Working in the Presence of God, copyright 2019 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Ma. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As we read Scripture, we see repeatedly that God uses space and place to speak, to transform people, and to further his work. But many times, we gloss over this. We also forget the ordinariness of the examples of work in the Scriptures. We see heroes of the faith – elevating them and their vocations – forgetting that at the point where God intervenes, they are just going about their ordinary, everyday lives.
Take the story of Moses and the burning bush as an example (see Exodus 3:1-12). Most of us see this story as extraordinary; we were introduced to it as a miraculous story of God’s encounter with Moses and ultimately the Hebrew people. And it is. But it is also filled with the normal, the everyday, the mundane.
Try stepping back from the story as you’ve always read it and put yourself in Moses’ shoes. He had once been a prince in an Egyptian palace. He knew extravagance, he knew power, he knew the extraordinary. But here in the book of Exodus, we see him in a different light. He’s not in a palace surrounded by luxury, but rather in the middle of the wilderness watching after a bunch of his father-in-law’s sheep. It is in this very ordinary – and maybe even desolate – workplace setting that God makes himself known to Moses through the burning bush.
Talk about ordinary. The wilderness, the desert, a stark land of solitude. Moses is by himself with a flock of smelly, needy, stubborn sheep. When you read this story through the lens of work, you see that even Moses had a truly ordinary job to do. His job was to keep track of the sheep, to find them pasture, and to move them to where they could graze or find water. Although this was a deeply important job in rural cultures, nevertheless it was quite ordinary.
It is into this ordinariness that God speaks. Moses is in his office – his mountainside office – going about his everyday, ordinary work, probably not expecting to hear from, commune with, or worship God.
But isn’t that how the Spirit of God works? It is into these earthy ordinary elements that God chooses to speak. God doesn’t take Moses aside to a place where he would pay attention; God’s Spirit enters the very space where Moses already is.
Think about that for a moment. Moses – liberator of the people of Israel, the man God uses to lead his people for decades – doesn’t have to be brought away from his actual life to hear from God. It’s in the midst of his ordinary life that God enters, speaks, and is worshipped. God shows up in a bush on fire, and then he sets apart Moses’ mountain office and consecrates it as holy ground. He takes the ordinary elements of dirt, rocks, plants, and fire, and he separates them as elements of communion and connection. He marks them as a place where Moses heard from the Lord himself.
God tells Moses to take his sandals off, because God names the ordinariness of the mountain and the bush as holy ground. Of course, the ground is holy because God is present. But the truth is that God is always present. God was present to Moses in that moment of calling, and God is present to us in our own ordinary workplaces.
We elevate this story as grand and as a pivotal point in the story of the Lord’s people. Certainly, this is true. But it is not what Moses had expected for his workday, and it’s certainly not how most of us enter our workdays. We believe that God wants that to change for you. God longs for Christian workers to anticipate God showing up and speaking into the midst of our work.
What if you started to see your work, your ordinary everyday work, as God saw Moses’ work: As a space where God wants to speak and commune with you and, in turn, be worshipped by you? What might change if you started expecting God to show up in your office or workplace in all its ordinariness?
From ancient times until today, practicing Jews affix to their front doorframe a mezuzah – a small case holding a piece of parchment inscribed with the Shema prayer, which begins: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The mezuzah is a way of reminding those in the house not only of God’s commands but also that the house they are about to enter is a place set aside as holy to God. In the 1800s, the German Rabbi Hirsch wrote that the mezuzah is a way of “hallowing the house…as an abode where G-d is ever present and where the service of G-d is fulfilled” (Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, translated by Isidore Grunfeld, Soncino Pr Ltd, 7th edition, 2002, p. 59). A blessing is said when putting up the mezuzah, and those entering and leaving the house will often touch it as a reminder of the blessing. And so the mezuzah is a tangible way of symbolizing that both the house and the daily activities of its inhabitants – while appearing mundane – have been marked as holy and set aside for God’s purposes. The ordinary has become extraordinary through God’s presence.
The idea of a dwelling place made holy appears over and over throughout Scripture. In each instance, we see an ordinary place become holy when God enters in. Moses refers to the burning bush as a place where God dwelled (see Deuteronomy 33:16). When the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness, the portable tabernacle was God’s dwelling place. The notion of God dwelling in the ordinary is seen most significantly when in the person of Jesus God becomes flesh and dwells among us (see John 1:14). And New Testament passages even refer to Christ dwelling in us (see Ephesians 3:16-17a)! A dwelling has a humble connotation. It is a place where people work, play, and sleep. It is where daily life happens. When God shows up, the ordinary becomes holy. And we know that God always shows up.
In a similar way, when you recognize that the place where you work is holy ground, you can invoke God’s blessing in that space and wherever your organization’s work is done. Walking the hallways in prayer, saying a blessing over the office doors in your building, praying for the meeting rooms, the cafeteria, the production spaces within your workplace, the routes where the company cars drive, and asking God’s blessing over what happens there—these are all ways of recognizing your workplace as holy ground. And this recognition cannot help but change us and the ways in which we interact with our work and with our coworkers.
Note: Working in the Presence of God is available here.