Years ago, when I was speaking at a men’s retreat in Philadelphia, I got into a conversation with Jerry. Jerry owned and ran a car dealership. It sounded like a great work environment that was pastoral and love-filled. He said that the business had allowed him a lot of opportunities for charity and compassion, both verbally and nonverbally.
Then he shared with me that he had a lurking suspicion that he had missed his calling. He wondered if he should go into full time Christian ministry. He went to seminary testing this out, and he finally said with an air of exasperation, “Bill, how do I know my vocation?”
There are two things to highlight here: 1) Jerry was looking for a theology that made sense of his job. 2) He was looking for a spirituality that led to an interactive relationship with God, one that was based on conversation, listening, and not just intellectual understanding and obedience derived from the will. Two massive topics: one about theology, one about spirituality.
If I was back in Philadelphia now, Jerry and I might have a very different conversation. This is because of the huge proliferation of resources and messages in very recent years coming out of the evangelical church on the fact that our work matters to God and that our work is God’s work. I believe that every job rightly understood matters to God as long as it is not against God’s purposes and it is somehow moving in the direction of God’s plan for human flourishing. It’s easy to say to a doctor, “Oh your hands are the hands of Christ!” Or to the lawyer, “Your job is justice!” But what about the guys who I passed on my way here this morning who are setting up the cones getting ready to fix the interstate? Do they matter? And I would say, yes, they do.
What is required is a comprehensive theology that understands not only the vision of human flourishing but also this question: “Does the world go up in a blaze of flame or is the refining fire in the New Testament refining? Is there continuity?” If we decide on the lens of “it goes up in a ball of flame” then it’s much easier to argue that not all work matters. If we believe in continuity and if we believe in rewards, which Jesus does, then we can start to see why every job matters to God.
Terence Fretheim says:
Genesis does not present the creation as a human product, wrapped up in a big red bow and handed over to the creations to keep it exactly as it was originally created. It is not a one-time production. Indeed for the creation to stay just as God originally created it would constitute a failure of the divine design. From God’s perspective, the world needs work. Development and change are what God intends for and God enlists human beings and other creations to that end. From another angle, God did not exhaust the divine creativity in the first week of the world. God continued to create and uses creatures and their vocation that involves the becoming of creation.
Christ living through us will always be more powerful than anything we do for him on our own strength. In that sense, life becomes a school of spiritual formation. Everything is an opportunity to be formed in the image of Christ. The trick then is to be able to see our workplace as that place too. As opposed to our workplace being a distraction from God’s purposes in my life, what if I saw my present occupation as a tool for God? What I’ve been continuing to find is that vocation becomes either the back door or the front porch to deeper things. It allows God to really start messing with people in different parts of their life in such a way that it comes back around and gives them more clarity and confidence and competence in what he has called them to do.