There is no such thing as Christian work. That is, there is no work in the world which is, in and of itself, Christian. Christian work is any kind of work, from cleaning a sewer to preaching a sermon, that is done by a Christian and offered to God.

This means that nobody is excluded from serving God. It means that no work is “beneath” a Christian. It means there is no job in the world that needs to be boring or useless. A Christian finds fulfillment not in the particular kind of work he does, but in the way in which he does it. Work done for Christ all the time must be “full-time Christian work.”

Tax gatherers and soldiers were among those who came out into the wilderness to be baptized by John. When they asked what they ought to do to prove their repentance, John did not tell them to give up their jobs and start doing what he did. To tax gatherers he said, “Exact no more than the assessment.” To the soldiers, “No bullying; no blackmail; make do with your pay!” This way of doing their particular jobs would certainly be a radically new direction.

A tax collector who took no more than was legally required or a soldier who never bullied, never blackmailed, never protested for higher pay would be a nonconformist of the first water.

Every one of us has a line of duty marked out for us by God. For most human beings, for most of history, there has been little choice available. We tend to forget this in a time when the options seem limitless and when “what one does” usually means specifically his money-earning capacities. Duty, however, includes whatever we ought to do for others—make a bed, give someone a ride to church, mow a lawn, clean a garage, paint a house. It is often possible to “get out of” work like that. Nobody is paying us. It simply needs to be done, and if we don’t do it, nobody will. But the nature of the work changes when we see that it is God who marks out this line of duty for us. It is service to Him. When we see Him, we may say, “Lord, when did I ever mow Your lawn? When did I iron Your clothes?” He will answer, “When you did it for one of the least of My children, you did it for Me.”

Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God in the kitchen of a monastery. Sophie the Scrubwoman did floors for Jesus. Dag Hammarskjöld as secretary general of the United Nations offered his work to God, finding the explanation of how a man should live a life of active social service in the writings of the great medieval mystics:

For whom “self-surrender” had been the way to self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say Yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbors made them face, and to say Yes also to every fate life had in store for them. . . . Love—that much misused and misinterpreted word—for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expression in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering—or happiness.

Elliot, Elisabeth. 2021. Joyful Surrender: 7 Disciplines for the Believer’s Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

We have just completed a 6-Part Study of Elezabeth Elliot’s classic book, Joyful Surrender. It is available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Lesson Subscription Service. It is also available on Amazon