Max DePree was for many years the CEO of the Herman Miller furniture company. He was also a devout Christian who wrote some excellent books on leadership. And he was a friend who mentored me on important topics, including the theology of work.
While having lunch together one day, after a morning of theological discussion, Max mentioned that he had to prepare a talk that afternoon for an evening with some Christians in the local business community. “I’m going to tell them that I really don’t like the question they asked to me to talk about.” I asked him what the question was and he responded: “Well, they want me to talk about how to integrate their faith into their work, and I am going say that they have things turned around.
“That’s like asking how we can integrate our marriages into our sex lives.”
Of course, Max was just being provocative. He was glad the group was interested in how to serve the Lord in their working lives. But he wanted them to be sure that they had things in the right order.
For starters, we have to be clear about our identities as followers of Jesus, and then we can go on to ask how our daily work fits into the larger patterns of our discipleship. A.W. Tozer points out in one of his meditations that, at the beginning of his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul departs from his usual mode of greeting by adding that he is an apostle “by the command of God.” Paul is acknowledging, said Tozer, that the pursuit of his vocation is “a command performance.” When an artist is asked to perform in the royal court, that is not an invitation that the person can politely turn down. The person better show up and do what is necessary to please the royal hosts. Showing up and doing one’s best is imperative. And this, Tozer observed, is how Paul sees his apostolic work.
But it isn’t just New Testament apostles who receive invitations from the Lord to give command performances. It’s what Christian living is all about. We live our lives — to use a wonderful old Latin phrase — coram deo, “before the face of God.” And this applies to all of our lives: how we work, play, consume, honor our relationships, and much more.
God invites us to live with an awareness of his presence because he cares deeply about our well-being. Nor is there a distinction between our “private” and “public” lives in God’s eyes. The prophet Jeremiah says, “‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
This is not something we accommodate ourselves to grudgingly. The opportunity to live coram deo is a wonderful gift. We are assured that not only is God always with us, to offer guidance in the difficult places, but he also knows what it is like to be the vulnerable creatures that we are. God sent Jesus into the world to find that out. And Jesus in turn sends the Holy Spirit in our lives to provide us with the strength that is necessary each day for our command performances.