“After the first morning hour, the Christian’s day until evening belongs to work…Praying and working are two different things. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer…Prayer requires its own time…The inseparable unity of both will only become clear when work and prayer each receives its own undivided due. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer; and without prayer, work is not work…Thus it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes apparent.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 49.
In the next post another quote from Bonhoeffer will clarify his thinking about the relationship of prayer and work – his trajectory is their “inseparable unity”. We can all pray at work and we can all receive insight about work when we are praying during set times. That being said, “prayer requires its own time” and work requires that we focus on it. Prayer can be the “wing man” of work just as work can be the “wing man” of prayer – both are (or should be) forms of worship, both are dance partners – sometimes one takes the lead, sometimes the other leads.
What does Bonhoeffer mean by, “Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer”? Perhaps he means that engagement in everyday life, which includes keeping and tending the earth that God placed us on and therefore includes work, drives us to prayer – God gave us life, God gave us creation, God gave us the means to sustain ourselves – how shall we do it, how shall we live? How shall we relate to one another and how shall we cooperate with one another? How shall we build familial, social, and civic community? Because of the Fall, even in those who are redeemed and have the mind of Christ, our thinking is fractured and impaired, as is our discernment, as are our emotions. We think we know what is outside us, we think we see things are they “are”, but we remain "less" experientially than we were meant to be. If my knowledge of God remains imperfect, so does my knowledge of others, of circumstances, and of myself. I cannot see things, even in a glass darkly, without prayer, without communion with the Trinity.
Prayer, communion with God, is our calling. Work is also our calling. Prayer is worship. Work, in the Biblical sense, is worship. As I offer prayer to God, so should I offer work to God. God loves communion with mankind; God is also a worker and He invites us to work with Him – He invites us to invite Him into our work so that our work may be offered back to Him in worship and in service to humanity and in stewardship of creation.
This can be the shared experience of mankind across the planet – whether rich or poor, formally educated or not; whether the floor of the home is earth or concrete or carpet or rough-hewn logs; we can all arise in the morning and commune with our Father – Creator and then engage in work that glorifies Him, serves our neighbor, and stewards creation. This is a common denominator across the planet, it is the calling of humanity, and if we miss this essential essence we miss the In the Beginning of Genesis – we miss the baseline of life, including of our redemptive life in Christ.
Those Christians who see a dichotomy between worship (prayer) and work, who see one sphere as sacred and the other as secular, live life apart from the Biblical foundation of Genesis in which life in God is holistic – in our communion with God we work and in our work we commune with God. Our redemption in Christ Jesus restores us to this holistic life and we are taught that all we do should be done in the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God; we are taught in the Bible that when we work we don’t primarily serve our earthly masters but rather God. When we use the terms “secular” and “sacred” to distinguish work from worship we reinforce a dichotomy of death that has no Biblical foundation – in fact, it works against the holistic Biblical mandate of work and worship – worship and work.
A solid prayer life, especially prayer and devotions in the morning, provides a firm foundation for work; a work life in which work is offered to God, in which we see ourselves as stewards and servants, provides a firm foundation for prayer. Together they result in a life holistically lived for God, a life in service to others, and a life that stewards God’s creation.