headshot of Reverend Spanky Moore, pioneering ministry enabler in the Nelson Anglican Diocese

Spanky Moore

Pioneering Ministry Enabler

Joshua "Spanky" Moore oversees the equipping and encouraging of leaders who feel called to "gather the ungathered" or want to start something new.

The spiritual rhythms of work – repurposing our work for prayer

Spanky Moore

Pioneering Ministry Enabler

Joshua "Spanky" Moore oversees the equipping and encouraging of leaders who feel called to "gather the ungathered" or want to start something new.

The spiritual rhythms of work – repurposing our work for prayer

a woman sprawled over a chair looking defeated with a blank book hung over her face

“Sometimes I go to work just hoping I’ll see an interesting trauma that day.” 

I was shocked. After all, this was from the mouth of a nurse. 

“I know it sounds bad to say that out loud, but it’s the truth. Somehow, because I’m surrounded by all these patients all the time, it’s like my compassion has become numbed, and now I find myself hoping I’ll at least see some kind of interesting injury in the day. I think I need to rediscover the reason I got into this job. I need to rediscover my compassion.” 

For a few years we ran a gathering called The Thirsty Workers Guild, which helped young adults just entering a career to explore how faith and work interconnected. So I’d gathered a group of young adult Christians from various careers and vocations for a conversation in a local café. I wanted to know what they thought were the biggest challenges they faced in their personal spirituality due to their work. 

It was at that first meeting I’d realised that as a pastor, I had been treating people’s vocations in the most superficial way possible – and that I had no idea what the reality of their work meant for the spiritual challenges of their lives.

In fact, the four people I spoke with, each struggled with the very thing I would typically praise each of them for. 

The photographer – whom I would praise as representing the creativity of God – struggled with her lack of creativity which initially drew her to the work. “Nowadays I spend most of my time shooting weddings. But I never make time for photographing the justice projects I long to do.” 

The barista – whom I would praise as representing the hospitality of God – struggled to not hate her clientele. “The next time an old lady with fancy hair rudely demands I remake her chai latte – I swear I’m going to punch her in the face. I don’t feel very hospitable at all.” 

The journalist – whom I would praise for shining light into dark places, representing the truth of God – struggled to be a good journalist AND a good Christian. “Sometimes being a good journo means being a bad Christian. Sometimes being a good Christian means being a bad journo. I’m talking to someone, it’s a great story – and yet I know if I publish it their life will be ruined from the exposure. So sometimes I publish – and on that day I’m a good journo. Sometimes I bury the story – and on that day I’m a good Christian.” 

The lawyer – whom I would criticise for their wealth and influence – struggled to find their worth beyond their productivity. “Sometimes it feels like the only value I have to offer the world are allotted in these seven minute chargeable units. I usually end the day feeling my sense of self worth, beyond what I can do for the company, is zero.” 

The theology of vocation

Alistair Mackenzie was the founding Spiritual Companion for Vocatio, the missional community I ran for dechurched young adults in Christchurch. He co-ordinated the twenty or so people who offered companioning over the three years it ran. Alistair is also one of the leading voices globally in the theology of vocation and faith and work – so, as you can imagine, it was quite handy having him around. 

Some years ago, Alistair did research on faith and work by interviewing a hundred Christians, mostly from evangelical backgrounds, about their experience of how their work connected with their worship in church. The results were quite revealing.

a man pours frothed milk into a coffee

Work was seen as primarily a space for evangelism or, at a stretch, a way to make money to give towards God’s kingdom. Helping occupations (nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, etc.) were seen as being more Christian than other sectors (lawyers, builders, accountants, hedge fund managers and so on). 

Most of them had never heard a sermon, nor read a book, nor taken a course about faith and work. Nor could they remember singing any worship songs that related to their work, or experienced any prayers related to their work or their workplace. 

They found that church leaders were not genuinely interested in their work and that business was normally spoken of somewhat negatively in church life. 

They admitted to needing help with career discernment and life planning, but were resigned to the fact that their church life would be disconnected from their work life. 

