It’s pretty common to attend a Christian worship service or school chapel and find people talking about living with “purpose”. We use words like “calling” and “discernment” when making decisions about how to live and what to do, reinforcing the idea that there is divine relevance to our choices.
At certain times, we rely on all-encompassing scriptures like “whether you eat, drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) or “the will of God is this: believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29) to help us frame our lives. These verses and others like them give us hope and reassurance that life is more about orientation than task. It is the way we do things that counts most. Perhaps most importantly, these passages help us to refrain from obsessing over every moment and decision as if it has eternal weight:
(Is God calling me to eat an apple…or an orange?!?!?)
And yet, if we’re honest, many of us do seek to know our callings, to know who we are, and who to spend our time with, what job to take, and where to live. Seeking faithfulness, we want to know more from God about what to do, not just how to do it.
And certainly there are waves of scripture that give us theological grounds for this kind of searching in our lives as well. Consider Jonah’s path where he was given guidance to be not just a God-truster, but an evangelist. And not just an evangelist but an evangelist to a specific people at a specific time with a specific message—all provided by God. Similarly Jesus, it seems, imagines that all the disciples (the original ones hundreds of others also) will all participate in the body of Christ, but Peter is specifically named as the founder. He is given a concrete task, a particular calling. He will begin the church. Once again: direct mission.
But I wonder if when we hear these stories we think this kind of calling experience is reserved just for missionaries (like Jonah) and pastors (like Peter).
Sometimes when we dig into the language of purpose and calling we imagine that there are only a few “spiritual careers” which deserve this kind of ordained language. Once in a while, we think, God might task someone with one of those religiously important jobs but the rest of us plumbers, computer programmers, and business owners are sort of left to just do what we do without a grounded sense of meaning and significance.
This can create a kind of spiritual hierarchy, where a privileged few at the top of the Christian food chain get to feel that they are integral to God’s work in the world, while the rest clock out at the end of their shift wondering if what they did today really even matters.
I am, admittedly, one of those ones who benefits from the Christian system (as a chaplain) and as such I can easily articulate the divine joy of what I do. But what I hope those of us who work in overtly religious positions and organizations are able to do is to inspire those around us to see that God is just as in their midst, just as creative, just as productive in their work as in ours.
In a recent faculty meeting our teachers looked together at an article about an English teacher who was struggling to find the significance in her work. Yes, sometimes even as educators “shaping the hearts and minds of young people” we can start to wonder if what we are doing has any divine effect or affect in the world.
After all, what does the periodic table or the quadratic equation have to do with the gospel? Is it really “a calling” to make sure that kids understand the difference between there and their?
This summer as a faculty we are looking to God to do some formational work in us. The primary verse we’re using as our guide comes from Jeremiah 18:4 “And the vessel the potter was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” As educators, the summer is when we create space for God to “rework” us into better “vessels” of truth, hope, faith, and love for our students. We need this season for God to restore us through new learning opportunities (conferences, books, classes, etc), deepening experiences (prayer, small groups, journaling), and especially rejuvenation practices (fellowship, travel, NAPS!).
As part of this, though, I think what we might need most is a new sense of ordination, a renewed sense of purpose. We need to create room to think theologically and spiritually about why we do what we do. We need to take up time with God seeking information about the relevance and significance of being teachers and students. We need to address the important question: Is what we do gospel?
Many of our teachers encouraged each other to see the connections between our respective subjects and human development and flourishing. We talked about how the image of God in us gives us invitation and blessing to create as God creates. Teachers mentioned the ways they are able to love students well in this profession.
All of this certainly sounds like good news (gospel) to me.
One of my favorite things about working at OC Online is that we hope to graduate out kids that go on to participate in all areas of society. We want students that grow up to become informed, compassionate thinkers and doers in every profession, vocation, and hobby. I want students to go into the world seeing their jobs as places where they can fill the earth with justice, love, openness, gentleness, and generosity.
I want them to be at once both deeply invested in the work they’re doing, and also at the same time detached enough from it that they are always clear that it is their identity God cherishes, not their “contribution”.
I want those things for you, too.
What I love about the Bible is that there is so much diversity in how God moves through the world inviting people into kingdom living. When it comes to calling in the workplace, this seems especially true.
So to wrap up, if it seems good to you to do, here are three interesting scriptures to sit with for a while that might give you some space to consider the purpose and meaning in what you do:
- Acts 18:1-4: Paul, the missionary, also made tents. Making tents helped him to meet people he wouldn't otherwise bump into. (Also, this likely helped pay for some of the costs of his missionary work.)
- Maybe take some time to think about the people your line of work brings into your life. Who are they and what kind of relationship do you have with them? How’s that going?
- Making tents isn’t glamorous; is there a part of your work that you need God to show you matters even if it isn’t easily apparent? What might that look like?
- To what degree is your job about living bi-vocationally—where one part of your life is funding another part?
- Exodus 1:15-17: Shiphrah and Puah are midwives who end up saying no to something unethical their boss tells them to do.
- Do you find that there are times in your job where you are able to speak on behalf of those who have less of a voice than you do? What might that look like?
- How do you make decisions at work—is there a place for you to seek truth, justice, or love even when it’s hard and messy?
- These women had each other for support in discerning an extremely challenging decision; who at work can you really trust to come to for hard choices?
- Luke 8:1-3: These women obviously were financially savvy—one of them, we’re told, even managed a king’s affairs. Maybe you also make a lot of money. Maybe you are a boss. These women saw their money and power as something to be shared not just with their own families but with others also. They invested it—a lot of it—in what they believed was good (Jesus’ ministry).
- Who else, besides you, do you think God might have had in mind when he gave you access to the resources you have? How does thinking about those other people change the way you think about your work?
Remember always to be gentle with yourself as you consider these things in prayer. Take it slow and hold it loosely and look for ways that God might be nurturing and loving you as you seek out calling in your own life.
OC Online Chaplain