'Acknowledging the joys and struggles of everyday life before God'
Interview with Baptist minister Phil Jump about his new book Love:Work - Reflections and Prayers for a World at Work, co-written with fellow Baptist minister John Weaver
What prompted you to write this book?
To be honest it was largely other people. In reality the book has been writing itself for the last 10 years as I have been asked to prepare prayers for significant events or situations. To me that is what prayer is about – bringing God into our everyday situation, not giving God a catalogue of what we want God to do.
People seem to have appreciated the prayers that I have written, and several have encouraged me to make them available in a published form – so I worked with John to bring that about, we have often worked collaborated or used each other’s material in the past. There are even a couple in there that I originally wrote and used for the Daybreak programme.
What are your ten commandments for work?
This actually began as a separate initiative, but when we were looking for a format for the book of prayers, it struck us that it provided a great framework for what we were putting together. Work isn’t always an easy experience for people, but I am convinced that the attitude that we have towards work can have a significant impact on our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we work with.
So these commandments offer themselves as some rules of life that people might seek to adopt within their workplace experience. We have offered a reflection around each of these themes and then a selection of prayers that might help people live out that challenge.
So is this only for working people?
Definitely not. If you think about it, hardly a day will go by when any of us don’t engage in someone’s working life in one way or another. Whether you’re a customer, if you have a hospital visit, if you take a bus into town or visit a leisure centre, you are impacting someone’s working life. For many people, the stress in their work does not come from the people they work with, but those they engage with as clients and customers.So these commandments offer themselves as a rule of life for anyone as they pursue their daily routines.
And I hope too that it can stimulate us to reflect on the working experiences of our sisters and brothers in Christ and to pray for them in the light of that.
You speak a lot about work as a vocation or as a way of expressing our commitment to God’s Kingdom. Yet the reality for many people is that work can be difficult, demanding, they are forced through circumstances to do jobs they don’t really want. Aren’t you being a bit idealistic?
Well firstly can I point you back to the answer that I offered earlier. I believe that our attitude to work has a significant impact on our wellbeing, so I would argue that it is of even greater worth to those who face a tough time at work. Perhaps in such circumstances it is hard to find the words to pray, so I hope that within this book, we have offered people the encouragement to seek the strength and resolve they need to face such circumstances.
And I would also say this – if work is tough and difficult we have two choices, we either shrug our shoulders, accept that this is the way life is, and things will never change. Or we can believe in different, promote a narrative of different and then perhaps people will begin to notice and find the resolve to say “work does not need to be this way!” So yes, I am take a realist, but I also believe we need a narrative of better.
Where might God’s presence be discovered today in the diversified workplace following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Covid has changed people’s lives in many ways. I believe that a key calling of the Christian community is to help one another remain true in our discipleship as life progresses us through inevitable seasons of change – some sudden and dramatic, others more gradually over time. It is almost impossible to offer any definitive answer to that question, because we cannot even be certain yet how Covid will have impacted our working lives.
But we might be reminded of the words of the Psalm writer that there is nowhere we can go to escape the love of God. I sense that at the moment, our key task as Christian believers is to hone and maintain that instinct to seek God however and whenever our circumstances change.
Can we discover an approach to prayer that does not require us to somehow clear the things of everyday life out of the way, but rather draw the two together?
Absolutely. I would begin by simply inviting people not to treat their concerns as distractions but resources for prayer. Prayer is the space where we can seek God and listen for God, and to me that simply begins by acknowledging the joys and struggles of everyday life, the frustrations and dilemmas and simply holding these before God. If we allow ourselves the space to do that, we might be surprised to discover what God has to say.
If this book helps people to embrace that rhythm of prayer, I would be delighted, but it will have truly fulfilled its purpose by making itself obsolete as people learn their own language and rhythm of prayer.
When new situations and opportunities emerge in our professional lives, they may or may not be difficult and challenging, but they are also the chance to ask new questions and make new discoveries. How can we live, how can we grow, what can we learn through embracing what lies ahead, perhaps even seeing these as part of God’s calling?
We live in a world that is deeply uneasy when it can’t predict and control. I believe that one of the key attributes and virtues of faith is that we learn to trust in God, even when the world around us is unpredictable and difficult to make sense of. In workplace contexts, those who can keep their heads in situations of change and crisis are a real asset. I believe that our faith perspective helps us to offer that gift to our workplace communities.
If we are solely defined by the job that we do – our identity and wellbeing will be deeply threatened if that is significantly disrupted. The same is true if we are over-defined by our circumstances. I think we can learn and grow by leaning on our identity as Christian believers which can help us to take a more considered and objective view of shifting circumstances around us. I sense that those who can accomplish this create natural opportunities to develop and grow.
In our workplaces, what difference would be seen if we sought to pursue the same values that God’s Word commends to us as a community of his people? How might things change if we adopted a similar pattern of working together?
I would want to begin by saying that many workplaces have good and wholesome practices and are committed to the wellbeing of their staff, and increasingly the wellbeing of our planet (though this is by no means universally the case). But for all that this is true, work seems to remain hugely defined by economic systems and structures that tend to set the overall agenda.
I am deeply intrigued and challenged by some of the new working models that are emerging from the online community. Initiatives like Patreon, whereby individuals support another voluntarily as an act of appreciation and a practical way of sustaining their creative output. Again, I sense that this is not so much a matter of the Church imposing a Kingdom agenda on the world of work, but discovering where it is emerging and seeking to support and celebrate it.