What can a seventeenth century laymen teach us in the twenty-first century about faith and work?
One of the biggest questions that we face as Christians is how to integrate our faith and our work. How can we keep our mind on God when we are doing a task that seems unrelated to our faith? A clear example of someone who was able to integrate his faith with his daily work was a man known as Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence lived in a Carmelite monastery in the seventeenth century, but he was not a religious professional; he was one of the laymen who lived alongside the monks. While he participated in some religious disciplines, he largely provided support for the religious community.
The very brief book, The Practice of the Presence of God, contains interviews and letters from Brother Lawrence. In it there are four significant things that we can learn about faith and work from Brother Lawrence.
1. Our attitude about our daily activities can shape our character.
In The Practice, it is said of Brother Lawrence,
In his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed there.
Brother Lawrence integrated his faith with his work because he did his daily work for the love of God. The goal of our actions does much to change the moral character of what we do. If we carry out our profession for the love of God, then that is morally praiseworthy.
2. Our work should be integral to our spiritual life.
The Practice also says of Brother Lawrence,
He was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for his devotion in retirement.
Peeling potatoes was more essential for Brother Lawrence’s spiritual growth than attending the evening prayer service because Brother Lawrence recognized that God was there in the kitchen as much as he was in the chapel.
3. Our work should be for God’s benefit, not only for our gain.
Brother Lawrence wrote,
It [is] lamentable to see how many people [mistake] the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.
A compartmentalized faith and work in the lives of Christians is not new to the twenty-first century.
Brother Lawrence writes, “Our sanctification [does] not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.”
Cooking, running a business, and building roads are all ways that the gospel can be demonstrated. These activities can all bring us closer to God, if we do them for his sake.
Ephesians 6:5–8 explains that our attitude in doing our work should be that we are serving God, not man. The challenge for us is to keep our mind focused on doing our work for God’s sake when the people around often have such different goals.
4. Simple, consistent practices can help us integrate our work and our faith.
Later in The Practice, Brother Lawrence encourages,
Let him then think of God the most he can; let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise; nobody [around him] perceives it, and nothing is easier that to repeat often in the day these little internal adorations.
Brother Lawrence was able to do his common work for the love of God because he never let God’s presence get far from his mind. He continually came back to God as the central focus in his whole life, including his work.
One man explained to me once that he was able to continually remind himself of God’s goodness by thanking God for something every time he looked at his watch. For him this was a simple way to keep himself tied to God throughout the day. It helped him to integrate his faith and his work.
What are some ways that you integrate your faith with your work? Leave your comments here.
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