Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 5

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Today I want to delve into what I believe is one of the most profound reasons why we don’t pray for business. It has to do with how we think as Christians, a fundamental element of our worldview.

But first, to review, so far I’ve suggested five reasons why, I believe, we don’t pray for business in the context of corporate Christian gatherings:

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Reason #2: We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Reason #3: We don’t pray for business because our worship leaders have been trained in settings that are indifferent or negative to business.

Reason #4: We don’t pray for business because Scripture does not command us to do so.

Reason #5: We don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world.

Today I want to consider the following:

Reason #6: We don’t pray for business because we divide reality into the sacred and the secular, with prayer falling on the sacred side, and business on the secular side, and never the twain shall meet.

According to Reason #5, we don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world. This lack of vision substantially reflects a lack of a biblically-informed understanding of the world and God’s mission in the world. But it also derives from a pervasive tendency in out culture and in the church to divide reality into two, distinct spheres, the sacred and the secular. For most people, including most Christians, these separate spheres of life do not overlap or influence each other. In the classic phrase of Rudyard Kipling, “never the twain shall meet.”

Most of us intuitively grasp what we mean by “sacred” and what we mean by “secular,” even though there’s plenty of fuzziness around the edges of our definitions. Sacred has to do with religious stuff: God, church, synagogue, mosque, prayer, Bible, worship, mission, belief, etc. Many of us would put things like family and marriage in the religious column as well. The sacred is spiritual, having to do with ultimate reality and ultimate meaning.  Though the sacred might touch upon tangible things (like church buildings), it has to do mostly with that which is intangible, with the ideal rather than the real. Secular, which comes from the Latin sæcularis, which means “worldly” or “belonging to this age,” refers to this world, to material objects and endeavors. The secular is transient, corporeal, practical, and real. It’s “down to earth.”

Even faithfully religious people often refer to secular reality as “the real world.” I can think of conversations I’ve had with leaders in my church. In one case, we were considering whether or not to embark on a bold capital campaign to raise money for a new sanctuary. Though the economy was struggling mightily in the early 1990s, I believed we were to move ahead with the campaign. But one of my elders responded negatively, saying something like this: “Well, having faith is just fine when it comes to spiritual things, but in the
Sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church . . . .” Business was more real because it dealt with things like money, economic forecasting, and “the bottom line.” (Photo: The sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church, built in 1995-1996. As it turned out, faith was just as real as finances.)

It would be an interesting to debate whether, in the end, the secular is actually more real than the sacred. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, was the first one to challenge me to think about the reality of the spiritual world. But such a debate assumes the very point I wish to challenge. It takes for granted a fundamental difference between the sacred and the secular, a difference in thinking that keeps us from seeing life as it is. (To be clear, I am not suggesting that Lewis divides sacred from secular.)

It also keeps us from praying for business, for obvious reasons. Prayer is sacred, profoundly so. Business is secular, profoundly so. Or so most of us would assume. So prayer and business simply don’t get on well together. They’re as separate from each other as oil and water, or NASCAR and Valentine’s Day. (Note: The Daytona 500 fell on Valentine’s Day this year.) We don’t pray for business because it’s just not something we pray about. To do so would be a category confusion, rather like taking your wife on a romantic date to a WWE steel cage match. Wouldn’t be prudent.

As you can probably guess, I believe that the division of life into sacred and secular is a mistake. It perceives the world wrongly because the world is not actually divided into sacred and secular. This way of thinking has come to us through Christian tradition that was saturated in classic Greek dualism. Plato and his chums saw the physical world as fundamentally different from the spiritual world, with the spiritual being vastly superior to the physical. Ideas trumped matter.

The biblical worldview, on the contrary, sees all of life as part of God’s creation, as something about which God cares and in which his glory is to be revealed. The fact that God created matter establishes its sacred character. And what was God’s first command to the first humans: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). The first humans were not told to make an altar and offer sacrifices, or to sing songs of praise, or to have their daily quiet times. Rather, they were to honor God by caring for the stuff of creation. And if you think about the most literal sense of “be fruitful and multiply,” you’ll realize that our physical bodies and their function have everything to do with God. The so-called secular is enveloped and permeated by the so-called sacred, which comes to life in the stuff of the so-called secular.

If we take seriously God’s creation of heaven and earth, as well as the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply . . . and have dominion,” then we’ll begin to see the world as inescapably interconnected, rather than as fundamentally divided into sacred and secular. Business will be seen, not as secular work with little spiritual impact, but rather as part and parcel of God’s business and our business as God’s creatures. Thus it will become natural, one might almost say, spiritual, for us to pray for the marketplace and those who work within it, just as we pray for churches and pastors and missionaries and families and sick people.

