There are times when the Bible is sublimely practical. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul offers this instruction:
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. — 1 Corinthians 7:17
This instruction implies that God has made each of us uniquely and assigned to us unique lives with unique roles. Our responsibility before God is to understand the gifts, the skills, and the passions He has given us and to use those in fitting ways — in ways that do good to others and, in turn, bring glory to God.
This is exactly why God has put us into this world: to bring glory to Him by doing good to others. He says as much in Matthew 5:16:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.
Jesus’ good friend Peter wrote,
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. — 1 Peter 2:12
There is a clear flow here:
God gives us gifts; we use our gifts to do good to others; and through it all, God gets glory.
When you evaluate your gifts, skills, and passions, you are close to discovering what you might call your vocation or calling, the particular ways in which God means for you to glorify Him by doing good to others.
Perhaps no contemporary Christian has done more to rediscover and celebrate the waning concept of vocation than Gene Edward Veith. Through his books and a host of articles, he has told Christians what their forebears already knew: The doctrine of vocation tells Christians how to live in this world. But it goes farther than that, to explain how God is at work in this world. He is at work through the people He has created.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And He does. The way he gives us our daily bread is through the vocations of farmers, millers, and bakers. We might add truck drivers, factory workers, bankers, warehouse attendants, and the lady at the checkout counter. Virtually every step of our whole economic system contributes to that piece of toast you had for breakfast. And when you thanked God for the food that He provided, you were right to do so.1
When you thank God for a piece of toast, you are not only thanking Him for the food you are about to eat, but for the people, the skills, and the processes that got it from the field to the plate. You are acknowledging that God has provided through these remarkable means.
God chooses to bring about extraordinary provision through ordinary people and ordinary means. And this is exactly what God does in the world. God could have created all of humanity by drawing them out of the dust as he did Adam and Eve. Instead, He chose to work through the vocation of family, the ordinary means of mothers and fathers and sexual union. God protects us through His provision of government. God heals us through doctors and nurses. God teaches us His Word through preachers and teaches us facts through schoolteachers. “It is essential in grasping the magnitude of this teaching” writes Veith, “to understand first the sense in which vocation is God’s work.”2 It is God’s work completed through human beings.
We can advance one more step to see that God “is hidden in vocation.” Our eyes show us the farmer as the provider of food, the doctor as the provider of health care, the pastor as the provider of spiritual nurture, and the driver as the provider of transport. But if we look at them through the lens of vocation, we will see that “God is genuinely present and active in what they do for us.”3 And you will see that God is genuinely present and active in what you do for them. You need to look at and live your own life through the lens of vocation.
I want to point to three important applications that provide essential guidance as you live for Christ in this world.
You Have Many Vocations
You do not have just one vocation, but many. A great misunderstanding about vocation is that each of us has just one: I am a pastor or I am a mechanic or I am a homemaker. But a thorough understanding of vocation teaches us that we all have many areas for which we are responsible before the Lord.
I am a citizen of Canada and have the vocation of citizen. I live in the town of Oakville, where I have the vocation of neighbor. I am married to Aileen and have the vocation of husband. Together we have three children, which assigns to me the vocation of father.
And then I hold the vocation of pastor at Grace Fellowship Church and the vocation of writer. My vocation is each of these and the sum of these. Individually and all together, they are a platform from God that allows me to extend to others the goodness and kindness of God on behalf of God. And whenever I do this, however I do this, God receives the glory.
You, too, have many vocations. You are a citizen, a son or daughter, a neighbor, a church member. You may also be a mother or father, a husband or wife, a worker or manager. Some of these vocations are more important than others. Some demand great swaths of your time, while some demand much less. But right there in the mix of them is your calling before God — who you should be and how you should live out the days God has given you.
No matter what your vocations are, they all carry the same great purpose: to do good to others and bring glory to God.
Vocation Brings Dignity
The doctrine of vocation brings the utmost significance and dignity to your work. When we understand that vocation is extending the goodness and grace of God to others, to serve as the “mask of God,”4 we understand that in a sense all vocations are equal. All of them have the highest dignity.
The dignity of work does not come from the amount of skill necessary to do the job. It does not come from the importance of that work for the functioning of a nation or society. The dignity of work comes from the source of that work, which is always God Himself. The doctor who operates within the deepest recesses of the human brain is in the same line of work as the person who hauls away the trash from the end of the doctor’s driveway. They are both working on behalf of God. They are both in the business of extending God’s care to other people.
My wife and I have often spoken about her frustrations with her vocation of caring for our home and family. It is not that she has ever wanted to do anything else or that she feels trapped in a life she did not choose. It is simply that her work is difficult and repetitive and, in many ways, unrewarding.
What brings help and hope is this doctrine of vocation — the fact that she is serving as a kind of conduit for the goodness and grace of God. When she fulfills her vocation, she is doing God’s work on God’s behalf. God wants us to bring order to a chaotic world, and Aileen brings godly orderliness when she keeps the home. God wants to care for those who are hurting, and Aileen brings his care and tenderness when she bandages a child’s knee. God wants to extend help to men who are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, and he extends this help through her. She is the means of God’s providential care.
And so are you in your vocation. If God has gifted you with a logical, orderly, mathematical mind, then you extend an aspect of God’s concern for this world when you design buildings or bridges or software. If God has gifted you with an eye for color and an instinct for design, then you extend an aspect of God’s concern for this world when you create beautiful art or design a slick new product branding. God could have arranged the world in such a way that He would do all of these good things Himself. Instead, He assigned them to human beings, so you do this work on His behalf.
Your vocation is your day-by-day opportunity to glorify God by serving others and, in that way, serve as a faithful representative of the God who glorifies Himself by serving others.
There is one more thing we should say about vocation, and it is this: Vocation leads to worship. It is meant to lead to worship.
We worship God through vocation when we do the things God made us to do and when we observe other people doing what God made them to do.
Have you ever watched a mother carefully nurturing her child and caught just a glimpse, a reflection, of the love and care of God? Haven’t you seen at least a glimpse of the mind of God in a beautiful design or a glimpse of the artistry of God in a great work of music or art? These glimpses are meant to draw you beyond themselves to worship and praise God Himself. And these glimpses are meant to motivate you to joyfully carry out your vocation, to do God’s work on God’s behalf. You bring worship and glory to God when you serve others with the skills, gifts, and passions that God has given you. And you give opportunities for others to glorify God as they observe you working on His behalf.
Vocation also leads to worship when you praise God for the way He cares for you through others. You have no reason to look down on the man who picks up your trash each week. On the contrary, you have every reason to praise God for His care for you that is extended through that individual. When I am going through a particularly difficult time and my wife brings me comfort, it is really God bringing me comfort through this beautiful means He has provided. I ought to thank my wife, but ultimately, I ought to praise my God. The love and care and comfort I receive from her flows from the source of all-perfect love, care, and comfort. After all,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. — James 1:17
She is the means, but He is the source.
Who has God made you to be? What gifts, skills, and passions has God given you? What roles and responsibilities has he assigned to you? Your vocations are found right there. Each one of them is to be done out of love for God and for the good of people He has created in His image.
- Gene Edward Veith, “Our Calling and God’s Glory,” Modern Reformation 16, no. 6 (November/December 2007), www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page= articledisplay&var2=881 (accessed August 6, 2015).
- Gene Edward Veith, “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work,” Modern Reformation 8, no. 3 (May/June 1999), www.modernreformation.org/ default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=541%20%20God%20Hides%E2%80%A6 (accessed August 6, 2015).
Excerpted with permission from Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers, copyright Tim Challies and Josh Byers.
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Come share your answers to the questions in the conclusion on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily