Book Review: Working in the Presence of God
Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work, by Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker (Hendrickson Publishers, 2019)
In Working in the Presence of God, Center for Faithful Business Fellow Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker offer practical guidance for how to invite God into readers’ ordinary, everyday work. To that end, the book describes 11 spiritual disciplines that can be incorporated into the rhythms of each workday, distributed across three sections. Part One explores practices associated with “orienting to work,” including the liturgy of commute, workplace as holy ground, surrendering the calendar, and reading scripture at work. Part Two describes practices for “engaging in work,” including affirmation of calling, gratitude, and celebration; confession; and lamenting work. Part Three presents practices for “reflecting on work” during and after work, including solitude, prayer of examen, and Sabbath. Each chapter covers one spiritual practice, with real-world examples of how individuals have incorporated these practices into their work, illustrating the transformative impact these practices can have.
While Working in the Presence of God is deeply grounded in Christian scripture, tradition, and theology, its primary contribution is not a new way of thinking about work but rather a path for living out a theological understanding of work. This book is meant to be practiced, not just passively read. The authors invite their readers to reflect on and embody these 11 spiritual disciplines in the context of their own work, offering questions at the end of each chapter that can be used for personal reflection and/or group discussion. Daniels and Vandewarker are clear that the practices themselves serve an instrumental purpose; ultimately, the authors’ goal is to help readers to encounter God in and through their work, and so be transformed.
I have taught through the book with three groups of Seattle Pacific University undergraduate students over the past two years, and I have found it to be a catalyst for spiritual growth. Several Christian students have noted that they had never considered inviting God into their work before. One student reflected: “Seeing God move at work and in my work relationships is an aspect of spirituality I had never invited before. Sure, I knew God was in every aspect of my life, but I had never considered what it meant to work for God and how many different ways there are to practice my faith at work.”
Skeptical students have also benefited from reading the book. Some have shared that they initially found the idea of bringing their faith into their work off-putting, or that the practices themselves felt awkward or forced. Over time, however, they began to experience the benefits of practicing spiritual disciplines at work. One student shared: “I feel these practices opened my eyes to how I had been leaving God out or keeping him away from my work life, and I realized that is not how I want to continue.” For a few students, the book has even served as a platform for exploring Christianity and developing a personal relationship with God.
Overall, Working in the Presence of God is a gift to those who seek a deeper connection between their faith and their work. By applying ancient spiritual disciplines to the context of 21st century work, this book offers practical guidance on honoring work responsibilities in the context of an embodied faith, inviting new ways of offering one’s work to God as an act of worship.
Reflection by Dr. Annie Kato, Assistant Professor of Management, School of Business, Government, & Economics at Seattle Pacific University.
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