Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, If necessary, use words.” -St. Francis
One of the more interesting stories in the Old Testament is about a guy named Naaman. He’s the equivalent of a 5 star General for Syria. He’s a big deal who serves at the right hand of the King. He’s successful, feared and respected by many. And then Naaman gets leprosy.
It’s a death sentence, and no amount of power can protect him from it.
But he gets a tip from a servant girl, that he should go to Israel and talk to a Prophet of God. Normally there is no way that he would do something like this. But this is no longer normal life for Naaman. So that’s how he finds himself in Israel, a smaller, insignificant country, that’s how he find himself asking an old man for help from a God he doesn’t know.
And it works. God restores Naaman, he heals him and gives him his life back.
But what is really fascinating to me is what Naaman does when he goes home…
I have a friend who has a successful career in Hollywood. If I was to tell you his name you would probably recognize him. Several times a year he has a national audience. And my friend is a Christian.
One of the struggles my friend has is how to integrate his faith with his job. He doesn’t have the ability to talk about Jesus overtly because that’s not what they pay him for. But he tries to share his faith with his co-workers, he tries to work well and be honest.
But the time he had the most Christian influence he in his job, was when he was being forced out of it. He works in a cut throat environment, where some people will do just about anything to get ahead. And unfortunately for my friend, that includes stabbing people in the back. He was working at his job, doing quite well for himself, when one of his best friends in the company betrayed and slandered him so that he could take his job.
And that’s when my friend was fired.
And now everyone was watching, and everything hinged on how he re-acted. And, in what he said was the most Christlike, evangelistic thing he had did in his time there, my friend forgave them. Everyone was paying attention to how he responded, and he responded with grace. And everyone noticed. Here’s what my friend actually said:
I’d get fired every day if it meant having the chance to forgive.
Which is not something people normally say when they are fired.
Saved by Work(s)
You know, it’s easy to be hard on the ancient monks who thought they could be saved through religious works, but so many of us today are looking for a kind of salvation from our careers. We want to save our self-esteem and self-worth, we want to justify our existence, so we take the high-paying, high-status jobs, and find ourselves worshipping them.
But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, because we are already proven and secure.
Instead, our work becomes the way in which we partner and serve the God who loves us unconditionally, and a way to love our neighbor.
Which brings me back to Naaman. After he is healed from leprosy, he knows the God of Israel is the true LORD of the earth. But he also knows he is going to have to go back to his old job working with the King. And Namaan knows that the King worships the gods of Syria. The king is old and feeble and so when he kneels down to these gods Naaman knells too, and the King leans on him.
But Namaan doesn’t worship those gods anymore. So here’s what Naaman asks for:
Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.
He went back to his old job, walking in and out of the old temples that used to mean something to him. But now it was different. So Naaman takes dirt from Israel with him, to kneel on when he goes to the Temple.
It’s his way of saying, my responsibilities may be the same, but my relationship to them is different. Naaman will serve his nation, but he will no longer worship it.
I’ve noticed, no matter what job we have, there are competing story lines. We have a lot of different people trying to tell us what it means to be successful and what it takes to get there. And if the financial situation from the past few years is any indication, we have a lot of people worshipping gods of greed and money. But there are plenty of idols that hide better than that.
In ministry, I’m constantly tempted to find my identity in what I do and how I’m doing at it. I’m consistently tempted to compare and compete, but the Gospel keeps forcing me to do Gospel work in Gospel ways. It gives me a new story to work with, and new story to work from.
My generation loves to quote St. Francis of Assisi’s famous line, “Preach the Gospel everywhere, if necessary use words.” But remember that this worked for Francis because he was constantly doing Gospel like things. And the only way this approach works for sharing your faith, is if you are living your faith.
That’s why my friend was able to forgive. He wasn’t playing the same game that his friends were, because he wasn’t kneeling on the same dirt.
But this is where we can learn from Naaman, because the idols of his day are just as real and just as worshipped today. We are just as hungry to justify ourselves by how much we make, or how much status our job gives us, but the Gospel is trying to give us another story to work with.
So go to work.
And bring your own dirt.