If we really want to get closer to God, we will devote more time to prayer and praise—but what about all that time we spend working?
Historically, acts of devotion have led many spiritual seekers to a life of monasticism or seclusion, of complete detachment from the material world. Baha’is, on the other hand, seek to live a spiritual life in that real world. Along with prayer, the Baha’i teachings say that work itself can also qualify as an act of love and devotion and worship. Baha’u’llah wrote:
It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. Ponder ye in your hearts the grace and the blessings of God and render thanks unto Him at eventide and at dawn. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 26.
Here, Baha’u’llah paints a different portrait of a spiritual life than the one we’ve always pictured in the past; one in which the believer does not live a purely passive life of prayer and meditation, but an active life of work and service to humanity. Of course, he or she also has time to reflect and pray, but can now realize the fruits of this solitude in every action.
So if work is a form of devotion, do the Baha’i teachings consider any type of work as worship? I would say that most forms of work are worship because they add some kind of benefit to the world. So by dedicating our time to these things, we contribute to others. When a baker bakes bread, he gives people sustenance, and that can be a kind service to others. But our effort and spiritual intention in our job also make a difference. Abdu’l-Baha says:
In the Baha’i Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God… A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 176-177.
Here the Baha’i teachings show us that two important things impact worshipful work: the quality of what we make or do; and how much we try to do our best. When we desire with all our hearts to serve others with the fruit of our labors, Baha’is believe, we give praise to God. Simply put: “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 83.
If work is worship, then, we should all work. But it does not then follow that we should work all the time. Work represents one facet of our lives, and we have other roles and responsibilities that we need to take care of and devote time to, as well. Many people find it all too easy to devote all their time and energy to a profession, and leave very little for families, friends and communities. Balance and moderation, the Baha’i teachings say, is the key:
A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 59.
One reason that people can’t seem to achieve a moderate, reasonable work/life balance is their attachment to money. Often they may not even be aware of it. However, Baha’u’llah explains that money is not an end in itself:
Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
We are surrounded, or rather submerged in consumerism and materialism, so much that we often cannot see the motives it instils in us. We are often so used to following the herd that we do not question our true inner wants and needs, so we pursue superfluous wants with the pressing urgency of needs. This makes us sacrifice time and relationships for the sake of work, when in fact we sacrifice them for the sake of money. Yet the excuse we could easily give ourselves is: “work is worship.”
We cannot cling to one part of the sacred scriptures and treat it as the totality. Yes, work is worship but so is prayer, so is nurturing a child, so is community engagement. Therefore, like all things, we must work with moderation—but when we work, we should devote ourselves fully with the intention of serving humanity.