Posts tagged with: vocation

gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

sea sandI’ve recently discussed the temptations of self-willed religion and the risks of disobedience, cautioning against self-chosen service and sacrifice. Over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons highlights the power in doing the opposite.

Quoting Stephen Grabill, director of programs at Acton, Koons notes that when submit our lives to Christ and obey God’s direct and divine calling, he “reverses the barrenness, isolation, and brokenness” in our lives, and thus, the world around us.

When God told Abraham his descendants would outnumber the sands on the seashore, he wasn’t just saying they would be many, he was saying they would be majestic. Each one would reveal the beautiful and wondrously creative nature of God. Every tiny and seemingly insignificant grain would stand as a colossal reminder of what our obedience to God Almighty really creates and what it truly reveals: magnificent LIFE. And the more you magnify it the more and more wonder and beauty it proclaims. (more…)

Exodus36As economic prosperity has increased, and as the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven, manual labor has been increasingly cast down in the popular imagination.

When our youth navigate and graduate from high school, they receive pressure from all directions to excel in particular areas and attend a four-year college, typically in pursuit of “white-collar” work. The trades, on the other hand — including brickmasons, plumbers, butchers, and carpenters — are not high on the minds of many, whether parents, pastors, teachers, or politicians.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen offer a challenge to this trend and the supporting stereotypes, arguing that the church has a particular precedent to build on when it comes to the ways we approach “work with the hands.”

Not only does a thriving economy and society need craftspeople, but the Bible elevates these occupations as filled with worth and dignity. Craftspeople are image-bearers, they argue, reflecting “the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new”:

Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness. (more…)

AlfredPalmerwelder1Over at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, Larry Saunders shares about his journey from pastor to grocery-store clerk to blue-collar factory worker to current MBA student in search of a white-collar job, offering deep and personal reflections on faith, work, and meaning along the way.

When he became a United Methodist pastor, Saunders enjoyed certain aspects of what he calls the “white collar work of ministry,” finding “a strong correlation between my personal sense of vocation and my gifts.” “I believed was contributing value to the world,” he writes.

Eventually, however, due to the conflict and stress involved and various other factors, he left the ministry in search for something different. After struggling to find work elsewhere, he settled into a factory job, working second shift for about 30% less than he made previously.

The job had its advantages, but after two years in the position, Saunders was struggling to find meaning in his work, and he wasn’t the only one:

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, I think most [of my co-workers] do not find their jobs meaningful, but they never expected to in the first place.  For them, work is only a means to meet their basic needs and desires for leisure. Their major sense of meaning is derived totally outside the workplace.

If I had been a pastor to my blue collar co-workers, I would have advised them generally not to get too tied up in an identity derived from their day jobs anyway, but rather to focus on doing a high quality of work and not to equate their jobs with their callings. In the midst of my own foray into working the factory floor, I am now not so sure I would have found that very helpful to hear from my pastor. It is surely easier said than done. (more…)

Given the dynamics of the information age and ever-accelerating globalization, humanity faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges when it comes to creating, collaborating, and consuming alongside those from vastly different contexts.

Although Pentecost Sunday has already past, Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong wrote some related reflections on this very question, particularly as it relates to Christian vocation. As Yong notes, “location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers — religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential.”

Globalization has been a blessing for many, yet for Christians, it raises the question of what role the Gospel plays as we engage with and bear witness to our brothers and sisters across the world. As Yong asks: “How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?”

The answer, he continues, can be found at Pentecost:

A look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated. (more…)

Jamie Bérubé

Jamie Bérubé

In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:

The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.

At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?

Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”

Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)

studying3In “Scholastica II,” a convocation address delivered to Amsterdam’s Free University in 1900 (now translated under the title, Scholarship), Abraham Kuyper explores the ultimate goal of “genuine study,” asking, “Is it to seek or find?”

Alluding to academics who search for the sake of searching, Kuyper concludes that “seeking should be in the service of finding” and that “the ultimate purpose of seeking is finding.”

“The shepherd who had lost his sheep did not rejoice in searching for it but in finding it,” Kuyper continues. “It was then that he called together his friends and neighbors and exclaimed: ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep.'”

Yet prior to this, he spends a good deal of time focusing on the search itself, arguing that our prospects for discovery are grim if we fail to love the discovery process. Although there are certainly those who prefer to dig for the sake of digging, with little thought about what or whether they’ll discover, there are also plenty who fail to love searching at all, digging only out of necessity or a quest for eventual money and power.

