Understanding Your “Vocation.Life”

(This post originally appeared in Henry Zonio’s Kidmin and Culture blog; it’s a review of the “Vocation.Life” chapter from Scot McKnight‘s book One.Life. With Henry’s permission, I’m sharing the review here. If you enjoy this post, check out the other reviews that appeared on Henry’s site and also read One.Life for yourself!)

The college I attended did not have a Campus Crusade chapter, but even I can recite the first of Crusade’s well-known spiritual laws: “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” But for many people who seek to live the Christian life, knowing the phrase does nothing to ease their questions about it. They do not doubt that God loves them, but they unceasingly wonder if they are in the center of God’s plan and living the life he has intended for them.

We all, at one time or another, have likely asked the question, “What is God’s will for my life? What should I do with my life?” And these timeless and challenging questions are the ones that Scot McKnight addresses in his chapter entitled “Vocation.Life”. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin root vocare, which means “to call,” and so from the Christian perspective it is not merely choosing a career path, but giving a life response to the One who is calling us to begin with. McKnight offers so much wisdom and direction on these questions of calling in his typically facile, anecdotal style that it’s easy to miss all the pearls. But let me highlight a few points that I found particularly valuable.

1. There is no distinction between “sacred” and “secular” jobs.

It may seem easier to find meaning in jobs or activities that have a distinct Christian purpose or intent, such as being a pastor, or a missionary, or a volunteer in a church ministry. However, McKnight is “unconvinced that some jobs—the so-called ‘spiritual ones’—are valuable while others are ‘secular’ and therefore not as valuable.” And I wholeheartedly agree with him. Any action we undertake, if it is done with God’s Kingdom.Life in mind, becomes a sacred act, whether we are preaching the Gospel at a crusade to an audience of thousands or doing laundry at home.

It is less a question of the specifics of what we are doing, and more a question of our attitudes and our heart-orientation in the midst of those activities. You can be a pastor in a megachurch for all the wrong reasons and be less in the center of God’s calling than someone who is touching the life of just one other person in a meaningful and Spirit-led way.

2. The worth of a job has nothing to do with how much income it generates.

We live in a culture in which the most valued jobs have become the ones that earn the highest income. A recent column by New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof bluntly declared, “Pay Teachers More.” Kristof notes that “in 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher.” There is a reason that the legal, medical, and business professions attract many of the country’s best and brightest minds. In the eyes of most Americans, success is often defined in monetary terms.

McKnight aptly reminds us that “when the kingdom dream of Jesus shapes our vocations, it turns us from folks who strive for wealth into folks whose vocations are used for others.” Imagine what could happen in the church if every Christian parent, teacher, and children’s ministry leader intentionally and consistently helped the children in their midst to embrace this idea as opposed to letting the culture dictate the values these kids adopt in their own lives?

3. If we are committed to furthering God’s kingdom, we do not need to worry about whether we are in God’s will.

It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a teenager or a retiree or somewhere in between; people can become paralyzed from making any choice for fear of making the wrong one with respect to decisions about calling. This is why I so appreciate what McKnight says in this quote: “God’s will…and what you dream about in your deepest dreams line up so well, you can usually chase your dreams and you will more often than not find God’s will.” If you are sincerely seeking to please God in your life choices, and you are doing the best you can to align those choices with God’s works-in-progress in the world, you are unlikely to make a wrong choice.

And even if you do, you can trust God will shut the appropriate doors or find ways to communicate when you are going down the wrong path. You might be surprised to know that Eugene Peterson did not originally intend to become a pastor. But he “paid attention to God until he realized that a pastor is what he was created to be.” (From Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s review in Christianity Today of Peterson’s newly-released memoir, The Pastor.) And so, too, can all those who are Christ-followers rest assured that as long as they are sincerely “paying attention” to God’s leadings, their sense of calling will emerge and develop.

4. Say “no” to those valuable endeavors that are outside our particular calling.

I found this point to be the most challenging for me and yet the most critical one to incorporate in my own life. The opportunities to be involved in establishing God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” are more numerous than any one of us can handle. McKnight encourages focus instead of spreading ourselves too thin. He writes, “When we try to do too many good things, we burn out or we tune out or we leave out someone we love…In order to ‘do that’ one thing well, one must guard from trying to do too many other things. Saying no to other things is what keeps life balanced.”

I think it’s helpful to remember that when we say “yes” to every need that appears before us, we are actually diminishing the opportunity that another person has to embrace the calling God has given them. So we need to prayerfully consider what our specific calling is, understanding that discovering that call is as much about saying “no” to the good opportunities so that we can say “yes” to the best ones that match God’s intent for us.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the many helpful ideas McKnight presents in this chapter. It’s well worth the time to read the entirety of Vocation.Life, crafted by someone who clearly is living within his own God-given call as a teacher and writer. But make no mistake: your life and vocation are no less important or valuable to the One who has called you in the first place.


(Photo courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com/4774344sean)

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