When we think about our "calling," we often think of someone being "called" into full-time ministry. But, that is a very truncated view of what our calling is. From the Latin word for "calling" we get the concept of Vocation. Everyone has a God-given Vocation, a role to play in their family, church, workplace, and the larger society. God has uniquely shaped, equipped, and placed each one of us to contribute to His overall plan and care for Creation. We all have gifts, talents, and abilities that God uses as He sovereignly places us in spheres of influence to display His glory and influence. I often say that God is not a character in our story, but rather, we are characters in God's Story. He has a plan for each of us and He exercises His rule through us. It is remarkable, when you think about it.
With this as a backdrop, we are able to look at the concept of work differently from the rest of the world. "Work" is not a way to establish ourselves as independent from God or anyone else. Nor is it a way to accrue wealth so that we will have safety and security. Work is not primarily about money nor is it something to hate or to get away from whenever we can. Many want to be wealthy so that they will not have to work and so they can do what they want when they want to – in other words, independence from others, from society, and from any real sense of responsibility to anyone or anything. All of this is from the Fall where work/labor became associated with the Curse related to sin (see Genesis 3:17-19) and it became something that was often seen as tedious and life denying.
But, there is a different way to see work. We can go back before the Fall and see that God created mankind to work in relation to His will and to be a part of how God rules over and cares for His Creation (Genesis 1:28-2:3). And, we know that in Christ, God is restoring all things to His intention for us and that He is renewing Creation. So, if we are in Christ, we are free to work with meaning and purpose in God's economy as His representatives and co-laborers. Christ has destroyed the curse of sin so we are free to be creative and to add value to all that we do as we reflect and give thanks for the glorious freedom that Christ has provided us. The concept of Work as been redeemed and retrieved from the effects of the Fall and has been restored to God's original purpose as the way that we live out our calling in this world.
Gene Edward Veith in God At Work: Your Christian Vocation In All of Life tells us that what we do each day, whether we work in an office or a factory or at home raising children – whatever it is, we are not just accomplishing tasks, but rather, we are fulfilling our role in the way that God cares for His Creation:
When we pray the Lord's Prayer, observed Luther, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And He does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal. We might today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter. Also playing their part are the bankers, futures investors, advertisers, lawyers, agricultural scientists, mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation's economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.
Before you ate, you probably gave thanks to God for your food, as is fitting. He is caring for your physical needs, as with every other kind of need you have, preserving your life through His gifts. "He provided food for those who fear Him" (Psalm 111:5); also to those who do not fear Him, "to all flesh" (136:25). And He does so by using other human beings. It is still God who is responsible for giving us our daily bread. Though He could give it to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as He once did for the children of Israel when He fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other. This is the doctrine of vocation.
To use another of Luther's examples, God could have decided to populate the earth by creating each new person from the dust, as He did Adam. Instead He chose to create new life through the vocation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. God calls men and women together and grants them the unfathomable ability to have children. He calls people into families, in which – through the love and care of parents – He extends His love and care for children. This is the doctrine of vocation.
When we or a loved one gets sick, we pray for healing. Certainly God can and sometimes does grant healing through a miracle. But normally He grants healing through the vocations of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and the like. It is still God who heals us, but He works through the means of skilled, talented, divinely equipped human beings.
When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people. The ability to read God's Word is an inexpressibly precious blessing, but reading is an ability that did not spring fully formed into our young minds. It required the vocation of teachers. God protects us through the cop on the beat and the whole panoply of the legal system. He gives us beauty and meaning thorugh artists. He lets us travel through the ministry of auto workers, mechanics, road crews, and airline employees. He keeps us clean through the work of garbage collectors, plumbers, sanitation workers, and the sometimes undocumented aliens who clean our hotel rooms. He brings people to salvation through pastors and through anyone else who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. The fast-food worker, the inventor; the clerical assistant, the scientist; the accountant, the musician – they all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and His creation.
If taken seriously, Veith's call to understand and embrace the Doctrine of Vocation can radically change how we see our faith and our role in the world under the Lordship of Christ. Wherever you are, whatever you do, if you believe in God's Sovereignty, you can embrace your work as a high calling from the Lord that you are to do with all of your heart in worship to Him. How we see what we do transforms it from a curse to a means of both receiving and giving blessing.
Something to think about on this Labor Day.