Christians must learn to balance both, Kuyper argues. But it all begins with loving the hunt:

You have heard of the recreational activity of the hunt. What is it that drives all those gentlemen who normally live a life of ease…to spend hours upon hours chasing across the fields and crawling through the woods? Is it to catch a hare for dinner or a partridge for supper? Apparently not, because any poultry shop can supply the most pampered palate with a wide assortment of game; and to have game on the menu for a whole week no doubt costs far less than a whole day of hunting with dogs and loaders. No, what matters for the true lover of the chase is not to taste or eat game, but to hunt. His passion is for the activity of hunting as such. Eating game is a bonus, but the thrill he is looking for is the actual chase. (more…)

motherhoodOur discussions about faith-work integration often focus on paid labor, yet there is plenty of value, meaning, and fulfillment in other areas where the market may assign little to no direct dollars and cents. I’ve written about this previously as it pertains to fatherhood, but given the forthcoming holiday, the work of mothers is surely worthy of some pause and praise.

My wife stays at home full-time with our three small children, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard others ask her, “So what do you do all day?” If we are at risk of diminishing the full meaning and potential of our service in the workplace, surely we ought to be careful that we don’t do the same in the home.

The economy of love  is different from the economy of creative service, to be sure, but the work therein is no less important, and we do damage to each if we fail to see both their distinctiveness and interconnectedness on the path to human flourishing. Though both parents play significant roles in that process, throughout history mothers in particular have played a unique role in the early-life shaping and shepherding of children. Modernity is adding new dynamics to all this, but the work remains, and such work is worth celebrating.

To demonstrate the nature and value of all this, Chris Marlink recently shared a lengthy excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With World, in which Chesterton expounds on the “gigantic” function of a mother’s work in human life.

Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. (more…)

uncle-samIt’s tax day, and though I’m sure you’ve already begun your revelry, I suggest we all take a moment of silence to close our eyes and relish that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when pressured by the IRS to pay up or head to the Big House.

Indeed, with all of the euphemistic Circle-of-Protection talk bouncing around evangelicalism — reminding us of our “moral obligation” to treat political planners as economic masters and the “least of these” as political pawns — we should be jumping for joy at the opportunity. Nuclear warhead funding aside, progressive Christianity has elevated Caesar’s role to a degree that surely warrants some streamers.

Yet, if you’re anything like me, you did the exact opposite, writing off purchases, deducting charitable giving, and — gasp! — trying to get some of your money back. (more…)

doc-mgmt-paper-mountainMore than at any time in the last hundred years, Christians (at least in those in America) are beginning to recognize that, as Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger say, “our jobs are an arena in which God will work in us and through us to make us more like Jesus and to glorify himself.”

Yet it’s often easier to recognize this truth in the abstract while failing to understand how it could be true for our own jobs. Say, for example, that you work in accounts receivable for a company that makes bathroom faucets. How could that type of work truly make a difference in the world?

Art Carden explains why this type of work matters – and can matter more than a career as a relief worker:

Cleanliness, while not necessarily next to Godliness, is at least a few more steps removed from filth and the associated disease transmission. One quick and easy way to improve the lives of the people around you is to make sure you wash your hands carefully after using the restroom. By helping the faucet company run a leaner operation, you can help them expand and improve their faucet offerings. This in turn helps people wash their hands carefully. This in turn reduces disease transmission. Reduced disease transmission means less tragedy and higher productivity. It might not seem like much, but congratulations: by helping Amalgamated Faucet produce more, better, and cheaper faucets, you’re reducing the probability that someone, somewhere gets sick.

As Carden concludes, “If you want to help poor people, don’t follow your heart. Follow your comparative advantage.” If that advice doesn’t have the same appeal as “follow your passion” it’s likely either because we lack imagination or because what we really want is not to help the world but to receive praise and recognition.

Working in accounts receivable you likely won’t receive humanitarian achievement awards or even be recognized at your church. You likely will also never know how your contributions contributed to the greater good of humanity. But Christians can trust that God knows how our contributions serve others and that he will use our efforts for his purposes. God can and will work in us and through us to make the world a better place, whether we’re digging wells in Africa or pushing paper in Omaha. To help change the world we don’t have to be able to see how it all fits together, we just have to do the work that God sets before us.