How the Psalms Invite Us to See Work in a New Way

byKristi Rathbun

Work and worship. To the average churchgoer, these things belong to different realms, different arenas of life not meant to overlap. Compartmentalizing secular and sacred life can seem appealing, particularly when times are tough and our jobs leave us shouldering stress and anxiety. Some yearn for that spiritual escape, to enter the sanctuary and leave their vocations at the door. Others find the widening chasm between their sacred and secular lives worrisome. How can the sacred feel so irrelevant to everyday life? And if work is irrelevant to God, what does that say about his relationship with workers?

In the book Work and Worship, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson offer an alternative. Rather than living life in pieces, workers are invited to live a life of integration, rooted in purpose and echoing the glorious works of God. The authors communicate a vision for worship that aims to “engage workers in a divine dialogue” and call them to “learn about God’s work in the world.” Modern Christ-followers might be surprised to learn that, in the psalms, we find a treasure trove of knowledge about the nature of work, how our daily work lives matter in sacred spaces, and how God’s work can shape our own. 

Work, Worship, and the Psalms

Bringing Monday into Sunday

At times, contemporary worship finds workers in the pews, passively receiving sermons and lessons. Some church leaders emphasize work in those teachings, and the question of how to bring Sunday into Monday is a popular discussion. But when we look at the psalms, we are invited to consider a reversal. Images and language about work thread their way through the songs, lamentations, and poems in the psalter, page by page, verse by verse. We read of markets, fisherman, shepherds, vineyards, farms, and harvests. We find laments over being wronged (Psalm 55: 11) and outrage over witnessing corruption in the marketplace (Pss. 73); we see praise and thanksgiving for bountiful harvests (Psalm 147); and even comfort and joy for merchants saved from the tumults of a storm (Psalm 107). The psalms, rather than representing a type of “spiritual escape” are in reality an expression of daily life; they “emerge out of, and directly engage the lives and labors of the people” (Kaemingk and Collins, 90). In other words, the psalms present an opportunity to bring Monday into Sunday.

God Wears Many Hats

God is the template of the worker. Any time we are asked to consider the work of our hands, we are first guided to the work of His hands. “In the psalms, the works of God’s hands provide an interpretive lens for the work of our hands—not the reverse” (91). In God, we have the ultimate template of what it means to be a worker, and fortunately, God wears many hats. We can find solace in the knowledge that we walk with a God who intimately understands both our hardships and our victories in every aspect of our lives, including the work we do. 

Giving Workers a Voice

The psalms give us the words to say when our emotions are in high-gear. “The psalms will not romanticize work in a fallen world. They will not instruct anyone to ‘whistle while you work.’ These songs tell the raw truth—sometimes in an all-out rage—that work is not what it is supposed to be” (102). Rather than burying the sometimes intense feelings elicited by our workplaces, the psalms encourage us to give voice to them. Expressing ourselves isn’t always a simple matter, and speaking honestly, even with God, can be challenging. In the psalms we are invited into a dialogue and shown the way back to our Creator, the one who can heal all wounds and bring peace and clarity into any situation.They remind us we never have to go it alone, and the God who created us also intimately understands the trials we endure. 

The psalms connect the daily lives of workers to their worship lives. They instigate a dialogue between the everyday worker, their struggles as well as their triumphs and the God who created them. The psalms bring Monday into Sunday. The sermon from the street to the sanctuary. 

So what does this mean practically for our daily lives? How do we take what we read in Scripture and what we experience Monday through Saturday and bring it into our worship gatherings on Sunday? Joining us in June as we explore these questions with Matthew Kaemingk at Work + Worship.

Join us June 16th and 17th for Work + Worship

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KristiRathbun

Kristi is a new addition to the Denver Institute for Faith & Work and serves as an intern. Writer, artist, and dreamer, Kristi spends her free time chasing her curiosity wherever it leads. She currently calls Greeley, Colorado home.