Speaking of Life 3010 | Felt Not Seen Heber Ticas Work is a central part of our lives. I mean, we have to have an income to support ourselves and our families. We talk about “hard work,” and we’re suspicious of work that seems too easy. As human beings, the idea of work means putting forth effort, either mentally or physically, and having a tangible outcome. Some of the greatest works human beings have ever made are called “wonders of the world,” like the Taj Mahal in India or the pyramids in Egypt. If we think about natural wonders in the world, those same people might say some of God’s greatest works are the Grand Canyon in the United States or Mount Everest in Nepal. Or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or Victoria Falls in Africa. These are breathtaking natural wonders--clearly not made by man. The manmade wonders I mentioned, like the Taj Mahal or the Egyptian pyramids, certainly are a visible outcome of hard work, but the effort of creating them came at the expense of human beings, usually slaves. God’s wonders and works, however, never exploit human beings and instead, show love and care for all beings. Further, his greatest works are felt in the heart and not seen. One of the best places in the Bible to hear descriptions of God’s works is the book of Psalms. Let’s look at a few verses from Psalm 111: Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful…. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. Psalms 111: 2-4, 7 (NRSV) If we look closely at the descriptions the psalmist gives for God’s works, we see qualities of God’s heart: honor, majesty, graciousness, mercy, faithfulness, and justice. Not only are God’s works beautiful and majestic, but they also reflect his goodness and his love. In other words, they reflect who God is by revealing his heart. When we consider the beauty and majesty of the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, we know they were created by a loving God who is devoted to showing his great love and compassion for all people, for all creation. The next time you visit or see a picture of one of God’s wonders, allow your heart to dwell on the love, compassion, and faithfulness that brought those wonders into being. This is the same Creator who made you and me, the same Creator who became human to draw us into a loving relationship. The greatest works of God are felt in the heart, not seen. As you witness beauty in the world God created for us, I hope you experience his love and compassion. Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.
Psalm 111:1-10 • Deuteronomy 18:15-20 • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 • Mark 1:21-28
The theme for this week is God at work, which challenges us to rethink our thoughts about work. Deuteronomy talks about God’s work among the ancient Israelites, using a prophet to speak to them when they said they could not handle speaking to God directly. 1 Corinthians discusses how we can get caught up in “works” or the practices that are important to us, to the point of forgetting that “anyone who loves God is known by him,” and Mark tells the story of Jesus’s work of casting out an unclean spirit from a man, releasing him from a burden. Normally the psalm is our call to worship, but this week it is our sermon text. Psalm 111 examines God’s works and the qualities of God’s works that we should think about imitating in our own work.
God at Work: More Than What You See
Start by asking a few people to share what they did yesterday. Hopefully, a few will name work-housework-homework type activities. If they struggle, you could ask for a show of hands to these questions: a) did anybody cook a meal yesterday? b) did anyone clean their home or their car? c) did anyone work on classwork or schoolwork?
What did you do yesterday? A number of your answers were a form of work, something that you needed to get done to maintain your home or meet a deadline or feed your family. When we think of work, we focus on achieving or accomplishing something tangible, something we can see. If I cook a meal, I see the food on the plate, and I see my family eating the food. If I answer questions on a homework assignment for class, I can see the written answers I created. Even on our jobs, we have certain quantitative measures to gauge our performance. But I would like to suggest that there are other ways we can measure the effectiveness of our work, and we can start by reading Psalm 111 to understand a little more about the work God does.
Read Psalm 111.
What can we observe about the text? What does it tell us about how our work(s)—our participation with Jesus—should be? Because Jesus is in us, our works—the works that have meaning—are a participation with what Jesus is doing in and through us. Even our ordinary works are meaningful because Jesus is in us. He did ordinary work for most of his life; ordinary work is part of the Christian life, part of the life of Christ in us.
Let’s notice the key attributes of God’s works and think about how they relate to our work:
Verse 2: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” God’s works are worth studying. It’s good to consider why God’s works are great, and why they are worth pondering over. Is it just that his works are awe-inspiring (like beauty in nature) or could it be something more? How and why might our works be thought of as “great”?
