I think I’ve built good habits around a morning prayer time, but often it feels like I switch to another world when I go to work. It’s so easy for me to get carried away by the worry of deadlines and urgency of email and pressure of expectations. I don’t want to forget I’m doing all of this for, and with, God. Are there any habits that could help me tie my entire workday to remembering, praising, and loving God?
I have this vivid childhood memory of my dad and uncle lying on the garage floor working on a motorcycle. I remember longing with my whole being to be asked to help, to be included in their labor. Finally, my dad looked up and asked, “Hey, can you hand me that wrench?” With enormous pride, I ran to the toolbox, grabbed the wrench, and raced back over.
I’ve always cherished this moment, because it reminds me that at the heart of the biblical call to vocation is not just something to work on, but someone to work with.
As a former missionary turned corporate lawyer, I’ve always been motivated by the cultural mandate to work (Gen. 1:28). Not until a terrible anxiety crash, however, did I realize it’s not enough just to know God calls me to my vocation; I also need habits to reinforce that I’m invited to work alongside him in that vocation. He doesn’t send me to the garage to tinker with the motorcycle; he’s on the floor of the garage, inviting me to join him in his labor.
Here are my top five habits for practicing the presence of God in busy and tech-driven offices.
1. Midday Kneeling Prayer
Prayer at work is one of the best things for your work. I suggest kneeling, since getting the attention of the body is the best way to get the attention of the soul. (If you work in a public setting where pausing to kneel would be more distracting than helpful, try gently turning your palms up or anything physical to mark the moment and talk to your Lord and co-laborer, Jesus Christ).
Even when I head into work after a good morning routine that includes a quiet time, it doesn’t take two seconds before an email reminding me I forgot something for a client throws my identity into a tailspin. Yes, I am that fragile. Most likely, so are you. It’s called being a redeemed sinner—our identities tumble over one another in an unceasing wrestling match. So often the wrestling mat is our place of work.
Work is an identity-fraught realm where missing a deadline, leading a bad meeting, or sending the wrong email quickly become existential crises. Am I good enough? Am I worth my salt? If any moments call for prayer, it’s these.
Pausing midday to kneel and pray serves as a friction point in the day’s routine. It helps stop the soul’s chorus of self-doubt and self-focus, and reminds us both who we are and whose we are. We are dearly loved children of the King. A midday prayer helps us remember that we’re working not to prove who we are; we’re working because of who we are.
I write about daily kneeling prayer at length in my book on formational habits, The Common Rule. One response I often get from people is that this habit has transformed the way they work. Try setting an alarm or reminder for a couple weeks until it becomes a habit.
2. Avoid Distractions as Your Spiritual Act of Worship
It is fundamental that the modern church understand our age of distraction as an imminent spiritual threat. We need not be afraid, but we do need to know what we’re up against.
Of course, technological distraction is a threat to the goal of working excellently as unto God (Col. 3:23–24)—and that should be enough, for we are commanded to work in such a way that brings others to glorify him (Matt. 5:16). But you must also understand it as a threat to another core purpose of your work: to love God and neighbor through your work.
Distraction removes us from working in love and pushes us into working from numbness, absence, or annoyance.
Distraction removes us from working in love and pushes us into working from numbness, absence, or annoyance. Your smartphone, Gmail, text chains, and social alerts aren’t just reducing your productivity—they’re reducing your capacity for sustained attention and fracturing your presence. It is impossible to fully love a human being without sustained attention or presence, so why would we think we could love God and neighbor through work without sustained attention and presence to our work? It’s already hard enough to see how changing diapers, building spreadsheets, or pitching products relates to love of neighbor. But it’s next to impossible when we’re numbed by distraction throughout our workday.
Many habits can help. I recommend keeping your phone in another room during work, or if you need it for work (like I often do) ruthlessly curating your settings/notifications to prioritize the task at hand and protect from distractions. Every person will have to uniquely tailor this habit to their work, but no one should ignore it. It’s one of the most important ways of making space to enter God’s presence throughout your work.
