Finding Your Calling
Cinema & New Media Arts | On Feb 05, 2013
“But we urge you, brethren, to … aspire to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work well with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thes. 4:11-12).
At once simple and profound, the apostle’s common-sense approach to piety is revolutionary for many of us who were reared with quite different expectations. For instance, the experience in many churches involves being collectively castigated from the pulpit as “lukewarm” or short of “sold out” to Jesus for doing just what is prescribed here: living quietly, minding their own business, and paying close attention to their work. If the average layperson is not doing what the office-bearers are supposed to do, the fault is often placed at the feet of the former rather than the latter.
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Search the concordance of your Bible or the realm of nature and you will not find any statement like, “Bob, your calling is to be a lawyer.” Nevertheless, both Scripture and nature can help.
First, let’s take Scripture. God’s Word does give us guidelines for directing our lives in a broad sense. Beneficiaries of wisdom in a variety of genres, we who have been reared on Scripture often take for granted just how much we are indirectly informed in our decision-making by Scripture. But it is just that: indirect. For instance, Scripture invites us to seek God’s wisdom: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (Jam. 1:5). But nowhere does it invite us to seek God’s hidden or secret plan. Further, it tells us that living alone tends to feed self-indulgence (Prov. 18:1); that it is better to be poor with a clear conscience than to be rich with a guilty one (Prov. 19:1); that “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful wife,” while a prudent spouse is better than riches (Prov. 21:19); a weakness for luxury means poverty in the long run (Prov. 21:17). And on we could go, through Proverbs alone. Godly wisdom from Scripture and from other believers who are guided by Scripture is indispensable for making decisions about vocation, whether the calling at issue happens to be education, work, or marriage.
But the Scriptures are not a handbook for decision making and it may well be that after saturating oneself with biblical wisdom there will still be many questions left before a wise decision can be made. Here is where nature comes into the picture.
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God does give us the desires of our hearts. He is not out to get us, or to make us wander the vocational wilderness forever. Sometimes we are “dumped” into short-term vocations which to us seem utterly meaningless and yet in some way providentially equip us with a skill which will be vital in our as yet unknown calling in life. We just cannot figure out God’s secret plan, but we can trust it and learn from natural as well as biblical sources how we might better discern our calling.
The questions, What are your skills?, What do you really enjoy?, What would get you up on Monday morning?, are in the realm of nature. Super-spirituality may look down on such mundane questions and try to steal into God’s secret chamber, but biblical piety is content to leaf through the book of nature.
God has created us a certain way, given us certain habits, skills, longings, and drives. In no single calling would we be able to employ all of our interests, skills, and drives. That is why there are avocations. An avocation is a side-vocation: a hobby, sport, or pastime. Let’s say there is this person named Ralph who enjoys painting. He finds it relaxing and fulfilling. It is something he enjoys. But does that mean that it is his calling? Not necessarily. It may be an avocation rather than a vocation; something he does to wind down on Saturday, not something he does to bring home the bacon on Monday. He might have a better idea whether it is an avocation rather than a vocation if, over time, the general response to his work is favorable from close relatives but nobody else in town will take his work on consignment or exhibit it in any gallery. It doesn’t require a period of prayer and fasting to figure this out.
So we cannot place expectations on this calling or vocation which are so unrealistic that we end up becoming despondent, paralyzed with fear because we cannot find the one calling in which all of our skills and interests may be satisfied. We need to realize that our calling in terms of work is only one of our vocations. We are also called to be saints, parents, children, siblings, citizens, and a host of other things. These are truly vocations or callings. We may find satisfaction from our involvement as a den parent for a scouts group that we simply could not obtain at work. We cannot put all of our vocational eggs in that important but limited basket, even though we should locate a single calling for our work.
Otherwise, if our family life is suffering, we may transfer our frustrated parental urges to our employees; or if our passion for our work so dominates us that we expect our spouse to understand it and care about it as much as we do, we are being unfair. God has wisely ordered our lives so that we have a number of relationships and commitments-or, vocations. Putting too much stress on work, spouse/family, church, social groups, can make an idol which, when it cannot bear the strain, is sure to be smashed just as quickly as it was raised. We need to learn to use all of the vocations or callings God has given us in life and to distribute that stress, much as multiple stilts support a house on a steep hill.