Callings, Then & Now

“Before, no matter how hard they worked or how little they earned, farmers had always had at least the assurance that they were doing the necessary work of the world, and that before them others (most likely their own parents and grandparents) had done the same work, which still others (most likely their own children and grandchildren) would do when they were gone.  In this enduring lineage had been a kind of dignity, the dignity at least of knowing that the work you are doing must be done and that it does not begin and end with yourself.”

From time to time, I ask myself what my “calling” is.  What I am really asking is whether or not the day job I have at that particular stage of my life is what God wants me to be doing at that particular stage of my life.  Here’s one variation: “should I be doing this cross-border secured lending as outside counsel to this multilateral lending agency, or should I be in-house at that same multilateral or some institution like it, perhaps in its foreign office, directing more small scale projects that have more immediate poverty-reducing impact?”  It’s a type of question people ask of themselves from time to time, I suspect.  It’s just that, as a Christian, I want to be — and I am convinced I should be — doing what God wants me to be doing.

When I read the passage quoted above from Jayber Crow the other day, it hit me what luxury it is to entertain a realistic possibility of picking and choosing where and how I work.  It’s luxury that, even just a couple generations ago, wasn’t that readily available to most.  I suspect it isn’t that available even now for many in different socio-economic situations whether in the US or outside it.

Back then, if you were born to a farmer, then you were a farmer, and you raised your children to be farmers.  That was your calling.  You didn’t think too much about what other “callings” there might be for you to follow.  If you were inclined to be “humanitarian,” you were generous, perhaps, to the have-nots in your town, but you didn’t immediately think to join a non-government organization whose mission is poverty reduction and go off to some developing country to do “development assistance.”

Am I not giving enough credit to the aspirations and the complexity of the lives of the people of past generations?  Perhaps.

One more thing.  Now that I think about it, this makes what Apostle Paul and Barnabas did in setting out to be missionaries for Jesus to the Gentile world all the more amazing!


Luther on Vocation 3

luther on vocationLuther, according to Luther on Vocation by Gustaf Wingren, makes clear “God’s work of love takes form on earth” through our vocations.

Then comes this intriguing assertion: “If we note properly how much good God bestows upon us, both through his direct creation and through all his created orders [i.e., vocation], we shall know the truth that he forgives sins.”

Called to Make Guitars?

Many years ago, I went to a Michael Card concert where he played a guitar that, he explained, was made by someone in Ireland.  This guitar-maker was a Christian, and before ever meeting Michael Card, had been praying that his guitars would be used to bless people.  And now many of us were being blessed as Michael Card played it.

The story moved me deeply, I recall, because it suggested the possibility of pleasing God through as seemingly “mundane” and “non-sacred” task as guitar-making.

Luther on Vocation 2

luther on vocationHow does Luther understand vocation?

He starts with 1 Cor. 7:20: ”Each one should remain in the condition (klesis) in which he was called” according to Gustaf Wingren in Luther on Vocation.  Luther interprets klesis as vocation, “signifying one’s outer status,” not “confined to an occupation,” but including “biological orders” such as father, mother, son or daughter.  In fact, “in anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or my relationship with my neighbor, there is nothing…that falls in a private sphere lying outside of” vocation.  So each person, then, always holds “a multitude of” vocations at the same time — as a father, husband, employer, and so on.

What are vocations for?

God designed them “to serve others.”  Luther is not saying that a person in his vocation as a husband, for instance, ought to serve his wife (though I’m sure he’d not object).  Rather, “at work in marriage is a power which compels self-giving to spouse and children.”  (How then does Luther account for a dysfunctional marriage in which the husband does not love his wife?)  To generalize: “what is effected through these orders [i.e., vocations] is not due to an inner transformation of the human heart.”  Instead, God brings about his “work of love” on earth through these vocations — of marriage, of teacher and pupils, of government, and so on.

How exactly?

There is a direct connection between God’s work in creation and his work in these offices [i.e., vocations]. Silver and gold in the earth, growth in the creatures of the forests, the fruitfulness and unquenchable generosity of the soil, all is the ceaseless work of the God of creation, which goes forward through the labors of mankind.  God creates the babes in the mother’s body — man being only an instrument in God’s hand – and then he sustains them with his gifts, brought to the children through the labors of a father and mother in their parental office.

So, God loves a child by sustaining him through the vocation of a father and mother. God loves a hungry man by giving him food through the vocation of a farmer.  God loves me by giving me a song of encouragement through the vocation of song-writing and singing as carried out by Steven Curtis Chapman.

In sum, “care for one’s office is, in its very frame of reference on earth, participation in God’s own care for human beings.”  Put differently, God loves the world by allowing us to fulfill our vocations, and through it, we get to love our neighbor with the love that comes from God.

Luther on Vocation 1

luther on vocationIn his lectures on Romans, Martin Luther insisted that “every station in society imposes its peculiar requirement, which is neglected if one instead imitates the legend of some holy life,” according to Gustaf Wingren in the introduction to Luther on Vocation.

What exactly is Luther saying?  He is engaging in a “polemic against the solitary monastic life, isolated from the family and the life of the world.”  In other words, to define “vocation” or “calling” narrowly as referring to “a solitary monastic life,” imitating the “legend of some holy life,” is plain wrong in Luther’s view.

What would be a modern equivalent?  How about narrowly limiting “calling” to some prevalent notion of a “holy life” — e.g., being a pastor or missionary, or holding a position of elder or deacon?  And what is the flip side?  At a minimum, “calling” means more than that.  But how much more?

Do Everything!


Does work matter to God? I think, yes. In what way?

Sometimes I get the impression, from counsels, sermons & chats, that work matters to God when it serves as a tool for evangelism. Or it matters to God the most when it serves as such a tool. Or it matters to God only to the extent it serves as such a tool. In other words, its value depends on — whether to some extent, primarily or solely — its effectiveness as an instrument of evangelism.

How about this alternative from Steven Curtis Chapman?

You’re picking up toys on the living room floor
For the 15th time today
Matching up socks and sweeping up lost
Cheerios that got away
You put a baby on your hip and color on your lips
And head out the door
And while I may not know you I bet I know you
Wonder sometimes does it matter at all
Well let me remind you it all matters just as long as you

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
‘Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do
Oooh ooooh oooooh