And one of the biggest challenges that many faced was embarrassment about the way other Christians behaved in their workplace and industry – both those who were super-spiritual, pious and zealous about their faith but not admired for their work, and those who were sub-Christian, being seen to let the side down by acting improperly and unethically in their work. 

As a minister myself, I realised I was guilty as charged. I hadn’t given much thought at all to what people got up to in their workplaces.

Now, to be clear, vocation certainly doesn’t just mean paid work, but whatever your life’s work might be – paid or unpaid, voluntary or corporate, at home or in an office. But many of us spend eight or more hours a day working – if you’re a stay at home parent, that’s more like eighteen hours a day. 

As Dallas Willard said, “Discipleship is how Jesus would live if he were you.” So it makes sense that we should better connect our faith and formation with our work. 

Working Christians

Our work and our discipleship actually go hand in hand. But work can be tricky for Christians. 

Firstly, because our society likes to “worship our work”. When we first meet someone, at least in New Zealand, how do we usually introduce ourselves to someone else? 

“So what do you do?” 

What exactly we mean by that question – and why we ask it so readily – I’m not sure we know. But for much of our society, our identity and status and security are found in having a job, and having a good job. If you’ve ever been unemployed, you will know what a struggle it is to know how to answer that “so what do you do?” question. 

a woman examining leaves in an orchard

Scripture doesn’t say anything about looking for salvation in a job. In many ways we’ve idolised our jobs in our culture. We hope that a good job will offer us a sort of salvation – our identity, status and security. Some of us work like our salvation depends on it. 

Yet according to God, we have not been made to find our identity and security and status in our jobs. Rather, we have been made to find our identity and security and status in the love of our Creator and Saviour. 

So our work does still matter to God, but not as a source of salvation. 

And not just our paid work, but our whole life’s work. Paid and unpaid. At home, at church, in the community and in our jobs. 

“It all matters to God. And no one is unemployed in God’s economy,” says Alistair Mackenzie. “There is always work for everyone to do. And there is no retirement.” 

Secondly, work is tricky for Christians because secretly many of us don’t want our faith lives to interfere with our work lives. It’s a comfortable divide that stops life getting awkward. 

On the one hand, we say we want to live integrated, authentic lives. But the truth is many of us find abstract Bible studies a convenient way to keep our lives compartmentalised. Jesus wants to be Lord over all of our lives. Jesus wants access and influence in all the rooms of our house – and many of us have him locked him in an outhouse called Sunday Church. 

Thirdly, work is tricky for Christians because, as I talked about earlier, we often assume things about the nature of each others’ work. We assume we know what it means to be a lawyer, or a barista, or a photographer, or a nurse, or an accountant, or a sales rep, or a pastor... when in reality we have no idea, because we’ve never really asked what it’s like. 

But Christians worship a God who works, a God who created work, and a God who likes work. 

Worshiping a working God

In Genesis we discover a God who himself is a worker, and in Genesis 1 and 2 God gives us work to do in partnership with him. To be fruitful and multiply, to care for and cultivate the garden, to name the animals, and to act as stewards and managers of creation. So God’s work for us is not just about caring for people, and sharing God’s love with people. It includes everything we do that cares for and cultivates God’s creation, serves other people, sustains life, grows healthy communities, and redeems bad circumstances.

In Trinity – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – we discover a God who invites us to join with him in work as we play our particular calling in seeing God’s creation function and flourish. 

“God doesn’t so much give gifts to us, as through us,” Alistair often says. And so work is where we participate in God’s creating, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world. 

It’s interesting to note how the New Testament hardly ever uses the word worship to talk about what Christians do when they gather together – the music and the liturgy. Instead, most Biblical worship language is used to urge us to offer the whole of our lives in God’s service. “I urge you brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God... this is your spiritual worship,” says Romans 12. 

To offer your body in worship means offering not just what you think about, but the stuff that you do every day, and the way you do it. 

What if we could reframe work as a form of worship? Because after all, what is worship? What is worth-ship? It’s the constant reorientation of our lives towards God and God’s purposes for us. It’s about the offering of all we are and all we do to God. 

a man in an apron using greasy tools in a workshop

Most of our models for prayer are retreating modes – where we escape on retreat or find a quiet time of day to pray – rather than active modes. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t any examples. 

