As many of you know, I was blessed to have the opportunity to study historical theology and biblical exegesis at Wheaton College from 2010 to 2013. I followed that with a research position at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where I was blessed to be able to pursue a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine.
As I transitioned from focusing full-time on biblical and theological studies to focusing full-time on veterinary infectious disease research, I felt compelled to articulate the relationship between the two: between what it means to be God’s co-worker (as articulated in passages like 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; and Romans 8:17) and to be a veterinarian (and, in particular, a veterinary researcher).
I wrote the following prayer as a result of my preliminary thoughts on this topic, to help me begin to articulate some of these ideas, and to enable me to ask God’s help in better realizing and implementing them.
O Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son and Word of God, through whom God the Father created all things, both visible and invisible, Source of Life and Destroyer of Death–
Blessed are you who allows me to witness and participate in the beauty of your creation; for every creature that awakens to new life and joyfully sings your praises in a thousand ways; for the birds and beasts that bear the imprint of your love.
In your great mercy and love for mankind, cause me to turn back from thoughts, words, and deeds that defile and afflict your creation; rather, cause me to be your co-worker in caring for and healing the birds and beasts over which you have given mankind stewardship.
You who have said, “apart from me you can do nothing,” grant me the wisdom, patience, understanding, and benevolence to honor the dignity you have bestowed upon my labor as a veterinarian, that by my participation with you in this work you would be glorified, with the Father who is from everlasting, together will your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
The words in italics are taken from the Akathist of Thanksgiving, a beautiful prayer that magnifies the glory of God in the face of suffering, with a focus on the beauty of God’s creation.
I had the privilege of sharing this prayer with a group of veterinarians and veterinary students at Christian Veterinary Mission’s Real Life Real Impact conference in 2017. I spoke about what prayer is, why we do it, and then I discussed the components of my veterinarian’s prayer.
Ultimately, prayer is our sacrificial offering to God, as we see in Psalm 141:2 (140 LXX): “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice,” and in Revelation 8:4: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”
Tertullian put it this way in the third century:
“It is an excellent custom to present, like an opulent offering, a prayer fattened with all that tends to dignify and honor God. For this is the spiritual oblation that has wiped out the ancient sacrifices. . . . We are true worshippers and true priests who, praying in the Spirit, in the spirit offer up prayer, an oblation fitting and acceptable to God, one, indeed, which he has sought, one which he has provided for himself.”
Regarding why we pray, I think it begins with the understanding that we are a “royal priesthood . . . that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This concept of priesthood necessarily involves the concept of mediation. In the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, in an article on the Hebrew word for priest (kohen), Philip Jenson writes:
“Perhaps the central concept of priesthood is mediation between the sphere of the divine and the ordinary world. A priest through his ritual actions and his words facilitates communication across the boundary separating the holy from the profane. The priests represented God to the people in the splendor of their clothing, in their behavior, and in oracles and instruction, while in sacrifice and intercession they represented the people to God.”
Prayer, then, is our offering to God on behalf of all of creation (including, but not limited to, our fellow human beings). Likewise, through prayer we act as God’s co-workers, allowing His grace to work through us via our praise and intercession.
In my veterinarian’s prayer, I begin with a brief reflection on who God is, which is intimately connected with what God has done. As I’ve said elsewhere, the most important question we can seek to answer is that of Jesus to his disciples: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42). I then give thanks for his call on my life, and for the amazing gift of the invitation to participate with him.
I move on to offer repentance, recognizing that as human beings, we turn away from God and seek to do our own will in contradiction to his will, and in doing so we distance ourselves from the source of existence and life, and draw closer to non-existence and death. As the priests of creation, when we do this, we draw creation farther away from God along with us. Elder Zosima makes the same claim in The Brothers Karamozov:
“But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.”
Finally, I ask for wisdom, patience, understanding, and benevolence to enable me to move forward and enter into the invitation to participate with God in the work that I’ve been called to carry out in his name and for his glory.
I found this exercise immensely helpful, and having this prayer to remind me has been an absolute gift. I encourage all who have made it to the end of this post to consider composing a similar prayer, that you might spend some time working through what it means for you, specifically, to be God’s co-worker on earth.