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“What is your vocation?” When we are asked this question, we understand that the inquirer wants to know what we do as a means of support. But the use of the word vocation as a synonym for job stems from a Christian understanding of work. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning “to call.” The speaker who uses this word to define an individual’s occupation is echoing the Biblical truth that we are called of God to our specific careers. And that is a life-changing view of the job that occupies most of our days for 50 years.

One way God calls us to a specific occupation is through the talents He gives us. By the time I had taken two algebra courses and a chemistry/physics course, I knew that God had not called me to be a nuclear engineer. And as much as I wanted to be a professional ballplayer, I learned through experience that God had not provided me with the physical coordination to do so. My desire to be an athlete could not overcome my inept, awkward, clumsy body. Similarly, the direction of my daughter’s life was changed when she took a battery of tests as a senior in high school. The tests were designed to discover her aptitudes and relate those native abilities to various careers. Jill had wanted to be a lawyer, but the tests proved that she had far more gifts in the area of creative writing and communication. She ultimately enjoyed a rewarding and fulfilling career in public relations that employed those specific talents. One of the ways that she discovered God’s calling was through recognizing the abilities He had given.

Do you want to know to what work God has called you? Study your innate talents. No, taking aptitude tests to help discover your calling from God does not sound very spiritual. However, it is based on the Biblical truth that God “gifts” us in the areas to which He calls us.

That people are gifted and called by God to specific vocations such as farming and singing means that there is no wall between the secular and the sacred. A man who had been very successful in his business once came to see me. He told me that when he retired he wanted to work for the church in some capacity. He said, “John, I like my job but I’d rather be serving the Lord.” His motive was noble, but it was based on an un- Biblical view of labor. So we talked about Luke 3:12–14, where John the Baptist tells recently converted tax collectors and soldiers to serve God in their vocations by doing their jobs righteously. And we read Colossians 3:17 and 23: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him…. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Over the next few months, that man’s view of his work completely changed. He had gone to his job every workday for 40 years thinking that his occupation was completely disconnected from any service to God. However, he began to see his work as a vocation—a calling. And as he began to understand how God was using him in his work, he saw new meaning in almost everything he did.

There is a vast difference between a man who goes to work every day to serve God and a man who goes to work every day to make money. There is certainly no evil in desiring to provide generously for one’s family. Money, or the desire to earn money, is certainly not evil in and of itself. Some Christians have wrongly taught that there is something inherently godly about monetary poverty. In reality, the poor pagan is just as ungodly as the rich pagan. However, working every day primarily for the Lord will produce completely different results than working every day primarily for money. If a man sells insurance chiefly to make money, he will work to sell his client what will bring him the greatest commission. But if a man sells insurance chiefly to serve God, he will work to sell his client what will best meet the needs of that client. The primary motive for work does matter!

Our view of our everyday vocations also affects our participation in the churches we attend. Some folks work “overtime” in duties at church because, in their view, that is their only “Christian work.” They see their daily job as “service-neutral”—neither for the Lord nor against the Lord, but just work. Thus, on the weekends they take time away from their families and rest to be engaged in service for God, service driven by guilt and a poor theology.

That God gifts and calls people to their specific jobs means that all legitimate work is a noble endeavor. We are inclined to think that the chief executive officer or senator has a higher calling than the chef or automobile mechanic. But the man who is employed mowing lawns is serving God no less than the president serves God. General George Smith Patton said: “If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Her lived a great street- sweeper who did his job well.'”

We must recover the Reformation view of work as a calling: that each of us would see the sacred nature of his or her vocation, that each of us would see the day’s work, the week’s work, the year’s work as service to Jesus Christ, that each of us would strive for excellence because it is done for Him, and that each of us would know that our vocation is wonderfully significant, whether it is changing diapers or digging ditches.

In the King’s Service: A Modern Parable

The Work of the Pastor

Keep Reading The Sanctity of Work: A Biblical Perspective on Labor

From the July 2003 Issue
Jul 2003 Issue