Everyday spirituality

Most Christians in Alistair’s research said that while they were very aware of God in church, and sometimes when they were out and about wandering in creation, most of them still felt disconnected from God in the midst of their everyday working lives. What if there could be ways of praying and being attentive to God in the midst of our work – it’s just that most people haven’t been taught how to do it? 

“What if God is not just concerned about what we do with our spare time, but what we do most of the time?” says Alistair.

“Because deep, everyday spirituality is surely not just a leisure time pursuit.” 

I’m certainly not suggesting that pursuing quiet times of contemplative prayer aren’t incredibly valuable, but that there are also other ways of praying that we need to learn to adopt a posture of greater attentiveness to God during the day. In fact, there are some opportunities in the regular patterns of our work week that might make some prayer easier and more transformative than the retreating modes we’re more accustomed to. 

The key that opens the door of workplace prayer is this: What are those things that you routinely do that could be turned into opportunities for prayer?

They may only be routines that last a few seconds rather than minutes. Tagging our prayers to existing regular routines makes them much more likely to happen. 

Some people call this “habit stacking” – where we join a habit we want to do with one we already are in the habit of doing. We can repurpose our current routines for our spiritual growth if we are intentional and creative about seeing how. 

One friend of mine practices the presence of God while cooking, and during the day uses simple “Here” or “Now” prayers. Emphasising that there is only one moment in time we really have any control and in which God can become real to us, and that is right here and right now. 

One Vocat crafts furniture and makes it a habit to pray for people while sharpening his tools. This one of course requires some caution as it would be a shame to grind off a finger due to spiritual piety, but you get the point. 

Another Vocat is a teacher, who in the moment before she lets her class go after each period, calls them to a hush and prays a quick silent blessing over them – not that they’d ever know that’s what she’s doing. 

A woman who is a receptionist decided to let the phone ring an extra two times so that during those two rings she could stop and ask “Please God let me be more attentive to you and to this person”. She said it completely changed her way of relating to customers. 

Some people commute or walk to and from work and, instead of listening to a podcast or the radio, repurposes the time for some kind of spiritual practice. 

a woman drafting house blueprints with a computer monitor and pen and paper

For the first three years of our daughter Edith’s life, I would look after her in the mornings while my wife was off at her paid work. It was a joyous time. It was a frazzling time. But I began to feel a deepening spiritual frustration and a deepening wonder for life in equal measure. Each morning I experienced the highs and lows of caring for a little human, the mundane nature of parenting, and the desire to somehow pray and connect with God. But a prayer routine with Edith felt virtually impossible. She slept terribly through the night, so I was always tired. And she got up frighteningly early, so that ruled out any kid free quiet time I’d heard other parents talking about. 

She had this sixth sense that could tell whenever I was sitting down with my prayer book, and she’d come in screaming, or she’d steal the book and tell me off for praying. This was not the fantasy I had of being a stay-at-home parent. In the end I had to relinquish some of these hopes, and accept the reality I was in. And so each morning I would offer to God the best I could muster – I’d light a small candle in front of an icon of Jesus I had in our kitchen, and I’d say this prayer: “God, may my parenting this morning be my prayer and an offering to you – because that’s all I have to offer right now.” 

It changed my posture towards parenting significantly. 

So, I wonder if there is a regular routine in your own working or studying or parenting or unpaid work that you could repurpose to help make you more attentive to God? What regular routine could you tag a prayer practice to? What might be a small transformative practice that would enliven your attentiveness of God at work within your work? 

Over and above any other boss or client, it’s the Creator we are serving with our lives.

Living with this intention towards our work – regardless of what form it takes – helps us to connect our faith with our work, and helps our work support our prayer and our sense of God’s movement in our lives.

God of work and rest and pleasure, 
grant that what we do this week may be for us an offering 
rather than a burden; 
and for those we serve, may it be the help they need. 
Enliven and inspire us as we work with you and for you - creating, redeeming and sustaining your world, and working towards your Kingdom come. 
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa 

Check out other articles in the

series below.

More articles in the

series are to come.

