The Caller and Our Calling
After being anointed by the prophet Samuel, David must wait more than a decade before he is publicly recognized as the second king of Israel. In the meantime, God gives David the rather loathsome task of serving Saul, his wildly maniacal predecessor, as the king’s armor-bearer, personal attendant, and musician. Despite the undesirable nature of the role, David’s work becomes not only bearable, but meaningful, precisely because it is God-assigned and God-defined.
The Dignity of Work
For many of us, work is nothing more than a “job” that helps pay the bills. In fact, the word “job,” originally referred to a mere “gob” or “piece” of work, which implied a petty, insignificant task. The Scriptures, however, invite us to approach our work—in all its forms—not as a job, but as a vocation. The word “vocation” stems from Latin and literally means “calling.” Many of us may resonate with the idea that we must find our unique “calling” in life in order to be satisfied and fulfilled. But here’s the catch. One cannot have a “calling” without a “caller.”
Many people refuse to believe there is a “caller,” and therefore they hear no such “call.” But Christians recognize that God calls each of us first and foremost to relationship with himself, and secondarily to various tasks and responsibilities in the world. God’s call, therefore, fills our work, even routine and mundane tasks, with meaning and significance. It is instructive to note that God is presented to us at the very beginning of the Bible as a worker and a creator. As a result, when we receive a calling from God, we should regard our work as not only godly but godlike because all of our work reflects God's own activity as a worker.
There is an unfortunate history that has made a distinction between so-called “sacred” work and “secular” work, but the pages of Scripture reveal that this distinction is a false dichotomy. It is not as if the pastors and the full-time Christian ministry workers have a true vocation from God, and everyone else is a second-class citizen within the kingdom of God. Whether it is voluntary or paid, skilled or unskilled, at home or in the workforce, every sphere of life provides us with an opportunity to contribute to God's purposes in the world if we do it all unto the Lord. Finding meaning in our work generally depends less on the external task itself than the manner in which it is done. Every Christian has a holy calling.
John Stott once said, “It's good that you come to church, so long as you don't do it too often.” What he meant is that God strengthens and encourages us through our corporate worship together, but the primary place where God challenges us and uses us is in the day-to-day trenches of normal, everyday life—at home, at school, in the office, in the lab, in the studio, in the concert hall, and in the boardroom.
The earliest Christians understood this. By living out their faith in service to their community and by engaging in their work with passion, integrity, and excellence, the early Christians eventually won over the Western world to Christianity. This is important for us today. Once again we live in an age that is awash with other gods and many of our contemporaries are committed to a very different kind of moral code. But as it was in the first few centuries of the church, so it is today. The way in which people will come to believe in the saving power of Jesus, will not be primarily through the church gathered in worship, but through the church scattered in its vocations.
The Dangers Of Work
Along with the dignity of work, however, the Scriptures also reveal the danger of work, which is evidenced by the story of Saul. When Saul is initially called to be Israel's first king, he possesses a sincere humility, but over time, he becomes less interested in God and more interested in the work itself. That is what causes his downfall, and this is the danger for all of us. If, as we have said, our work is not only godly but godlike, it is easy to slip into thinking that we are gods in our own right. And if we view ourselves as gods within our respective spheres, then we might not think that we need God—or at least not very much. We can easily fall into the trap of being interested in God only for what he can do for us rather than for God himself. When we do this, we are treating God as a mere means to an end rather than an end in himself.
Saul had a great job. He was the king! But Saul shows us that just because you have a great job does not mean you will do it well. Likewise, just because you receive a calling from God does not mean that you will be faithful. Our jobs present an enormous temptation to look to our vocation rather than to the caller to give us a sense of identity, purpose, or redemption. That is the essence of idolatry. The definition of an idol is anything you look to other than God to provide you with your ultimate sense of identity, purpose, or redemption. Your calling only describes a part of who you are; it does not define you or sum up your entire purpose. Your work might be important, but it cannot save, forgive, or redeem you. Only Jesus can do that.
Looking to the Caller
What the David story shows us is that receiving a call from God is not about getting the so-called “right job” or the “right career,” but rather it is about doing God's work in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. But how do we discern our own calling in life? Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” First, look at the world around you—your family, neighborhood, community, church, city, and the wider world. Where are the needs great and the workers few? Secondly, ask yourself: What are the gifts, skills, and experiences that bring you joy? Look for the places of intersection. That may very well be the exact spot where God is calling you to serve his purposes. This is, after all, what Jesus did.
Jesus not only scanned the horizon of the world, but he searched the deepest recesses of your own heart and discovered that your deepest hunger—whether you recognize it or not—is to be reconciled to God. But what was Jesus’ deep gladness? Jesus’ heart filled with joy at the thought of being reunited with you forever. This is what led him to the cross. Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame for the joy that was set before him—the joy of reconciling you in relationship to himself.
That’s not all. In the Old Testament, God gave the gift of his Spirit to some people, some of the time to carry out a specific task, but we receive something better—the fulfillment of God's promises. As the result of Jesus' finished work on the cross, he now pours out his Spirit on all of his people, all of the time, to empower us to do everything in service to him. Jesus embraces his calling for your sake, and now he invites you to embrace your calling for his.
Adapted from David and The Good Life: Calling, a sermon delivered by Jason Harris on September 18, 2022. Listen to the sermon or read the full transcript.
"Christ and Contemporary Culture" is a journal written by Jason Harris which reflects on the intersection between Jesus Christ and our contemporary culture. If you are skeptical or resistant to Christianity, the hope is that you might pause to reflect on your pre-existing ideas about the way things are and perhaps think again. For those who have embraced Christianity, these posts will serve to encourage you in your ability to communicate the gospel in a way that takes our current cultural context seriously.
Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee