Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Mundane Job or Holy Calling? (Mar-Apr 2003)

Filed under: — @ 2:35 am and

by Rubel Shelly
March – April, 2003

Above your paychecks or promotions, I hope you sense that there is something about your work that (a) contributes to the good of the world in which you live, (b) reflects godly character that heaven is building into your life, and (c) makes your work inseparable from your spiritual life.

Following Robert Bellah’s helpful distinction between career and calling, the two must come together in the experience of a conscientious believer.

Your career is what you do for a living. It yields specific external and material rewards that make it possible for you to pay your bills and enjoy a certain standard of living. It also focuses you on such related and only slightly less-tangible prizes as titles, prestige, and social standing.

Your calling, on the other hand, is the sense of commission from God you feel in what you are doing. It is your pursuit of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ over all you are and everything you attempt in life. It is something you do with the sense that God’s hand is on you. Doing that thing gives you a sense of his pleasure with you.

Can this sense of God’s commission enter into the world of your career? I believe the Father was equally pleased with Jesus when he was obedient to his parents and helped Joseph smooth lumber in his carpenter shop as on the day he was baptized. I am convinced he was as pleased with him on the day he went to a wedding in Cana of Galilee or fished with Peter and John as on the day he was transfigured on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. He was as willing to speak from heaven to approve what he had done on the day Jesus came to the rescue of a woman taken in the act of adultery as on the day he accepted Peter’s confession as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And I believe he was as willing to own and bless him the night he wrestled with fear in the Garden of Gethsemane as on the following day when he died on a Roman cross to provide us with eternal life.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, God the Father spoke from heaven to say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). He interrupted the flow of events in Jesus’ life a couple of times to say that. The rest of the time, he restrained himself!

Do you recall the scene from Chariots of Fire in which Eric Liddell describes his pleasure in running? As best I remember the dialogue, he said something like this to his sister: “I feel the pleasure of God in the wind that brushes my cheeks when I run!” Is that too impractical or idealistic for you? Does it smack of the absurd for you—to feel God’s pleasure in a job you don’t even like?

Ah, that is all the more reason for you to focus on your calling. Most Americans seem to be consumed with their career paths and possibilities. They want to get ahead. They want to make more money. They want to accumulate perks. They want to turn heads. And many of them wind up selling their souls to the devil to achieve those ends.

If your career is viewed in terms of God’s calling on your life, those things will never be primary. The thing that matters most will be your personal integrity in the sight of your Heavenly Father. You will look for ways to help others succeed, not just yourself. You will be concerned with the quality of your workplace, excellence as a way of producing products and delivering services, and making your city and world a better place.

If what you are doing today is less a career in your eyes than simply a job, it may be even more urgent for you to see your situation as a calling. Doing something that is a second- or third-best situation for you or working in an environment that presses you to compromise your core values at times is all the more reason to focus on your calling. God calls you to put his kingdom jurisdiction above everything else in your experience and to give him honor in your less-than-ideal circumstances.

If Paul and Silas could sing the praise of God in a jail cell, surely you and I are expected to pay tribute to him by working productively in a deficient office environment or with a clumsy company. Who will change the environment, if we don’t? Slaves were expected to work just as hard when their masters and overlords weren’t looking as when they were standing over them. Paul addressed slaves when he said, “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Eph. 6:5-8). If Scripture addresses servants this way, then surely God expects you to be the best employee the unpromising, money-losing, nobody-would-want-this-for-a-lifetime-career-job Acme Widget Company has. If not, why not?

From the perspective of faith, “the good life” is not money, sex, and power but character, excellence, and integrity. It is providing for your family as you fulfill your greater commitments of loyalty and nurture to them. It is setting and pursuing career goals that are consistent with the heavenward summons you have heard from God.

If the faith you carry to work on Monday morning doesn’t sanctify everything you do to the Lord, the problem is not with your boss, your employees, or your peers. It’s with your faith. It’s compartmentalized. It’s irrelevant. It’s not practical for the real world.

If your faith cleanses and consecrates your workplace to God, that means you have a calling larger than your career. A calling that honors your Creator. A calling that blesses the people around you. A calling that lets you “find satisfaction in [your] work” (cf. Eccl. 2:24-25).

You’ll probably be off to work again tomorrow. Not to “the grind,” mind you. But to your ministry, your pastorate, your priesthood, your calling. Go with God’s blessing and in his power!New Wineskins

Rubel Shelly

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