Our Calling

In Os Guiness’ book The Call, he shares this story from Studs Terkel’s book Working:

‘“Jobs are not big enough for people. It’s not just the assembly line worker whose job is too small for his spirit, you know. A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. You don’t dare. So you absent your spirit from it. My mind has been so divorced from my job, except as a source of income, it’s really absurd.” The speaker, Norah Watson, was a twenty-eight-year-old Pennsylvania writer who worked for an institution that published health care literature.

Terkel realized that working is about the search for daily meaning in the struggle for daily bread. Most people, he found, live somewhere between a grudging acceptance of their job and an active dislike of it. But a recurring theme in the interviews is a yearning for a sense of meaning that comes when calling precedes and overarches work and career. Norah Watson’s frustration was not fueled simply by her job. It came as a much from the contrast between her experience and her father’s as a pastor in a small mountain town in Western Pennsylvania. “My father was a preacher,” she explained. “I didn’t like what he was doing, but it was his vocation. That was the good part of it. It was not just: go to work in the morning and punch a time clock. It was a profession of himself. I expected work to be like that.”

Watson had started out idealistically – going to work early, staying late, going the extra mile on each assignment, and then asking for more. But, she says, “I found out I was wrecking the curve, I was out line. The people, just as capable as I and just as ready to produce, had realized it was pointless, and had cut back.”’

In the recent movie “Trouble with the Curve”, both Clint Eastwood’s character and Amy Adams’ character are struggling with their jobs. Clint plays an old baseball scout that is feeling pushed to retire and wonders if he can keep working as he begins to lose his eyesight. Amy Adams’ character is ambitious and has been trying to make partner in her law firm. She tells her superiors that this is why she hasn’t taken off a Saturday in five years. Do we derive all of the meaning of our lives from our work? What is the call of God on our life? How do we faithfully live out God’s purposes for us in a world of discontinuous change where we often don’t feel like we can count on anything from today still being around tomorrow?

Our culture tends to put its security in work. The scriptures put our security in God. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8) and has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). There is a security that we can have in Jesus Christ that cannot come from anything else. But, some of us have grown up in churches that sent a message that becoming a pastor or a Christian worker was the only kind of sacred work and that every other job was secular work and somehow “lower”.

Os Guinness reminds us in his book that this is not true. He describes our primary calling and our secondary calling. Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia). Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him. We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history. Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary callings matter most.

When we remember that our primary calling is to God himself, it frees us up from being stuck and feeling stuck as if there was only one job we could do. It reminds us that our chief end in life is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1). This is what infuses meaning and purpose into our secondary callings. If we are living out our primary calling as followers of Jesus Christ, every secondary calling can be considered sacred work. It is not just the “full time Christian workers” who are serving God. It is all of Jesus’ believers. All who follow Jesus are part of the priesthood of all believers. Our primary calling will never change. Our secondary calling may change many times in the course of our lives. God may re-direct our energies into different fields, towards different people, and into different communities, so that we can move back into our neighborhoods and join where the Holy Spirit has already been at work.

The work that we do is important, but if it is not connected to our primary calling in life, we will expect too much of it and we will be frustrated. If we think there is a difference between sacred work and secular work, we will think our work is less important than it really is. We all share the same primary calling in our lives. There will be a lot of variety in our secondary callings. But, as we learn to see what God is up to in our secondary callings, and as we realize how they are connected to our primary callings, we can discover the important ministry that God wants us to participate in, in the work He has given us to do.

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