No items found.

We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.

The spiritual rhythms of work – repurposing our work for prayer

Spanky Moore

Pioneering Ministry Enabler

Joshua "Spanky" Moore oversees the equipping and encouraging of leaders who feel called to "gather the ungathered" or want to start something new.

The spiritual rhythms of work – repurposing our work for prayer

Spanky Moore

Pioneering Ministry Enabler

Joshua "Spanky" Moore oversees the equipping and encouraging of leaders who feel called to "gather the ungathered" or want to start something new.

The spiritual rhythms of work – repurposing our work for prayer

a woman sprawled over a chair looking defeated with a blank book hung over her face

“Sometimes I go to work just hoping I’ll see an interesting trauma that day.” 

I was shocked. After all, this was from the mouth of a nurse. 

“I know it sounds bad to say that out loud, but it’s the truth. Somehow, because I’m surrounded by all these patients all the time, it’s like my compassion has become numbed, and now I find myself hoping I’ll at least see some kind of interesting injury in the day. I think I need to rediscover the reason I got into this job. I need to rediscover my compassion.” 

For a few years we ran a gathering called The Thirsty Workers Guild, which helped young adults just entering a career to explore how faith and work interconnected. So I’d gathered a group of young adult Christians from various careers and vocations for a conversation in a local café. I wanted to know what they thought were the biggest challenges they faced in their personal spirituality due to their work. 

It was at that first meeting I’d realised that as a pastor, I had been treating people’s vocations in the most superficial way possible – and that I had no idea what the reality of their work meant for the spiritual challenges of their lives.

In fact, the four people I spoke with, each struggled with the very thing I would typically praise each of them for. 

The photographer – whom I would praise as representing the creativity of God – struggled with her lack of creativity which initially drew her to the work. “Nowadays I spend most of my time shooting weddings. But I never make time for photographing the justice projects I long to do.” 

The barista – whom I would praise as representing the hospitality of God – struggled to not hate her clientele. “The next time an old lady with fancy hair rudely demands I remake her chai latte – I swear I’m going to punch her in the face. I don’t feel very hospitable at all.” 

The journalist – whom I would praise for shining light into dark places, representing the truth of God – struggled to be a good journalist AND a good Christian. “Sometimes being a good journo means being a bad Christian. Sometimes being a good Christian means being a bad journo. I’m talking to someone, it’s a great story – and yet I know if I publish it their life will be ruined from the exposure. So sometimes I publish – and on that day I’m a good journo. Sometimes I bury the story – and on that day I’m a good Christian.” 

The lawyer – whom I would criticise for their wealth and influence – struggled to find their worth beyond their productivity. “Sometimes it feels like the only value I have to offer the world are allotted in these seven minute chargeable units. I usually end the day feeling my sense of self worth, beyond what I can do for the company, is zero.” 

The theology of vocation

Alistair Mackenzie was the founding Spiritual Companion for Vocatio, the missional community I ran for dechurched young adults in Christchurch. He co-ordinated the twenty or so people who offered companioning over the three years it ran. Alistair is also one of the leading voices globally in the theology of vocation and faith and work – so, as you can imagine, it was quite handy having him around. 

Some years ago, Alistair did research on faith and work by interviewing a hundred Christians, mostly from evangelical backgrounds, about their experience of how their work connected with their worship in church. The results were quite revealing.

a man pours frothed milk into a coffee

Work was seen as primarily a space for evangelism or, at a stretch, a way to make money to give towards God’s kingdom. Helping occupations (nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, etc.) were seen as being more Christian than other sectors (lawyers, builders, accountants, hedge fund managers and so on). 

Most of them had never heard a sermon, nor read a book, nor taken a course about faith and work. Nor could they remember singing any worship songs that related to their work, or experienced any prayers related to their work or their workplace. 

They found that church leaders were not genuinely interested in their work and that business was normally spoken of somewhat negatively in church life. 

They admitted to needing help with career discernment and life planning, but were resigned to the fact that their church life would be disconnected from their work life. 

