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Ora et labora. Pray and Work.

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Ora et Labora. Latin for pray and work. A young man sits scribbling on a manuscript lit by candlelight. Above him are the cool walls of his monastery, the only home he has known since he was seven. He will die here. Outside the walls, men and women walk in uncertainty regarding their government, their livelihood, and even their national identity. Everything has changed seemingly overnight. Fear quickly leads to anger and then despair. But inside the priest keeps writing. Doesn’t he get it? Doesn’t he care about the people’s needs?

Yes, yes he does. He’s changing their world one word at a time. He is changing the shape of history itself. The man is Bede and the book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is his record of how the gospel of Jesus Christ went forth from Rome and came to the shores of England, Ireland, and Scotland—ultimately reshaping the entire culture and language of these northern lands.

Vikings will destroy his home and the people of his land will pass away, but Bede’s legacy will live on in his words that are recognized as a masterpiece of historical significance in both sacred and secular communities.

The Church of Christ Jesus will outlast even Bede and his legacy. Who will be our historians today?

Ora et Labora. Pray and Work.


 

She lay on the wet ground staring up at the stars trying to stifle the sound of her ragged breath. Her head pounded. Pain from her childhood head injury was a constant companion. Nevertheless, she smiled as she thought the beat of pain accompanied the lyrics of her favorite song:

Go down, Moses,
way down in Egypt’s land;
tell old Pharaoh
to let my people go!
O let us all from bondage flee,
let my people go;
and let us all in Christ be free,
let my people go.

She listened carefully for the sound of their pursuers. Silence except for the wind in the trees. She cautiously rose from the ground, signaled to her passengers and watched them cross over the Canadian border to safety. Eleven more slaves freed. “Twasn’t me, ’twas the Lord,” Harriet murmured. “I always tell you I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me.”

Years later Harriet Tubman recalled: “When I think of all the groans and tears and prayers I’ve heard on plantations, and remember that God is a prayer-hearing God, I feel that his time is drawing near. He gave me my strength, and he set the North Star in the heavens; he meant I should be free to free others.”

Harriet Tubman helped free 70 slaves and their families as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She helped free 700 more slaves during her work as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.

“’Pears like I prayed all the time, ’bout my work, everywhere, I prayed an’ groaned to the Lord.”

The work of the abolitionist is still needed today. Racism, greed, and lust are all complicit in the bondage 30 million people face in modern-day slavery today. Who will work to free them?

Ora et Labora. Pray and Work.


 

“Training, training, training. All I ever hear is training. Do you believe in what we’re doing here or not?

“Jenny, I’m sorry. God won’t feel slighted that I missed the bus.”

“Your head is so full of training, medals, races and glory that you have no time to stand still.”

“Jenny, don’t fret yourself.”

“I do fret myself. I’m frightened for you. I’m frightened for all this might do to you.”

“Jenny, I’ve decided I’m going back to China. The missionary service has accepted me.”

“Oh yes! I’m so pleased!”

“But I’ve got a lot of running to do first.  Jenny, Jenny you’ve got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose. For China.  But he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt. You were right. It’s not just fun. To win is to honor him.”

You might recognize this scene from Hugh Hudson’s Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. It’s about the 1924 Olympic runner, winner, and future missionary to China, Eric Liddel.

Who will run and win today?

Ora et Labora. Pray and Work.


 

Bede, Harriet Tubman, and Eric Liddell are all snapshots of people who lived out their calling in a way that may shock and intrigue a watching world. They were all leaders in their respective fields. Where did their stamina, courage, selflessness, dedication, fortitude and determination come from? It came from their vocation.

Vocation is the calling that God has placed on our lives to love our work. This is the same calling that Adam and Eve received at the beginning of time to tend the garden and name the animals. Even after sin corrupted the world and broke man’s fellowship with His Creator, work, now accompanied with sweat and tears, was still God’s good gift and desire for man. Scripture says, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are his workmanship—Poiéma—poem or song to a watching world. We sing by reflecting God’s character and beauty, creativity, design and purpose in our work when we do our work with excellence. We may think good works only refer to sacred tasks like being a pastor or missionary, teaching Sunday School, feeding the hungry, caring for the widow and orphan, and we’re not wrong. These are good works. But good works may also look like painting a beautiful picture, building a house, managing a hedge fund, nursing a sick patient, making a movie, defending the accused in the courtroom, inventing a new app for smart phones, teaching children, building a bridge, designing a skyscraper and cooking a meal. It may even mean helping to lead your team to victory in a baseball game like Ben Zobrist did when he helped the Chicago Cubs end a 108-year-old losing streak to win the World Series. Good work is any work well done for God’s glory.

Dorothy Sayers called the Church to remember this about vocation: “That every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside it. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery, or sewage farming.” It is wrong to pose a secular/sacred divide on our lives and in our work. Too many Christians misunderstand this and offer the world their second best in the workplace. Perhaps it’s because we’ve bought into culture’s lie that we have to get through our work to enjoy the weekend instead of seeing our work as a way to sing to a dying world.

Eric Liddell said: “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.” One way to repel people is through technical incompetence in the workplace. “If your heart is not wholly in the work, the work will not be good—and work that is not good serves neither God nor the community; it only serves mammon,” says Sayers. Every task may not be enjoyable, and we all may not be the respective leaders in our fields, but no matter the task, the world should hear our song that God may be glorified.

I once asked my dad who had worked as a carpenter for 45 years if he would return to his first career as a teacher now that he had reached retirement age. He struggled to find the right words in his response to me. Finally, he borrowed from Eric Liddell and looked at me and said: “When I work with wood…when I build a beautiful bookshelf, polish the wood of a new table till it gleams, or finish installing windows in a house I built with my own hands… I… I feel God’s pleasure. Why would I give that up?”

Why indeed?

Ora et Labora. Pray and Work.
 


trishaheadshot-001-3Trisha Williams teaches history, literature and theology at Veritas Press Scholars Academy.  She’s a member of College Church in Wheaton, IL and serves on the Culture Impact Committee. When not teaching you can find her hanging out with her thirty-eight nieces and nephews and enjoying a good cup of coffee.   

Share your thoughts
  • Pamela Nelson
    November 17, 2016

    Thanks a great reminder as I sit in an airport to visit a new client. I will serve with excellence!! Praying get for Him to give me wisdom and grace

  • Linda Murphy
    November 17, 2016

    Why indeed?!! Praying that each member will fall in love with their jobs as the Father intended. That we would live courageously & with passion each day.

  • Teresa Simons
    November 17, 2016

    I loved this Trisha. It was beautiful and evocative and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Zoe Necerato
    November 17, 2016

    Wonderfully written! I love this Miss Williams!

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