October 8, 2010| 0

Inner Transformation through Daily Work

(by John Terrill, Director, Center for Integrity in Business)

I recently came across a thoughtful poem on the subject of work by Ben Witherington, Ph.D., the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. The poem, “Opus Magnum,” (shared in its entirety at the end of this entry) is published in his book, The Living Legacy: The Soul in Paraphrase, the Heart in Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2008).

As Professor Witherington notes, work ought to be pursued as a calling, a ministry, a mission, and an act of gratitude and offering to God. It is a gift from our Creator that was bestowed upon humanity before sin entered the world. When we acknowledge God in our work, we join him in the creation and redemption story, mirroring God in thought and deed. Conversely, when we reduce work to a curse, or, more subtly, a mere act of “making a living,” we disconnect from the larger, grand narrative for which we are part.

To a certain extent, the gift of work is outwardly focused, bringing healing and restoration to a hurting world. But it has internal implications, too. Part of the goodness of work is that we are renovated through it and by it. God transforms us and summons our trust in him through the highs and lows of daily labor. In the grittiness and routine of our roles and responsibilities, we too often let go of this important perspective.

To illustrate, Witherington shares the story of a visit he took to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. While walking through the memorial garden and remembering the life of Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, he was moved by the following words etched into her tombstone: “Construction Completed. Thanks for your patience.”

As we reach out to serve others through faithful, courageous work in the world — whatever our tasks or professional responsibilities might be — rest assured that the Spirit of God is moving inwardly and mysteriously in us, bringing healing and wholeness. The cornerstone has been laid; the construction process is underway.  Dr. Witherington concludes in Opus Magnum:

…nothing's wasted in God’s hands

When we respond to his commands

Then we shall hear him say “well done”

To those who worked under the Son.

---

Opus Magnum, by Ben Witherington (2005)

Weary, worn, welts on hand

Work has whittled down the man

To the bare necessities

Of what he is, and what he’ll be

Was this then his destiny?

-

Defined, refined by what we do,

The toilsome tasks are never through

Thorn and thistle, dirt and dust

Sweeping clean, removing rust

All to earn his upper crust?

-

Sweat of brow, and carried weight

Rose too early, slept too late

Slaving, striving dawn to dusk

'Til the shell is barely husk

Staunch the stench with smell of musk?

-

But work is not the curse or cure

By which we’re healed, or will endure

It will not save us in the end,

It is no foe, but rather friend

But while it molds us will we mend?

-

Task Master making all things new

Who makes the most of what we do,

Let our work an offering be

A timely gift from those set free

From earning our eternity.

-

When work is mission on the move

By those whose efforts serve to prove

That nothing's wasted in God’s hands

When we respond to his commands

Then we shall hear him say “well done”

To those who worked under the Son.

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