I believe that the church is called to an essential task in our time of history: proclaiming that all of life matters to God, and that the division of reality into sacred and secular is biblically mistaken and practically unfruitful. Increasing numbers of people, indeed, business people, are sensing the inadequacy of a life divided into sacred and secular. They are yearning for a way to integrate their lives, to find genuine meaning in their work. This is true of Boomers like me, but even more so of folks 30 and under. According to the recently released book, The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace,
the most distinctive feature of Millenials in the workplace is their desire for meaningful work. Biblical theology provides a rock solid basis for finding meaning in every part of life, since it is all part of God’s creation and ultimately embraced in his redemption.

Before I wrap up this series, I want to suggest some practical ways we might begin to do pray for business in a way that is theologically sound and relevant to the marketplace and its people. I’ll get into this on Monday. Meanwhile, have a great weekend. Remember, even weekends matter to God!



  • Thomas Buck

    Dear Mark:
    “The so-called secular is enveloped and permeated by the so-called sacred, which comes to life in the stuff of the so-called secular. ”
    A succinctly-put truth.
    Have a good week-end!
    Tom

  • http://www.justopenthebook.com David, justopenthebook.com

    Great series of articles. It’s always been surprising to me how much time, effort, stress and financial resource is willingly committed to our business, yet we forget to invest our prayers, which call on God, who is ultimately the source of all our success in the first place.

  • Don B

    Mark, thanks for this very interesting series. An issue you’ve touched on is the extent to which churches “in the world” have to operate like businesses. Even though they are churches, they are also employers, purchasers of goods and services, members of communities, insureds, property owners, taxpayers (in limited ways), and (unfortunately) potential defendants and plaintiffs. I have often prayed that our church’s leadership will have the wisdom to walk the fine line between doing Christ’s work and surviving as a business. This is often a very hard line to walk. Prayer for business and prayer for the church are therefore not mutually exclusive.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I think sacred/secular split is the at core of the problem. Great post.
    I’ll also add that because of this, most business people see the church as an adjunct to real life. When we help people make that connection between what they are doing 8 to 5 and God’s mission in the world … watch out! Sadly, when I’ve talked to pastors and church leaders about this very few have an sense what I’m talking about. It is encouraging to see you giving voice to this concern, Mark. Thanks.

  • http://harvestevan.org/index.html TM Baker

    Thank you Mark. I enjoyed reading your blog and the comments left by others. I heard a guest pastor at church several months back by the name of Ed Silvoso. He told us “the world stage is being set for a breakthrough of God in the marketplace of the likes we have never seen before.”
    I highly recommend his book, Anointed for Business which specifically discusses prayer evangelism in the workplace.
    It was inspirational to realize church didn’t mean what happens only in the confines of four walls, but that church is where believers minister- in the marketplace. A new concept for some ministers/pastors etc. to give their parishioners the anointing to spread the gospel, not to fill up church pews but to make a difference where the majority live and work. “19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19,20 NIV)
    We just had a full day workshop where Ed, along side our pastor, provided a group of marketplace ministers with some tools to pray not only for work, but at work, and where ever we are outside of church. We’ve even been encouraged to adopt the streets where we live and work. “Let’s raise a canopy of prayer in every community, street by street, county by county, touching every school, every business and each of the 25,000 political precincts in the state (CA).” http://www.transformourworld.org/california
    I also think it’s prudent to point out that Paul had much more success in disciplining outside of the 4 walls of the temple than he ever did within its confines. “21And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,” (Acts 14:6-7, 20-21). Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and expelled from Antioch because they again settled in the church, but Paul spent two years in Ephesus and converted many- he didn’t settle in the church there.
    I think it’s clear, the secular (work and home) and the sacred (church and worship) go hand in hand.

  • http://getstimulustoday.com Matches Malone

    In cases where it is appropriate to take our wife to a WWE cage match, what should we do then?

  • Peter

    Just my opinion on why prayer and business do not seem to go together like a a hot dog and mustard, or ketchup…
    There is at a minimum, an element of competition in business which most people experience as a zero-sum reality. My gain (if you are my competitor: you sell, make, distribute the same product(s)) is your loss, and the other way round too. And this is not a bug, it is a feature of business life. So, it is a challenge to conceive how my actively pursuing what you want, knowing you are doing the same,(pursuing what I want) is in both of our interests. And if this is true, where is God in this process? Is He for you, knowing I am competing against you, or is He for me knowing that about you? Or is He for neither of us and wants us to change this dynamic?
    To put it another way, have you ever heard of a coach not just praying for the well being of the other team or its players and coaches, but for their victory over your team in that game? The coach who prays is being “real”, I think. He wants to win, that is his and the team’s first priority, so he has to find something else to pray about other than even the possiblity of the other team winning. All of this gets to the interface between faith in God and success in this world. Where is that intersection?
    If this resonates with anyone, I would enjoy feedback. Of course, “w” for “warped” is sufficient if that is what you think; I would, no doubt, benefit- from a much lengthier rebuke, but perhaps a constructive answer would serve the same pupose.
    Thank you, Pastor Roberts, for your blog, your faith, and your insights.

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