Verse 3: “Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.” God’s works are full of honor and majesty. Not only do you see his majesty in some of the wonders of the world, but also in the intricacies of creation, in his interventions in our lives, in our calling, in his body. His works give evidence of his goodness (i.e., righteousness), and it lasts forever, attesting to his character of goodness. How do our works bring honor? How do they reveal our goodness (which is God’s goodness flowing through us)?
Verse 4: “He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.” His works make him well-known for his graciousness and his mercy. How do our works show grace and mercy?
Verse 5: “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” His works provide for what we need, and he remembers his promises to provide. How did your work this week provide for your family or for your future? How did it show that you remembered your responsibility to your people (i.e., your family, your neighbors, your coworkers)?
Verse 6: “He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations.” There is power in God’s work and creating a legacy (v. 6). There is power in your work, no matter how humble, and a creating of a legacy or memory in those around you. What kind of worker would your family or coworkers say you are? Do you bring joy to your home, workplace, or classroom?
Verse 7: “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” God’s works are faithful to his plan and his promises to us. They are just for all and we can trust him to fulfill what he says he will do. How do our works show these fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness, justice, and trustworthiness?
Verse 8: “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” When God builds something (think relationship with you), it is meant to last forever. He always builds with the right motives. Though we think our works are only temporary, when they are performed with love, their impact is not forgotten. Do we stop to consider our motives, the “why” behind our work?
Verse 9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.” God redeems what seems lost in our lives with his goodness and his steadfast presence in our lives. Do we offer others goodness and a steadfast presence? Are we dependable?
Verse 10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” God’s works can be best understood from a position of awe and wonder—which leads to the wisdom of knowing him. How can our own works be better understood if we approach them with awe and wonder? Do we view our work (or ability to work) as a blessing to us and others?
- God’s works are much more than the tangible accomplishment or creation. They evoke positive emotions in others. So should our works. As we do the sometimes mundane work of living as a human being, we forget that the most ordinary of tasks offer us the chance to work as God works by recognizing the deeper meaning attached to whatever we do, whether it is cooking a meal, washing clothes, working a job to provide for our family, or being a good employee to help our employer and our coworkers. When we work, we represent Jesus and his life in us, evoking an emotional experience in others, creating a positive (or negative) legacy.
- God’s work always brings blessing to others—even when that blessing is not immediately apparent. Our work should always be a blessing to others. As we saw in the Speaking of Life video, we can get caught up in the awe and wonder of the Grand Canyon. God’s works like the Grand Canyon evoke awe and wonder. As the video pointed out, human works are sometimes accomplished at the expense (sometimes even the lives) of others. We must be diligent to ensure that our work is always a blessing and never takes advantage of others, and when possible, we must do our part to help those who typically don’t have the voice or opportunities on the job, perhaps due to gender, race, or other issues of diversity. We look for opportunities to lift others up, make sure they are recognized for their gifts and abilities, and help ensure they are fairly compensated.
Taking time to consider that some of the most important aspects of God’s work are felt, not seen, helps us to pay closer attention to our own work and its impact on others. Jesus told us to love as he loves—encouraging us to pay attention to how we love and serve others in everything we do. Even the most mundane offerings, like cooking a meal, reveal God’s love through us to our families. Likewise, encouraging our fellow employees by recognizing their gifts and contributions, along with giving a voice to those who are sometimes overlooked, is how our best work is reflective of God’s work. It is part of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, living in us and loving others through us.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- In the Speaking of Life video, it talks about how a person’s work, such as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, can exploit or take advantage of others. Think of how you have witnessed people being taken advantage of in work or school. What can we do differently to promote God’s work ethic of love for others in our working activities?
- Have you considered how what you do, either at work or at home, evokes emotional experiences in those around you? If so, what practices do you use to generate positive, loving emotions? If not, what could help you think about linking your working activities to a positive emotional experience for yourself and those around you?
- Cultural norms can sometimes make us think that accomplishing a task is more important than how we feel or how others feel while we’re doing it. What can we learn from the way God works? What intentional practices can we use to benefit ourselves, our coworkers, or our workplace?
- For many people, the thought of going back to work on Monday fills them with dread. How can changing our work focus from holding a production mentality to evoking positive, loving feelings in ourselves and others while we are working help us approach our jobs, no matter what they are, with a more positive attitude? How will this shift in attitude affect our productivity? How will it affect employee morale?