Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. —Frederick Buechner

God calls people. Whether it is the calling of Abraham to leave the land of Ur, or the calling of Moses, confronted with the burning bush, or the calling of Isaiah who encountered the glory of God, or the calling of the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, an awareness of call is both mysterious and powerful. A calling is always a demonstration of the love and initiative of God, but through vocation we also come to an appreciation that God takes us seriously. It becomes the fundamental fact of our lives; everything about us is understood in light of this call. Many have said they’re not qualified to serve the Lord. You’ll be happy to hear that God does not call the qualified. Instead, He qualifies the called.

Called of God: The Three Expressions of Vocation

  • The general call—the invitation to follow Jesus, to be Christian
  • The specific call—a vocation that is unique to a person; that individual’s mission in the world
  • The immediate responsibilities—those tasks or duties God calls us to today

Finding Your Unique Purpose for Life

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Erik Rees wrote a wonderful book called S.H.A.P.E. Finding & Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. Rick Warren notes in the forward to the book, “God has given every creature he made a special area of expertise to fulfill its purpose. For instance, some animals run, others hop, some swim, others burrow, and some fly. Each has a particular role to play based on the way they were shaped by God.” This is true for us as well. We were all uniquely designed and “shaped” by God to do certain things. None of us are an assembly-line product. We are a custom-made, one-of-a-kind, original masterpiece.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV). Rick Warren says, “Instead of trying to reshape yourself to be like someone else, you should celebrate the shape God has given you.” God wants you to truly understand and accept who he has made you to be. He longs for you to experience the release that comes with simply living as the person He created you to be. Can you be anything you want to be? Perhaps. I don’t know. But you can be everything God wants you to be. And you become that by discovering your uniqueness.

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This call on your life by God is actually your Kingdom Purpose, which Rees defines as “…your specific contribution to the Body of Christ, within your generation, that causes you to totally depend on God and authentically display His love toward others… all through the expression of your unique shape.” The Bible says, “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits” (MSG). Your Kingdom Purpose, however, is more than a career. It’s a special commissioning from God to make a significant difference on this earth. It’s the banner of your life that you carry and wave for God’s glory. Your Kingdom Purpose is very much a reflection of your faithfulness to God. The more time we spend with God, the more we learn of His goodness and faithfulness—and the stronger we become in Him.

Your Special S.H.A.P.E.

Rees explains the acronym S.H.A.P.E. He says, “As one of God’s custom-designed creations, your potential for significance and excellence is revealed by the S.H.A.P.E. God has given you. Rick Warren coined the term. He believes whenever God gives us an assignment, He always equips us with what we need to accomplish it. Warren (and by adoption, Rees) notes the following breakdown of  S.H.A.P.E.

  • Spiritual Gifts: A set of special abilities that God has given you to share His love and serve others.
  • Heart: The special passions God has given you so that you can glorify Him on earth.
  • Abilities: The set of talents that God gave you when you were born, which He also wants you to use to make an impact for Him.
  • Personality: The special way God wired you to navigate life and fulfill your unique Kingdom Purpose.
  • Experiences: Those parts of your past, post positive and negative, which God intends to use in great ways.

Wise stewardship of your life begins by understanding your shape. You are unique, wonderfully complex, a composite of many different factors.  What God made you to be determines what He intends for you to do. Plain and simple. Your ministry is determined by your makeup. If you don’t understand your shape, you end up doing things that God never intended or designed you to do. When your gifts don’t meet the role you play in life, you feel like a square peg in a round hole. This is quite frustrating, as I’ve learned firsthand. Not only does it produce limited success, it is also an enormous waste of your talents, time, and energy.

Just Be You!

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If you could press a rewind button on my life, you would see that for many years I was running away from God and toward the devil. I wanted to do whatever felt good at the moment. That included sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, shirking responsibility—first, chores at home, later, employment—and taking whatever I wanted from whomever had it. Consequently, it is natural for me (indeed for anyone with such a past) to want to start all over again. My struggle with addiction was nothing short of insurmountable. First, I had to want to stop drinking and drugging. I had to admit I had a problem. Then I had to want to do something about it. Once I came to grips with my addiction, I had to stay consistent. I had to get up every day and “quit” all over again. One day at a time. Relapse seemed to be my middle name.

We were not created to conform. We were not created to compare. We were not created to compete. Yeah, I know: That one sounds iffy. What’s wrong with a little competition to sharpen your skills? Fine. But it’s not your propter quod. You were also not created to compromise. Especially when it comes to Christian doctrine or your witness. Instead, you were created to contribute to God’s kingdom and make a significant difference with your life. You were created to just be you! God is saying to each of us, “Just be you. Be who I shaped you to be.”

Part of the Body; Part of the Plan

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There is one Body of Christ, but there is diversity of gifts within the Body. A diversity that God has ordained in order to ensure the health of the unified whole. Romans 12:8 essentially instructs us to hone our gifts and talents in order to maximize our S.H.A.P.E. Our calling is a gift from God. We don’t earn it, nor do we pick it for ourselves. We don’t need to be pre-qualified in order to serve. As I noted, we are equipped by God for God. Second Timothy 1:9 says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (NIV). After all, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works.

