patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Thursday, March 21, 2013

what then should we do?

Today I was preparing talking points for an interview on my new book, The Easy Burden of Pleasing God, which is about our spiritual work. It had occurred to me recently, long after the book was written and revised and revised again and copyedited and printed, that we approach our spiritual work so differently than the other work we pursue in life. For the latter, we choose options we might like to do, jobs we think we’d be good at. We expect that work to give us not only money with which to support ourselves but pleasure.

Even my first job, which I got at fifteen years old—yes, I lied about my age)—and stayed with on into college, demonstrates the role that enjoyment played in my choice: I worked for minimum wage (then $3.15/hour) at a fancy bookstore at South Coast Plaza. Others I knew worked at Albertson’s supermarket, where, for exactly the same work of ringing things up and organizing things on shelves, made, because supermarkets in California were unionized, $7.50/hour. Why? Pleasure, for them, meant whatever it was they wanted to do with two and a half times as much money as I made. In each instance, though, it was worth it. We were motivated by enjoyment.

We select our spiritual jobs so differently. We are motivated by duty and guilt. We regard God’s work as a sacrifice, a duty, not as something we deep down want to do or even are good at doing. For me at least, even when I’m doing some worthy spiritual task I’m certain is what God wants and expects of me, I’m typically deep down resentful. I’d rather be doing anything else.

Not only that, but when I’m doing whatever it is, or having done it, I feel, most times, like a failure. I never love or give or pray or share the good news or humble myself as well as I think I should.

Anyway, as I say, I was working on talking points and thinking about this business of the difference between our regular worklives and our spiritual worklives, and it occurred to me that I didn’t really know a good way to refer to what it was I meant by our spiritual work. It was, I decided, our response to the question I vaguely remembered people asking Jesus: What then should we do?

So I looked it up, and lo, I discovered it was not Jesus they were asking but John the baptizer. (Hence this momentary foray out of Jesus’ mountainside sermon into another time in Jesus’ early history we’ve already visited.) John was preaching, in this case, going on, as Jesus would soon be going on, about how evil they were.

“You brood of vipers!” he rails at them. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. . . . The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9 NIV).

The crowds surrounding John are so dismayed! “What then should we do?” they ask him, clearly horrified. Then the tax collectors ask the same thing: “What then should we do?” Then the soldiers ask the same thing: “What then should we do?”

It is, I’m guessing, Everyperson’s question. Given all the rules of scripture, and recognizing that our best efforts are dirty rags, what, oh what, should we do? And how do we go about it with the same enthusiasm with which we do other worthy work?

That’s what my book’s about, I decided I’d tell the radio host, if I got the chance.


  1. My experience as far as spiritual work is a little different; I don't feel motivated by guilt. I don't think we are supposed to be motivated by guilt or duty even or that the work should be that painful. This scripture talks about work anyone can do and it isn't difficult either...

    John 6:29
    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

  2. Totally agree! (And my book's largely about that definition of God's work as well as Jesus' promise that his yoke is easy and his burden light.)

    But then, what to make of all of Jesus' and the rest of scripture's directives on what all we should or shouldn't be doing?

  3. Interesting! I look forward to reading your book. I'll have to see if I can get it up here. :)

  4. I don’t think it is so much about going out of our way to look for, find, and do good things as it is to respond to the opportunities that God brings to us in a way that God wants us to respond - in a way that helps reveal him to others. I think that a lot of our spiritual lives are supposed to be lived that way - be faithful to what God brings to us. Did Jesus seek out the crippled or did they come to him? Do you know a little about Christianity? Do you know a lot? Do you know nothing? Be faithful to what you know, put your trust in God, and seek him. If he wants you to know more then he will bring opportunities and revelations to you. If he wants you to do more then he will place you in a situation that begs for your action. You don’t have to go out of your way.

    Here is a personal example of revelation. I'd give you an example of righteous acts but I don’t have many and I don’t want to get accolades from men for any of the ones I have ;-) This revelation may sound foolish but I offer it nonetheless.

    I walk in the woods with the dogs each night and often look up and marvel at the stars and how God created them. One night, I received a revelation that I am certain was from God. It was not so much a message as it was a sudden clarity of understanding. I have grown up my whole life believing that God is big. I carried that around in my head like many people do. I think about how he knows the number of hairs on my head (which is getting easier) and knows the names of the trillions of stars but strain like many of us do to wrap my arms around how he has bandwidth to commune personally with all people at once. But one night, I suddenly understood that God was far bigger than I had previously thought. In an instant, I understood that he made all of the galaxies, he made all the stars, that each star probably has planets that he made, that on many planets there are seas and grains of sand on the seashores that he made, and that each grain of sand and all other things are composed of atoms that he made, encircled with electrons that he made and controls. And not only that, he made light and the physical laws of the universe. Things like time and gravity and chemical bonding were constructed by him. Think of that!

    In an instant I understood that God has infinite bandwidth and is intimate with all people at every moment at the same time. It was almost like it flashed into my head - like I could see it. He cares for everyone on this Earth and in heaven with bandwidth to spare and if the trillions of other planets host billions of trillions of lives then he is intimate with them, too, without diminishing what he has left over for each of us one iota. And I also understood that if God removed himself from his creation then all is dead and gone in the instant he is no longer with us.

    I didn’t go out of my way to discover this. It was dropped on me unsuspectingly like a bomb. I was dumbfounded and felt foolish for not having clearly understood that all my life.

  5. Wow GerryLarry, so well told! Thanks for sharing the revelation.