And one of the biggest challenges that many faced was embarrassment about the way other Christians behaved in their workplace and industry – both those who were super-spiritual, pious and zealous about their faith but not admired for their work, and those who were sub-Christian, being seen to let the side down by acting improperly and unethically in their work. 

As a minister myself, I realised I was guilty as charged. I hadn’t given much thought at all to what people got up to in their workplaces.

Now, to be clear, vocation certainly doesn’t just mean paid work, but whatever your life’s work might be – paid or unpaid, voluntary or corporate, at home or in an office. But many of us spend eight or more hours a day working – if you’re a stay at home parent, that’s more like eighteen hours a day. 

As Dallas Willard said, “Discipleship is how Jesus would live if he were you.” So it makes sense that we should better connect our faith and formation with our work. 

Working Christians

Our work and our discipleship actually go hand in hand. But work can be tricky for Christians. 

Firstly, because our society likes to “worship our work”. When we first meet someone, at least in New Zealand, how do we usually introduce ourselves to someone else? 

“So what do you do?” 

What exactly we mean by that question – and why we ask it so readily – I’m not sure we know. But for much of our society, our identity and status and security are found in having a job, and having a good job. If you’ve ever been unemployed, you will know what a struggle it is to know how to answer that “so what do you do?” question. 

a woman examining leaves in an orchard

Scripture doesn’t say anything about looking for salvation in a job. In many ways we’ve idolised our jobs in our culture. We hope that a good job will offer us a sort of salvation – our identity, status and security. Some of us work like our salvation depends on it. 

Yet according to God, we have not been made to find our identity and security and status in our jobs. Rather, we have been made to find our identity and security and status in the love of our Creator and Saviour. 

So our work does still matter to God, but not as a source of salvation. 

And not just our paid work, but our whole life’s work. Paid and unpaid. At home, at church, in the community and in our jobs. 

“It all matters to God. And no one is unemployed in God’s economy,” says Alistair Mackenzie. “There is always work for everyone to do. And there is no retirement.” 

Secondly, work is tricky for Christians because secretly many of us don’t want our faith lives to interfere with our work lives. It’s a comfortable divide that stops life getting awkward. 

On the one hand, we say we want to live integrated, authentic lives. But the truth is many of us find abstract Bible studies a convenient way to keep our lives compartmentalised. Jesus wants to be Lord over all of our lives. Jesus wants access and influence in all the rooms of our house – and many of us have him locked him in an outhouse called Sunday Church. 

Thirdly, work is tricky for Christians because, as I talked about earlier, we often assume things about the nature of each others’ work. We assume we know what it means to be a lawyer, or a barista, or a photographer, or a nurse, or an accountant, or a sales rep, or a pastor... when in reality we have no idea, because we’ve never really asked what it’s like. 

But Christians worship a God who works, a God who created work, and a God who likes work. 

Worshiping a working God

In Genesis we discover a God who himself is a worker, and in Genesis 1 and 2 God gives us work to do in partnership with him. To be fruitful and multiply, to care for and cultivate the garden, to name the animals, and to act as stewards and managers of creation. So God’s work for us is not just about caring for people, and sharing God’s love with people. It includes everything we do that cares for and cultivates God’s creation, serves other people, sustains life, grows healthy communities, and redeems bad circumstances.

In Trinity – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – we discover a God who invites us to join with him in work as we play our particular calling in seeing God’s creation function and flourish. 

“God doesn’t so much give gifts to us, as through us,” Alistair often says. And so work is where we participate in God’s creating, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world. 

It’s interesting to note how the New Testament hardly ever uses the word worship to talk about what Christians do when they gather together – the music and the liturgy. Instead, most Biblical worship language is used to urge us to offer the whole of our lives in God’s service. “I urge you brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God... this is your spiritual worship,” says Romans 12. 

To offer your body in worship means offering not just what you think about, but the stuff that you do every day, and the way you do it. 

What if we could reframe work as a form of worship? Because after all, what is worship? What is worth-ship? It’s the constant reorientation of our lives towards God and God’s purposes for us. It’s about the offering of all we are and all we do to God. 

a man in an apron using greasy tools in a workshop

Most of our models for prayer are retreating modes – where we escape on retreat or find a quiet time of day to pray – rather than active modes. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t any examples. 

