Alternate title: Some Unholy Questions About Work
In Chapter 2 of Real Time Connections, Bob Roberts, Jr., talks about “Hearing God’s Call.” As Senior Editor for TheHighCalling.org and , I thought this would be a good chapter for me.
Bob Roberts tells the story of his own calling to ministry. As an eight-year-old kid, he decided to become a missionary during children’s camp. And this call stayed with him into college, so much that he gave his college girlfriend an ultimatum: if you marry me, you have to be willing to be a missionary. Together they agreed to go wherever God called them.
I confess these portions of the book were painful to me. I’m deeply entrenched in the faith and work movement. I’ve internalized Elton Trueblood’s observation from many years ago that Christians are called into all the world—into the world of nations and governments, business and nonprofit, churches and parachurches, medicine and science and art and entertainment and education. Christina Meyer summarized it well yesterday, but I am still saddened to see Christians retreading this ground unable to move on to a deeper understanding of commission and calling.
In Real Time Connections, Bob Roberts, Jr., does a great job gently walking his reader down this path again. My frustration isn’t with him. It is with the #&*?^@#! Christian audience. I mean, seriously. We don’t get this yet? Do we still believe some parts of life are more sacred than others? Do we still believe that Sunday church work is holier than Monday morning work?
Then I take a deep breath and dive in again with Bob. He does a good job telling his discovery of the limitations of church work:
“…it bothered me that among those who accepted Christ, many of the conversions didn’t stick. I wondered why.”
“The biggest problem we had in making disciples was that we weren’t making them!”
Why Aren’t You Blessing Me?
Finally, Bob has a dark night of the soul when he hikes up a hill until he can see his entire community. That community includes two large successful churches where the pastors lack personal integrity. Bob feels he has been faithful, but his own church is struggling.
“Why aren’t you blessing me?” he asks God in frustration.
We’ve all asked this question. It may not be a holy question, but it is an honest human question.
Most of us, if we want Jesus at all, we want him and something else. Bob wanted traditional success. Large attendance numbers. Large offerings. Influence and good feelings about the numbers of people getting saved and experiencing the power of God.
In fact, Bob’s greatest strength—and the book’s greatest strength—is its relentless honesty. There are no easy answers here. The chapter’s conclusion on “occupation, passion, and vocation” includes four catchy bullet points, but even those answers require a tremendous amount of faith.
God help our lack of faith. Ah heck, I’m not going to pin this on anyone else. God help my lack of faith.
Occupation, Passion, and Vocation
To conclude the chapter, Bob wisely separates occupation and vocation.
At Laity Lodge and TheHighCalling.org and HighCallingBlogs.com, we talk a lot about the high calling of our daily work. For some of our readers, this creates a disconnect. They email and comment and call to say, “I am just a cog in the machine. My work has no meaning. It is not a high calling.”
Bob’s basic approach to occupation and vocation would be helpful to those readers. He says, “Your occupation grows out of your interests, giftings, and skills. You follow those interests and gifts into a trade or profession, which gives you a job or career by which you earn your living.”
Bob even steps back and confronts the vocational heresy that still permeates the church. Most people still act like God’s calling is always a call to a religious occupation—like being a pastor or a missionary. Just google “vocation” or “Christian vocation” and you’ll see what I mean. At our worst, Christians are totally off base in our theology of work, dividing the world into platonic higher and lower planes where abstract things of the spirit are holy and physical, and practical work is not holy. At our worst, we degrade our work with dismissive comments like, “It’s all going to burn anyway.”
But even at our best, we protest too much. Even books like Bob’s make me want to scream, why is this so hard? I’m not screaming about Bob’s book, you understand, but the continued need for his book and others like it. Why is the church so broken? Why don’t we get it?
While I’m screaming, Bob is offering some thoughts to help fix the problem. To start, he offers a healthy definition of vocation:
“Every follower of Christ has a deep longing that comes from God, a passion that we need to identify. When you identify that longing as a call from God, you will merge it with your skills and gifting, which will provide you with the means of meeting his call. At that point you have your vocation.”
In America, we tend to expect great things from our own faithfulness. We answer God’s call and expect his blessing to follow in a particular way. I want Jesus, plus the high def flat screen and surround sound gaming system. As if God is just a holier version of Santa Claus.
But that’s not the promise of Scripture, and it’s not Bob’s promise either. Financially, we will be blessed with the means to meet God’s call. That’s it. It might be pretty humble. It might not be more than a simple non-profit salary with a few simple luxuries for the family. It might be less.
But when we find our vocation, the place where our deepest longings find some small bit of sustainable market value, we can be content no matter what the circumstances.
I still have questions, of course. I have to be honest. I’m not always sure I’ve found my vocation. On dark nights, I hike up hills like Bob did. I survey the land, and I get jealous of where God is using others.
Everyone has those dark nights.
Bob Roberts’ reminds us of four places where we can go to hear God’s call today:
- Divine Intersections
I admit that last one is a bit hazy for me. I’ve never seen a burning bush like Moses did. I’ve never met a talking donkey. I’ve never even had an angel escort me out of prison in the dead of night. And yet, I know what he means and have even experienced something like a divine intersection before.
So where does this leave us?
Personally, I’m challenged to try a strengths assessment. I’m wanting to write a core purpose for my vocational life to see where I’m thinking God may want to use me. I want some definitive answers from God.
But most of all, I’m challenged to seek God himself regularly—through prayer and Scripture and community.
I’d love to hear stories from the community here. Does your occupation feel like a calling? Does your calling exist outside your occupation? How do you find meaning in your daily work?