3. Look at People’s Eyes
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting staring down each co-worker until they question your intentions. But the eyes of human beings are a significant thing. Genuine eye contact is usually the quickest way to remind yourself that the person you’re dealing with is a real, live, image-bearer of the triune God.
On the other end of every conference line, mass email, performance review, or sales pitch is a human being with a story more emotional, complicated, terrible, and beautiful than you can possibly imagine. Everyone is someone’s daughter, father, brother, or lover—and a failure to treat colleagues or consumers with dignity and respect often begins with a failure of the imagination that reduces them to something less than human. They become a click, a hit, a sales commission, a resource base, or a peon you must manage.
Knowing that Christ is with us at work means we stand with him, looking out at our co-workers and seeing them through his eyes. Doing so radically changes work cultures, sales ethics, human-resource outcomes, and more. Making eye contact is a small habit to help you see the image-bearer in each person you meet, and to treat them as such.
4. Use the Power of Words
Words have power. Even divine power. God made the world with words, remember. He saved it through the Word made flesh.
You don’t have to be a writer to be called to steward words as part of your vocation. Great meetings are built out of the vision of a leader’s words; meaningful employee reviews happen when a manager thought carefully about which words to use to help this person. A carefully worded email can be the difference between office gossip or conflict resolution. All of our jobs carry opportunities to use words like they matter, and followers of Jesus should be especially attentive to the power of words to bring life or take it.
You don’t have to be a writer to be called to steward words as part of your vocation.
Imagine this for a moment: in your workplace all of us lost and confused people come together to try and prove we are worth something. Every person you encounter is fighting this spiritual battle, and they’re hearing all the same narratives you do: You’re worthless. You can’t even get this right? It’s a wonder they keep you here.
Sometimes, your word of encouragement or even gentle critique is a loving act of war against the enemy, who wants to deceive everyone in your workplace into thinking they’re something less than lovable.
Whether it’s sharing the good news of the gospel with a co-worker, saving your biting criticism for after you’ve cooled off, or just giving a sincere, unsolicited compliment on a slide deck, build great things with your words at work. In terms of making this a habit, try taking an intentional, slow breath before you speak in important moments, as a reminder that you’re about to use something powerful.
5. Let Sabbath Pace Your Work
Living at a baseline pace of frenetic urgency is fundamentally incompatible with the command to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Reminder: I am a corporate lawyer whose clients want their deals closed yesterday. They get sued and need responses from me ASAP. I am intimately familiar with the work world of around-the-clock emergencies. But even a heart surgeon is not always on call.
The entrepreneur who structures their company so that no single decision can be made unless they are consulted, the stay-at-home parent who refuses to ever find a babysitter, or the lawyer who can’t ever turn off their phone all share the same spiritual ailment: they act as though the world will stop spinning if they stop working.
Living at a baseline pace of frenetic urgency is fundamentally incompatible with the command to ‘be still and know that I am God.’
There’s only one person who sustains all things, and his name is Jesus. The rest of us can rest, because of the work he has already finished. This is the fundamental principle of our salvation: we are saved not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done for us. The work of his death and resurrection means we can rest in what he’s accomplished in our place.
Our salvation affects everything, including our work. As it applies to work, we don’t need to toil around the clock and through every weekend as if we can sustain the world. Instead, we should reinforce the reality that we’re not ultimate by practicing a weekly sabbath. Practicing the habit of sabbath decentralizes our identity and centralizes God’s. It reminds us work is his, not ours, and we can join him in it from a place of rhythmic rest rather than continual exhaustion.
Practicing the Presence of God
Last month I was building a new shelf and asked my 5-year old son, Asher, to pull the trigger on the drill for each screw. You should’ve seen his face. I think it was the best part of his year (though it took me four-times longer than if I would’ve done it alone!). But I didn’t invite him to work with me because I needed the help. I invited him to help because I love him.
Likewise, we all carry a fundamental longing to work alongside someone who is bigger than us, and who loves us enough to invite our help. The beautiful fact of work is this: God is with us. None of these habits changes that reality; they’re simply a few ways to lean into the reality that has been freely, graciously given—God is with you at work.