Everyday spirituality

Most Christians in Alistair’s research said that while they were very aware of God in church, and sometimes when they were out and about wandering in creation, most of them still felt disconnected from God in the midst of their everyday working lives. What if there could be ways of praying and being attentive to God in the midst of our work – it’s just that most people haven’t been taught how to do it? 

“What if God is not just concerned about what we do with our spare time, but what we do most of the time?” says Alistair.

“Because deep, everyday spirituality is surely not just a leisure time pursuit.” 

I’m certainly not suggesting that pursuing quiet times of contemplative prayer aren’t incredibly valuable, but that there are also other ways of praying that we need to learn to adopt a posture of greater attentiveness to God during the day. In fact, there are some opportunities in the regular patterns of our work week that might make some prayer easier and more transformative than the retreating modes we’re more accustomed to. 

The key that opens the door of workplace prayer is this: What are those things that you routinely do that could be turned into opportunities for prayer?

They may only be routines that last a few seconds rather than minutes. Tagging our prayers to existing regular routines makes them much more likely to happen. 

Some people call this “habit stacking” – where we join a habit we want to do with one we already are in the habit of doing. We can repurpose our current routines for our spiritual growth if we are intentional and creative about seeing how. 

One friend of mine practices the presence of God while cooking, and during the day uses simple “Here” or “Now” prayers. Emphasising that there is only one moment in time we really have any control and in which God can become real to us, and that is right here and right now. 

One Vocat crafts furniture and makes it a habit to pray for people while sharpening his tools. This one of course requires some caution as it would be a shame to grind off a finger due to spiritual piety, but you get the point. 

Another Vocat is a teacher, who in the moment before she lets her class go after each period, calls them to a hush and prays a quick silent blessing over them – not that they’d ever know that’s what she’s doing. 

A woman who is a receptionist decided to let the phone ring an extra two times so that during those two rings she could stop and ask “Please God let me be more attentive to you and to this person”. She said it completely changed her way of relating to customers. 

Some people commute or walk to and from work and, instead of listening to a podcast or the radio, repurposes the time for some kind of spiritual practice. 

a woman drafting house blueprints with a computer monitor and pen and paper

For the first three years of our daughter Edith’s life, I would look after her in the mornings while my wife was off at her paid work. It was a joyous time. It was a frazzling time. But I began to feel a deepening spiritual frustration and a deepening wonder for life in equal measure. Each morning I experienced the highs and lows of caring for a little human, the mundane nature of parenting, and the desire to somehow pray and connect with God. But a prayer routine with Edith felt virtually impossible. She slept terribly through the night, so I was always tired. And she got up frighteningly early, so that ruled out any kid free quiet time I’d heard other parents talking about. 

She had this sixth sense that could tell whenever I was sitting down with my prayer book, and she’d come in screaming, or she’d steal the book and tell me off for praying. This was not the fantasy I had of being a stay-at-home parent. In the end I had to relinquish some of these hopes, and accept the reality I was in. And so each morning I would offer to God the best I could muster – I’d light a small candle in front of an icon of Jesus I had in our kitchen, and I’d say this prayer: “God, may my parenting this morning be my prayer and an offering to you – because that’s all I have to offer right now.” 

It changed my posture towards parenting significantly. 

So, I wonder if there is a regular routine in your own working or studying or parenting or unpaid work that you could repurpose to help make you more attentive to God? What regular routine could you tag a prayer practice to? What might be a small transformative practice that would enliven your attentiveness of God at work within your work? 

Over and above any other boss or client, it’s the Creator we are serving with our lives.

Living with this intention towards our work – regardless of what form it takes – helps us to connect our faith with our work, and helps our work support our prayer and our sense of God’s movement in our lives.

God of work and rest and pleasure, 
grant that what we do this week may be for us an offering 
rather than a burden; 
and for those we serve, may it be the help they need. 
Enliven and inspire us as we work with you and for you - creating, redeeming and sustaining your world, and working towards your Kingdom come. 
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa 

Check out other articles in the

series below.

More articles in the

series are to come.