Introducing Vocation

Today we are beginning a new series exploring “vocation” and work. So I want to introduce a few ideas to guide our discussion (and some of the resources we are using).

faith_workThe first, and most obvious, question you might have is: What do we mean by vocation?

I use the word vocation because it is a word we use in my doctoral program frequently. But the word itself is a bit loaded. And as some of my friends are finding out, is often a word of privilege. So rather than give a specific definition, I want to talk about what we mean by vocation here at Sacred Margins.

Some of the folks we are relying on over the next few weeks ask: What gets you up in the morning? What is the work that feeds your soul?

Others ask: How do we use our work, knowledge, skills, platforms, and networks to advance the Kingdom of God?

Still others point out: The word vocation itself actually means “to call,” so it can be equated with calling. Work is something we have to do in the world, but work is only a vocation when we are called to do it and do it for a purpose larger than ourselves.

What we want to do for the next few weeks is ask questions about faith, work, mission, and the Kingdom of God. Does my day-in, day-out work matter to God? How do work and calling interact? How can work advance the Kingdom? What in the world does God really want me to do in the world? How does my faith shape my work? What does my boring day job have to do with mission?

One quick caveat before we begin: Vocation does not equal a job.

You may get paid for your vocation and have a title, you may not. A few quick examples: Stay at home parents have no job titles and are typically not paid for what they do. Yet this is a beautiful vocation which requires sacrifice, extremely hard work, is meaningful, missional and advances the Kingdom in all sorts of ways.

I also know a salesman who comes in to my office from time to time. Music is his world. He is a guitar player for his church’s worship band and he plays Christian music gigs here and there. His face lights up when he talks about music. But he is an oilfield salesman. He gets paid to sell rubber goods, but his work and calling in the world is music. (I want to make the next caveat that our vocation does not have to be inside of a church building, but we will get to that. Believe me, we will get to that.)

Having job titles and making money does not automatically equate to our true work/vocation/calling. But my guess is there is a lot more meaning in the work that we do than we realize. Which is why were doing this series.

Today, I simply want to put work in its relationship to God and how we think about a life of faith. A helpful paradigm for thinking through any topic is to think about the Story we are telling in four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. (Allen made this graphic and I use it a lot. Cool huh?)

4-Part RedemptionHere’s a brief overview: Creation is understanding that not only did God make the world and humanity, but God made them both good. God has intentions for humanity and the way it works. Creation starts unblemished. When sin comes into the world (Fall) it distorts and breaks everything. The forces of sin and brokenness affect every aspect of our lives. Jesus comes (Redemption) to begin the healing process. We are now partnered with God in the redemption and repair of the world. But we live in a “not quite there place.” We are participating in redemption but waiting on Restoration. A time when all wrongs will be righted and the world will be put back together and whole.

We need all four parts to really understand our world and when we leave one out, we are leaving out part of the story of God. And when we use these four lenses to approach a topic we can really see the role it plays in the Story of God in our lives. So briefly today, I want to look with these four lenses at the role of work. This will lay the ground work for how we will talk and think about work from here on out.

Creation. When God creates human beings God gives them tasks to accomplish. Humans are to govern and order the earth, grow and multiply, and are even charged with naming the animals. Work is part of what it means to be human. This is why the four-part story is so helpful. Often we think of work as a necessary evil. Something we have to slog through as human beings. Or something which occupies our time until we can go to church. That is not the way it was designed. Work is good. We are made for work. We are created to put our skills, efforts, intentions, and energies towards something in the world. Work is meant to be enjoyed.

Fall. After sin enters the world, work is explicitly affected:

The ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
from which you were made. (Gen 3:17b-18a)

While we are made for work, work takes on a different nature after the Fall. We may not always see the fruit. We may struggle in vain. We can do work that is not helpful in advancing the Kingdom. Work struggles to become the most important thing. We make work a place to prove ourselves or find security and worth. We are intended to work, but we are in a fractured relationship with it.

Redemption. Part of the work of redemption is reclaiming what was broken and distorted in the Fall. As we partner with God in the recreation of the world, we are also reclaiming the goodness of work.

Redemptive work is participation in the renewal of all things. Not only is work a way to join God in restoring shalom, equity, justice, but it is participation in the natural order of things. Our work brings order out of chaos, human dignity, sustains human life on this planet, innovates and creates, cares for and develops human beings, arranges what is in order to bring forth new life, and works against the forces that try to make us less than human. When we work, we live more fully into who we were created to be.

Redemption. This is one of the really important pieces. Often when we think of the final redemption, we have some sort of escapism in mind. We leave earth behind and little we did on earth matters (except for keeping whatever rules determine whether we go to heaven or hell). This is not the Biblical story. The Story of God is that our work has eternal significance. Our work in the world not only matters here and now, but is helping build the new heavens and new earth. While we may not see much, if any, of the fruit of our work here, it has eternal significance. (A beautiful illustration of this is Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, you can easily find a PDF version on Google.)

The implications for all of this will take a few weeks for us to unpack. But for today, we want to begin to see that work plays an important part in what it means to be human, and is deeply connected to our faith and what it means to be the people of God in the world.

As you read this brief introduction, what questions do you have? What do you hope we will talk about?

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