By AC Alivizatos
When you hear the phrase “blue collar,” what comes tomind? Do you think about a factory worker putting in long hours at the plant? Or do you think of custodians engaging in daily microbiological warfare against harmful organisms to protect image bearers? What about auto mechanics dramatizing the renewal of all things as they restore “fallen” vehicles back to good condition? Whatever image comes to mind, the term “blue collar” is typically associated with someone who engages in hard, manual labor. Anyone who has ever had a blue collar job surely knows the challenge of persevering, at times, through perspiration and toil. No one walks into a job with high physical demands thinking they are going to be able to coast through the day without breaking a sweat. Our “job” as the church is much the same.
What is our mission as the people of God? Our objective is to make Christ known through our lives, actions, and deeds as we live all of life all for Jesus in the midst of an idolatrous culture. To put it in simpler terms that Jesus used: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” We make Christ known and fulfill our mission as the church as we love God and love our neighbors in every sphere of life. This momentous task cannot be performed daily and consistently without breaking a sweat.
Especially in our current age, we often feel way too busy. We get tired. We get hungry. We get cranky. The ability to say “No” to our own desires and “Yes” to the needs of others is tough on an empty stomach. Even as I write this blog post, I am operating on four hours of sleep due to mandatory overtime at work and unexpected family demands at home, all converging in the same week. This does not exempt us from our call to love. Rather, it is imperative that we adopt a mindset of “blue collar love.”
What do I mean by “blue collar love?” Just as Jesus saw the need of the hungry masses and spent hours feeding them rather than drawing away to rest with his disciples as he desired, we too must learn to work through stress and fatigue to meet the needs of those around us. We have to roll up our sleeves and do the dirty work of tired love. We must offer to the world not only our words, sermons, and ideas but also our blood, sweat, and tears.
Of course, that is easier said than done. How do we love others on low energy? There is much that can be said on this topic (and much has been said, check out this week’s episode of the podcast!), but I want to focus on two things: prayer and practices. Jesus told his disciples in John 15 that apart from him we can do nothing. It’s easy to forget that when we’re brimming with confidence and full of energy, but it is crucial to remember when we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel of our own resources. God has given each one of us marvelous gifts and abilities, that when used in unison as a community, can paint a beautiful picture of the kingdom to come. We’re like smartphones with our incredible capacity to do all kinds of meaningful work. But try to use a phone without a charger. Apart from that juice, your phone can do nothing. We too must continually rely on Christ for our charge.
How do I know I am leaning on Elohim for support? We express our dependence upon the Almighty God through prayer. If I’m going throughout my day without a posture of prayer, I am also trying to get things done in a posture of pride. One of the greatest dangers to the American church today is humanism: the idea that we are all we need to exercise dominion over the earth. Science and technology have helped feed into the lie that we are all we need to fulfill the mandate given to us in the garden. Though I may be expressing this truth in philosophical terms, make no mistake about it. This is not some far away problem. This is the air we breathe, the water we swim in, and the blood that our hearts pump. Coursing through our veins is an independent, autonomous spirit that wants nothing to do with constant petition to the true Alpha and Omega.
Part of our problem with prayer may be that we tend to think of it in stereotypes: folded hands, closed eyes, and neck slightly bent forward in a quiet room without distractions. If that is our only model of prayer, we are going to have a tough time praying without ceasing as we are commanded in 1 Thessalonians. As Jim Mullins often says, we have to learn to pray not like computers but like humans. This is where practices come into play. It is immensely helpful to incorporate daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly rhythms in our lives that help us to have a rich, multifaceted prayer life.
To avoid turning this blog into a book, I am not going to discuss all the different kinds of practices we can implement (for a good resource, check out Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook or listen to the Advent podcast series). Rather, in the hopes that this will help spark your imagination in how to implement some of these things in your own life, I want to zero in on one specific example: arrow prayers in the workplace.
One of the impacts upon the workplace from the Industrial Revolution is that we try to use an “assembly line” approach to the division of labor. For efficiency, work is often reduced to repetitive tasks. Part of me can’t help but feel this is not the way we were intended to work. Having been in that type of work environment for the vast majority of my adult life, I know from experience how this can quickly become tiresome and burn us out. That “new car smell” of a new job dissipates after a few months after we find ourselves doing the same thing over and over again. The danger, of course, is that the quality of our work diminishes. Why is that so bad? The purpose of employment is to love our neighbor through the work of our hands. If our work quality goes down, so too does our loving impact upon others.
This is where arrow prayers come into play. If your job is anything like mine, you do not have the luxury of going into a quiet room without distractions to close your eyes, fold your hands, and bend your neck. Instead, we have to make do with we have. And what we have are moments. There are moments between tasks, between conversations, between clocking in and out, where our minds have a moment to drift. They might drift to our plans, our family, sports, politics, you name it! What would it look like if we used those moments to throw up quick, precise prayers to the Lord? For me, that prayer is often very simple: “Lord help me to love my neighbor right now.”
That simple prayer not only helps me mentally reframe what I am doing at work, but it also does not go unheard. Or did you think that God only answers long, eloquent prayers? The beauty of mustard seed faith and mustard seed prayers is that they never go unnoticed by El Roi, the God Who Sees. Just as the God of all grace found Hagar at the end of herself in a desert, so too does He graciously pick us up when we find ourselves running on empty. All we have to do is ask. And when I’m at work in a high-paced, high-stress environment, I don’t have always too much time to ask. Fortunately, my prayer does not have to be long to reach to the heavens. I can shoot quick arrow prayers at the throne and hit the target just the same.
Intentional practices such as this one, when fused with prayer, and habitually done over a long period of time can go a long way toward sustaining us in our calling to love others when our energy is low. Love isn’t easy. Sometimes it takes sweat. Let us roll up our sleeves and determine to love our neighbors with “blue collar love.”