Vocation is what humans do, and if humans are to participate in the mission of God, then human work is the means by which we do so. This “work” is not just what we do as an occupation; it is all that we do, for God’s glory, in every situation presented to us. Biblically, God’s mission in the world is primarily carried out in and through what humans do.
Gene Veith wrote,
“God works through human beings—indeed He is hidden in human vocations.”
Certainly there are times when God directly and/or miraculously does something or one of his angels carries out his will, but God has ordained that his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven by the means of human vocation.
As Cornelius Plantinga puts it,
“Because of her enthusiasm for the kingdom, [a Christian] doesn’t merely endorse justice in the world; she hungers and works for it. She doesn’t merely reject cruelty; she hates and fights it. She wants God to make things right in the world, and she wants to enroll in God’s project as if it were her own. She ‘strives first for the kingdom’ in order to act on her passion. In short, she is a person with a calling. She has been elected to be a follower of Jesus, which means she has been elected to serve the kingdom of God. A Christian’s main vocation is to become a prime citizen of the kingdom of God — and this is true of every Christian, of artists and engineers as well as ministers and evangelists.” (Engaging God’s World, p. 108)
“Knowing what you know about yourself and the world, what are you going to do?”
Os Guinness defines calling as
“The truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” (The Call, p. 29)
Guinness makes it clear: everything is wrapped up in his concept of calling.
In “vocation” or “calling,” the very purpose of humanity in general and of Christians in particular is found. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
In his book Visions of Vocation, Steven Garber makes the case that Christians who live examined lives will know both the world around them and they will know themselves, and are therefore implicated and forced to answer a very important question:
Christians are called by God to do something, something out of love, for the sake of the world. Garber offers story after story of politicians, homemakers, moviemakers, entrepreneurs, pastors, economists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers and fathers – “Ordinary people in ordinary places, each one is a story of a life lived as a vocation.”
“Knowing what you know about yourself and the world, what are you going to do?” (Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation)
“Everything We Are, Everything We Do, and Everything We Have”
This is the “everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have” that Guinness speaks of in his book The Call. Gene Edward Veith agrees, writing,
“The doctrine of vocation amounts to a comprehensive doctrine of the Christian life, having to do with faith and sanctification, grace and good works… It transfigures ordinary, everyday life with the presence of God.” (God at Work, p 17).
When I realize that my life has multiple dimensions, with various relationships, then I see that my callings include a number of things. Just to name a few of them:
- a good husband to my wife,
- a loving father for my children,
- a caring minister and counselor for college students,
- an equipper for pastors,
- an encourager for marketplace leaders,
- a doctoral student,
- an active member of my congregation,
- the president of my community’s lacrosse club,
- a friend to my neighbors,
- an active participant in our culture and politcal process,
- a steward of God’s creation,
- etc., etc., etc.!
Therefore, vocation or calling is not just one aspect of human and Christian life; it is not just a minor part of what it means to be a redeemed human in Jesus Christ. It is the whole of life, the very means by which Christians live out what it means to be human and how they participate with God in his redemption of his creation.
As Steven Garber says,
“Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.” (Visions of Vocation)
Misolav Volf affirms this as well.
“All Christians have several gifts of the Spirit. Since most of these gifts can be exercised only through work, work must be considered a central aspect of Christian living.” (Work in the Spirit)
John Calvin wrote,
“The Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.10.6)