Vocation part one

When you hear the words “vocation” and “call” what do you think of? Do you think about pastors you know? Do you think of missionaries? Do you think about accountants? Do you think about sales clerks?  Do you think about your own life?

Unfortunately the words “call” and “vocation” have come to be associated with ordained ministry, or particular forms of service in and for the church. These associations cause us all sorts of difficulties. It tends to falsely suggest that those in ordained ministry are somehow more holy and more important than the rest. It tends to falsely suggest that other work is somehow less valuable in God’s sight.

Interestingly, this is somewhat similar to the situation in the medieval church. People who truly wanted to serve God became nuns and monks and priests. Everyone else was a sort of lesser Christian. Vocation called one out of society.  However, Martin Luther and John Calvin thought differently about this.

For Luther, the various stations in life are one of the ways in which God provides for us. Our vocation, to love God and each other, is expressed through the duties of our various stations.  Calvin says the knowledge that we are where God wishes us to be will give us the ability to bear “the discomforts, vexations, weariness, and anxieties of life. Indeed, … “no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight” (Institutes III.x.6)

Luther and Calvin are not modern persons ( Luther lived from 1483-1546 and Calvin from 1509-1564) and they believed, as was common in their time that God placed people in particular “stations” in life. If you were born a prince, that is where God wanted you. If you were born a stable boy, that is where God wanted you. Rising above one’s station was not an acceptable act in their day.  And yet, Calvin and Luther believed that one’s station in life did not make one a lesser Christian. They thought people could serve God in all stations of life.

Luther, Calvin and others suggest that we not only uncouple the idea of vocation from particular jobs, they suggest we uncouple vocation from any job. Our vocation is not our job, our work.

Our vocation, our calling or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says the “chief end of man” (sic) is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our vocation is to love God and to love our neighbor, a task that is not limited to our jobs.

Most of us will have a variety of jobs in our lives. Many of us will change careers. But none of us will change vocation.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

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Cross posted at http://www.truenorthonline.org

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Last week, I wrote that I would write more about world view and theology. That post isn’t ready for publication yet. I’ll keep working on it.

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9 Responses to “Vocation part one”

  1. Ruth E. Stubbs Says:

    As a lifelong Calvinist, I was fortunate to be taught that every job was worthy of being thought of as vocation, and that one could glorify God in it, whether it was considered by other humans to be lowly or lofty. I like your further distinction of vocation as being beyond a job, the task of what I think of as discipleship. It has less to do with a job and more to do with a way of life.

  2. Nancy Says:

    Thanks Ruth. Calvin still has some very worthwhile things to teach us.

  3. afrankangle Says:

    As you well said, we tend to think of “vocation” in terms of careers. But your closing hit me between the eyes with the much higher meaning: “Our vocation is to love God and to love our neighbor, a task that is not limited to our jobs.”

    Many thanks for your wider insight.

    PS: Since you (like I) have interest in the science-theology interface, you may enjoy my post on Miracles.

    • Nancy Says:

      Oh, I didn’t mean to hit anyone. As a person committed to non violence, I apologize. 🙂 Frank, I appreciate your comment.. and your blog.

  4. cindy hanson Says:

    well, you know me… all about living ‘through’ life to a greater purpose… I wanted to share some insights, however. I was raised pretty priveledged. My parents owned a multi million dollar business, and I was ‘bred’, so to speak to go into politics.

    Like most Americans, I harbor a love/ hate relationship with politics. Half way through college, I saw the direction I was being led, and I turned ‘high- tailed’ and ran. Sociologically, we view high profile and leadership positions to be the most powerful. I see them as a ball and chain that I’m unwilling to live with.

    In making this deliberate choice, I had the opportunity to get to know people I normally would not have. I rejoice in this. I lift up that sometimes, our ‘calling’ and/ or ‘vocation’ can also be applied to who we are within community. Who we are in relation to others, is often times indicative of who we are in Christ. I gave up a life in high profile politics, service to others, in which I was bred, to become a ‘cook’ so- to- speak… still in service to others, many times unseen to those I serve.

    Is God leading me? Am I taking control of my own destiny? We’ll never know, but, I CAN say… I can speak about my faith in authentic ways that cause no professional conflicts. That’s kinda nice. And I get to see those conversations produce fruit, as I get to know the people in my periphery on a long term basis.

    I’m in agreementthat ‘what’ we do is not who we are. Praise be to God! 😉

  5. Nancy Says:

    Cindy what an interesting story! Have your written about this anywhere? I would like to know more of your story.
    You are right, most of us never know for sure, are we following God’s leading or our own interests. I suspect often they overlap- that just makes sense. God is at work in it all.

    • cindy hanson Says:

      I’ve tried to write my ‘family’ story… it reads like a disaster! I did find one way to play it, but have as of yet to publish it, you’ll be the first to know! : )

  6. The Bible and Work « Conversation in Faith Weblog Says:

    […] readers might recall a  five-part series on Vocation and Work that began in January 2011. Today I am revisiting the topic in a new series in a different format. […]

  7. The Bible and Work « True North Campus Ministry Says:

    […] readers might recall a  five-part series on Vocation and Work that began in January 2011. Today I am revisiting the topic in a new series in a different format. […]

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