Passion, Vocation, Calling, and Finding a Job You Actually Like

by Anna Blanch on January 25, 2009

The difficult and sometimes sticky matter of the matter of ones vocation or calling surrounds me. sometimes the matter of Guidance, insofar as it relates to God, is so confused with the idea of “job satisfaction,” and “self-fulfillment,” and the discussion so laden with theological assumptions about how God “speaks” to us that it is any wonder anyone ever talks about the idea of calling or vocation anymore with the side issues being raised alongside.

Todd Lake reminded me of Frederick Buechner‘s exhortation that we should “look for our calling in the place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.” Lake rightly reminds us that “Often, we think of this as finding the right job category and then plunging into work as a business person or doctor or teacher or mechanic.” You can read his full article “follow your passion, Not your career path” over at theHighcalling.com.

However, finding joy or satisfaction in work is a little more complicated than just matching your knowledge and skills to an opening. Once we are on the job markey (or considering being on the market), we quickly realize that there are many ways to use the same set of abilities and many different paths we can take.

Lake concludes by arguing:

any job that advances God’s work in the world is a godly choice. As Martin Luther pointed out, if we pray “Give us today our daily bread,” how can we say that the work of the baker is not as much God’s work as is the work of the pastor? We’re even given the freedom to choose which type of baker to be—the God we serve likes whole wheat as well as baguettes and matzos.This means we can choose the particular job that we most enjoy, the one that we find energizing, not enervating.

In the Parable of the Talents, the Master wants us to make the productive use of what he gives us, but he leaves it up to us to find our own particular way to be productive. In other words, we shouldn’t tie ourselves in knots over which job is “God’s will.”

God knows that if we are passionate and fulfilled in what we do, we will be most creatively engaged in our work as colaborers with Christ. St. Augustine put it like this: “Love, and do whatever you like.” If we only took the second part of the phrase to heart, then we might think it okay to use our God-given abilities to advertise cigarettes or engineer landmines. But the first part of that phrase—”Love”—ensures that our working lives will “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

We will find that we most delight in doing precisely what God most needs us to do.

In a different article “Pride in your work is no sin” Todd Lake discusses the difference between pride in yourself and pride in your work (for full article):

While there is no call for being prideful about ourselves, there is a desperate need for us Christians to take pride in our work. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, God not only wants us to do good works, he wants us to do good work. When our Lord made wine from water, it was so good that even the wedding director felt the need to comment. Unfortunately, in most churches we have confused sinful pride about ourselves with godly pride in the work we are called to do. Why do so many Christians suffer through church programs that are sincerely awful? Because so many churches fear that striving for excellence would lead us into pride. They avoid that temptation by settling for mediocrity.

The right balance is of course struck by our Lord. He made the best wine, but used it as a “sign” (which is what John’s gospel calls it) that God’s kingdom was coming in its fullness. Outstanding work is a signpost pointing to God because it manifests the goodness and overflowing excellence of God’s kingdom. Joe Namath was not at his best as a theologian when he said, “It’s not bragging if you can do it.” The fact is, it’s not bragging if you give God the credit—not just in public, but in your heart of hearts. Excellence and achievement don’t give us bragging rights against other vintners . . . or teachers, artists, doctors, or whatever our particular area of good work might be. Instead, St. Paul’s command guides us: “let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” We have reason to be proud of what we do in the high calling of our daily work, and reason to be humble, since it is God “who works in us both to will and to work” (Phil. 2:13).

Jonathon Dodson has also explored this theme in an article titled “Working theologically?: What we do or how we do it?” (for full article)

To be sure, God is concerned with the how of our work, that we don’t lie, cheat, or steal.. But assuming that your vocation and ethics are God-honoring (or, the “what” and “how” of your work are good), I suggest that God still cares what you do for a living, that he is intimately concerned with the essence of our vocation. In fact, if we can identify the essence of our vocation and reflect on it theologically, work can even become worship.

The “essence of vocation” is shaped by its principal goal or discipline. For instance, the principal discipline of medical surgery is biology. In order to make the proper incisions, a surgeon must know where human organs are located and how circulatory systems function. After you have identified the principle goal or discipline of your vocation, try to connect that principal to the nature and character of God. For instance, medical surgery reflects God as an orderly, creative Designer and as a merciful Redeemer.

Dodson goes on to explain that through “theological integration” work can become worship. I agree with the spirit of his argument but I worry about trying to create spiritual justifications for our “work”. Sometimes, we are putting the cart before the horse!

For me, there is an inherent connection between teaching and faith. Teachers will impart a sense of the way they see the world on their students. It is inevitable. What are you teaching your students? What about character, patience, peace, hope, and love, are they learning from you? Are you in word and deed doing all for the glory of God? Col. 1:16-17, 20 Am I?

Kelsey, over at Made for Another World, wrote a heartfelt post about her newly developing desire to teach highschool level English. It is a great example of someone thinking through vocation, jobs, and calling, with an eye to the bigger picture.

Finally, a little treat for those of you who stuck with the post to the end – Ben Myers has put together his ten steps to a “brilliant career” for Theologians. It is marvellously tongue in cheek. Which means, of course, that it hits close to the bone! It is my gift (thanks Ben) to you!

On a different note, recently, an atheist commentator resigned himself to acknowledging, nay declaring, the inconnectedness between the good church and mission organisations are doing in Africa and the message of salvation that leads to changed hearts. It is humbling to see someone acknowledge that they allowed their own rejection of God and faith to blind them from a practical reality, and it also a great example of how changed hearts are seen. See the full article for more details.

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