How Your Work Affects Your Relationship with God: An Interview with Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker

Denise DanielsHow do we invite God into our practical living? How should we incorporate spiritual disciplines into the ordinary rhythms of everyday experience? How can we be transformed into Christ’s likeness through our jobs and daily work?

Bible Gateway interviewed Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker (@shannonvande) about their book, Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work (Hendrickson Publishers, 2019).

Shannon Vandewarker

What have you observed that required writing this book?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: This book was a product of chasing curiosity. We were initially curious about how people could practically live out their theology of work in a way that was transformative for their relationship with God, for the people they worked with and served at work, and for the work itself. We realized there was a lot of content about spiritual disciplines out there, and there were a lot of resources that focused on a theological framework for work, but there wasn’t really anything that bridged the two, giving practical application to the theological framework. So, we set out to write a book that did just that.

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Briefly, what is the theological foundation for work on which you’ve built your book?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: We believe that work was created by God and given to Adam and Eve in the garden prior to the fall (Genesis 2:15); thus, work is inherently good. We also believe that work – like everything in the world – has been broken as a result of the fall (Genesis 3:16-17). And while work is broken, Christ can redeem it (Colossians 1:16-17, 20). Finally, we believe that the goodness of work will be fully restored in the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, QUIZ: What Does the Bible Say About Work?]

Explain what you mean by “the importance of the ordinary.”

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: God meets us, communes with us, and transforms us in the middle of the mundane. That means that God is in the midst of the ordinary elements of our everyday lives. We often dismiss the ordinary, focusing instead on our experiences of “ministry” or “spirituality” in a church service, a service project, or other “Christian” activities. But throughout Scripture we find that God is just as concerned about the ordinary elements of people’s lives (drawing water from wells, making and eating food, raising children, traveling, working, relating to others, etc.) as he is about the things we deem to be “spiritual.” So, the ordinary nature of our everyday lives is deeply important. If we dismiss the things that seem mundane—commuting, email, meetings, work, meals, loading the dishwasher, and putting on kids’ shoes—we’ll miss a huge chunk of what God is communicating to us in our lives.

Why do you include commuting as being part of work and what is the “liturgy of commute”?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: We include commuting as a part of work because we believe our work rhythms matter. Most of us have some sort of commute to work—whether it’s two minutes or two hours. For many of us, the commute begins the rhythm of our work day. If we begin by paying attention to how God might be speaking on our commute, we prepare our whole selves to be attentive to God throughout the day. Will it be the determining factor in how the day will go? Probably not. But during our commute we can hear from, interact with, and be formed by God.

A liturgy of commute can be a practice through which you enter into worship of God and seek to hear instructions from the Lord about the day ahead. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the Hebrew people to remember the commands he’s given them: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 6:7). They’re to focus on God and his words as they go about the ordinariness of their days, including the time they’re walking along the road—the early Hebrew equivalent of the modern-day commute.

Why do you say it’s important to read Scripture at work and how, practically, should it be done without offending the boss or coworkers?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: The time and place in which we read Scripture shapes our understanding of it. For example, Jesus’s teaching on loving your enemies reads differently in the controlled environment of your favorite cozy chair in front of the fireplace in your home, than it does in your office space where a co-worker with whom you may have clashed has just walked by. Reading Scripture in the space in which you work can have a transformational effect on the ways you experience God, love your neighbors, and live out the gospel.

For many, reading Scripture in the workplace has to be a creative endeavor depending on the people, tasks, and culture of the workplace. Some ways to do this might include: listening to Scripture (through the Bible Gateway Audio App!), listening to songs where Scripture has been set to music, placing artistic renderings of Scripture on your walls to read throughout the day, or using a verse reference or phrase from Scripture as a computer password and mentally reciting the verse from memory as you type it in.

Explain your concepts of confession at work and lamenting work.

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: Confession requires humility, a desire for the truth, and a willingness to make amends when we’re in the wrong. Confession at work is telling the truth about the ways in which we’ve fallen short, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s a recognition that the ways we’ve been doing things may not be in the best interest of everyone involved. This type of confession invites the listeners into a redemptive dialog about what healing and reconciliation might look like. It also brings with it the willingness to change, learn, and find new ways of being in the world. Through confession we invite and receive a renewed hope.

Lament, on the other hand, is a type of prayer. Laments are lifted to God to express sorrow and heartbreak, particularly when we have limited ability to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To be clear, a lament is not a whine. Rather it’s a prayer that opens us to God’s response, input, and correction in the situation. Lament produces change in us because it’s a two-way conversation with God. There’s a humility in lament—an openness to listen to, and hear from, God where we might have contributed to the sorrow of our circumstances. In lament we listen for God’s kind correction and wisdom for what the right response is to the situation that’s out of our control.

What is the practice of examen as applied to work?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: At the end of a workday, the examen for work systematically explores what happened throughout that day. In the examen we look at, turn over, and see from all directions, the events that we experienced. Reviewing these events allows us to notice and pay attention to the conversations we had, what we’re grateful for, the interactions or tasks that irritated us, and our emotions at work. We also identify where we heard from God and, just as importantly, where we missed God, failed to recognize the Lord’s activity, or intentionally pushed God away.

What is sabbath and why should it be observed?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: Sabbath is the act of ceasing to work and is one of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus. It’s interesting how many Christians who otherwise value the Ten Commandments seem to view sabbath-keeping as sort of optional, depending on how busy they are!

The practice of Sabbath is an important antidote to a modern culture that demands non-stop devotion and commitment to work. So as we were writing about ways that we can engage in spiritual practices at work, we also wanted to emphasize the important spiritual practice of stopping our work each week. One of the chapters in our book focuses on some of the reasons for engaging in sabbath, as well as practical ways to consider what it means for a Christian to keep the sabbath.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: Romans chapter 12 is a favorite passage for both of us, because it talks about taking our everyday, ordinary lives and placing them before God as an offering in response to everything we’ve been given. This chapter provides practical advice for all kinds of workplace situations, from how to engage with those above and below us in an organizational hierarchy, to responding to difficult people, and resolving conflict situations. It helps align our hearts and lives with God’s purposes, and reminds us to offer all we do—work, email, parenting, marriage, friendships, cleaning, everything!—back to God as a grateful response for the life Christ has given to us.

What are your thoughts about the Bible Gateway App?

Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker: Bible Gateway has been a very accessible resource for comparing different translations of Scripture side-by-side. As people who love studying Scripture, it’s wonderful to know we can quickly go to the Bible Gateway App and have so many different translations available as we’re writing and studying. Thank you for your work, and keep it up!


Bio: Denise Daniels (BA, Psychology and Economics, Wheaton College; PhD, Organizational Behavior, University of Washington) is professor of management at Seattle Pacific University, and executive producer for the Faith & Co video series (www.faithand.co). She also serves as a consultant, providing executive coaching services and leadership development training. Active in the faith at work movement, she regularly speaks on the topics of meaningful work, Sabbath, leadership, gender, and motivation. Denise lives in Seattle with her husband and has four adolescent and young adult children.

Shannon Vandewarker (BA, Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University; MDiv, Bethel Seminary) served in Cascade Fellows Program at Fuller Seminary, where she designed theological studies and practical exercises to help disciples explore the integration of their everyday work with their discipleship. Shannon writes on the theology of an ordinary life on her blog at www.shannonvandewarker.com. Shannon lives in San Diego with her husband and three young children.

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