Think about it: when was the last time you worshipped? Many people, when they think about the word worship, view it as an old-fashioned or even an obsolete term.
You can probably see why—the word brings up a vision of a passive figure sitting idly, head down and hands folded, silently hoping that things will improve, rather than engaging with the inner self or the world to bring about that improvement.
For the Baha’is, though, worship has taken on a completely new meaning, a new power and a new spirit:
That Spirit is the Oneness of the world of humanity, the establishing of Universal Peace, right and justice, the fact that religion must be conducive to harmony among mankind, reconcile reason and science, equality of men and women, the freedom and independence of all men; the founding of heavenly morale and love for all mankind, even for animals; the universalizing of Common knowledge, and the fact that a profession and trade and agriculture are the worship of God, that a farmer who engages in tilling and cultivating his farm with the utmost effort is like unto a worshipper who devotes himself to the worship of God with the utmost humility and supplication in a temple of worship and that a laborer who works with justice and sincerity is as though engaged in prayer. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, October 1919, p. 226.
From a Baha’i perspective, then, work is worship. If you think about your life that way, you probably worship most days of the week.
Of course, almost every kind of work has some benefit for others, some altruistic aim or some good purpose. Work can help support and educate an individual or a family; work can feed people; work can benefit your community; work can train children; work might create art that beautifies the world and inspires human hearts; it may even save lives. Although you might think of your work as difficult drudgery, you can probably find a reason to think of it as worship.
The Baha’i teachings dramatically expand the traditional definition of worship to include art and science, all forms of craftsmanship and every kind of honorable work:
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.
This emphasis within the Baha’i teachings—coupling work with worship—is unique in all religion:
In this universal dispensation man’s wondrous craftsmanship is reckoned as worship … Consider what a bounty and blessing it is that craftsmanship is regarded as worship. In former times, it was believed that such skills were tantamount to ignorance, if not a misfortune, hindering man from drawing nigh unto God. Now consider how His infinite bestowals and abundant favours have changed hell-fire into blissful paradise, and a heap of dark dust into a luminous garden.
It behoveth the craftsmen of the world at each moment to offer a thousand tokens of gratitude at the Sacred Threshold, and to exert their highest endeavour and diligently pursue their professions so that their efforts may produce that which will manifest the greatest beauty and perfection before the eyes of all men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 144.
This new Baha’i ethic of work-as-worship applies to everyone who labors conscientiously. The Baha’i teachings urge everyone to worship by reflecting, meditating, and praying—but then to put that worship into action:
If a man engageth with all his power in the acquisition of a science or in the perfection of an art, it is as if he has been worshipping God in churches and temples. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 144.
Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said:
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. Waste not your time in idleness and sloth. Occupy yourselves with that which profiteth yourselves and others. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 26.