Reclaiming the Idea of Vocation
I’m learning what my primary calling is—and isn’t.
I stared at the question in my devotional journal, a grin creeping across my face. Some days I have trouble answering the stretching questions posed in this devotional, but this one drew an immediate answer: patterns and repetition. I’m not sure if I need to hear the same message over and over in different ways and places because I’m stubborn or because I need to think about things for a while, but this is the way God speaks to me. Over and over again he’s made his will clear to me through patterns and repetition.
There was the time I was being called to career ministry. I had many people from all walks of life suddenly suggest this career to me, even though I hold an education degree. Then a spiritual gifts inventory pointed me that way. Then a pastor. And then a position in my hometown opened. I took it without hesitating. The experience taught me so much.
Or there was also the time God was teaching me about truly putting my trust in him—to claim that he is good regardless of my circumstances. First came many pertinent Bible readings, then a suspiciously similarly themed book for class, then a lost relationship, and finally a lost job. Then nearly a year of waiting for a new job. I was broken down by the repetition, but the message came through loud and clear, and I am better for it.
Currently, God is speaking to me about vocation and reclaiming this important biblical concept. I’d heard of vocation before, even thought I had a pretty good idea of what it meant. But as I’ve started working in a new career and attending a new church, it’s been helpful to reconsider. And let’s face it; I haven’t had much of a choice.
God’s been using repetition again to speak to me. I’m reading The Call by Os Guinness for a class, working through a church-wide campaign on finding personal mission, and doing a writing project for emerging adult Christians (18-30)—a group that is searching for identity and purpose. In another, unrelated class I’m working on a counseling case study about a man who doesn’t know who he is and what his life should be about. And I recently heard a talk from a yoga instructor on the importance of finding that one thing you must do in life—that thing that brings you amazing joy because it’s what you’re meant to do.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion about the word vocation, even though it’s been around for centuries. In The Call Os Guinness breaks down the misconceptions into two types: the Catholic distortion and the Protestant distortion. He defines the Catholic distortion as believing vocation is only for those called to career ministry—pastors, priests, nuns. This makes vocation only about spiritual things, and neglects the fact that everyone who follows Jesus has been called.
The Protestant distortion, on the other hand, is believing that any job we do—mothering, writing, teaching, building, fixing—is something we are called to. This makes vocation sound purely secular and can make us believe that vocation and career are synonymous, when in fact our vocations may have nothing to do with our careers.
So what’s the appropriate understanding of vocation? This is how Os Guinness explains it:
Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Magnolia). Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him. We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history. But these and other things are always secondary, never the primary calling. They are “callings” rather than the “calling.” They are our personal answer to God’s address, our response to God’s summons. Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.So our primary calling is to God himself. And our secondary calling is our response to God’s love. Our secondary calling allows us to use what God has uniquely given us to glorify him.
God has certainly had my attention. But why? I’ve realized that God is redefining my secondary calling—to help others live out their callings. As I prepare resources for SmallGroups.com, I’m providing small-group leaders with the materials to live out their callings well—whether they’re training resources, articles on personal spiritual formation, or blogs where leaders can comment and interact. I find joy each day as I work.
Although I’m blessed to be able to live out my vocation at work, I realize there are many ways to live out that calling. As my small group meets, I can encourage other group members to live out their callings more fully. When I speak to young Christians unsure of their futures, I can give them a hug and reassure them that God will reveal their unique callings to them. When I spend time with my four-year-old niece, I can reflect back to her those things she is good at, the gifts and talents God has given her, so she can discover her calling.
As I look around the church, I hear a repetitive call to reclaim the concept of vocation. From students struggling with identity, to emerging adults searching for meaning in life, to single men and women wondering if singleness can be a blessing, to empty-nester parents nervous about what the second half of life holds, to 80-year-old brothers and sisters in Christ doubting that God can still use them. We all need to know that the Caller is calling us—both to himself and to respond to his love by using our unique gifts, talents, and personalities, no matter what stage of life we’re in.
Perhaps God is speaking to all of us through repetition.
God has been painting a new picture of the church for me. Can you imagine what reclaiming the idea of vocation could do for the church? Imagine if we were all living out our unique callings, using our gifts, talents, and days to do that thing that brings us joy and brings God glory. Imagine the adventure, the fun, the chaos, the beauty. Imagine the new reputation the church might have. Perhaps it would be known as the place you go to live life fully, even dangerously. To have a real impact. To bless and be blessed.
What is your vocation? What unique thing(s) has God called you to do for his glory? And how are you living out that vocation