We long for work that is meaningful, joyful, and significant. We long to know that the work our hands and the work we do with our minds and through speaking is good, that in word and deed we are doing something that is fundamentally positive and worthwhile. Meaningful and rewarding. What a wonderful sentiment. Work that we enjoy and where we feel we are doing something significant and valuable. We long to know that we are making a difference. In situations where we turn from God and run amok, selfishly doing whatever feels good, taking prisoners, manipulating loved ones, lying to employers, shaming our parents, we cannot help feeling empty. We might deny it, drown it in booze, anesthetize it with opiates, but it’s there, like a dangerous undertow, pulling us further and further from shore.

As Unto the Lord

We’ve heard it said, “Whatever you do, do it as if unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:23 says, “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (MSG). While Paul was speaking at the time of those who were slaves, the principle would be applicable to all regardless of the work they are called to do. Frankly, the fundamental features of vocational integrity are simple. They include (i) knowing yourself and (ii) being true to who you are.

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For this to be true, we need to be sure that what we are doing comes from God; we take joy and pleasure in our work or responsibilities because they are given to us by God. Whether it is the task of raising children, running a business, providing pastoral leadership for a church, or leading the worship team, it is from the hand of God, a gift to us. We need to have a sense that what we are doing is “done for the Lord.” It is something we do with a “God-ward” orientation, something we offer back to God. In other words, our work is both given to us by God and is offered back to God. Paul addressed the aspect of “call” in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Paul essentially tells Timothy to fulfill his call and to do so with diligence, focus, and courage. Paul’s words are applicable for a religious call or a non-religious vocation.

This Thing Called Diligence

The theme of diligence comes through often in the apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, but especially at the high point of his second letter to Timothy, where Paul urges him to proclaim the message and to be persistent in this task (2 Timothy 4:2). Diligence involves persistence. Timothy is urged to persevere in his work “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable… with the utmost patience.” In other words, it involves doing our work with care and commitment that does not waiver depending on the level of affirmation we are getting on that particular day. We do what we do because it needs to be done and our Christian character literally compels us to do it.

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But more, diligence also involves what Paul speaks of later in that same chapter when he calls Timothy to “carry out your ministry fully” (v. 5). Diligence includes thoroughness. Which means there is no substitute for hard work. Just one more thing my father told me as a teen that has taken me decades to grasp! There is no easy task—easy in itself. For an athlete to perform well, hard work is involved, regardless of how gifted or talented that athlete happens to be. And much of that hard work happens behind the scenes, in rigorous fitness programs that continue day in and day out, far from the eyes of sports fans. Musicians can only become accomplished at their task if they practice with thoroughness and persistence, which provides little reward for affirmation. But the same principle applies to all of us. Attention to detail must be a personal commitment or it is not a commitment at all.

Concluding Remarks

Regardless of our calling—the specific work to which we are called—we can never say that we do not have time, that our work is too important or not important enough, or that our calling is so all-consuming, that we have no time to offer hospitality along the way, care for the poor, generously share our material resources and, finally, give time to prayer and seeking God’s direction and inspiration. It is important to stress that we can become distracted from our calling. I can think of no finer example of tenacity regarding calling than the ministry and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

When Jesus reminded us to love our neighbor as ourselves, work was part of that. In fact, from my personal experience the workplace is where it is easiest to “lose it” regarding our treatment of others. It helps me to think of everything I do at work as a way to express God’s love to others. Don’t focus on the crap. Don’t focus on the aspects of your job you hate. Instead, remind yourself to spotlight the positives. If you do nothing else, at the very least think of how you can use work as an expression of love. If you work as a way to show love, then you’ll find yourself enjoying your work more because your boss is more impressed with you and you have a better attitude. It’s a great start to doing your work as unto the Lord.

At times our vocation is undermined because of pride. We are unwilling to accept what God has given us because we are not prepared to accept some aspect of our calling—it may appear to lack the prestige, the status, or perhaps the financial reward we believe we deserve or want. We are always looking ahead—doing what we do so that we are noticed, so that we will be promoted, so that we obtain another job, perhaps. And the consequence is that we are consumed with ourselves. Whatever the reason, if we are not true to ourselves, we are simply living a lie. The longer we live the lie, the sooner it will be that we are nothing more than hollow men and women.

Our only hope is to intentionally embrace the call of God. This is joy, and it will sustain us and give life to those with whom we live and work. There is great joy in knowing what God has called us to be and do, and to act with courage and humility in response to a needy world. Joy is found in giving ourselves fully—eagerly and passionately—to this call. For this to happen, though, we must learn to think about our vocation as God sees it.

God Calls Us to Service But We Make the Decision to Answer His Call

God gave Moses the dream of leading the children of Israel out of 400 years of slavery, but Moses had to make the decision to confront Pharaoh. God gave Noah the dream of saving the world from the flood, but Noah had to make the decision to build the ark. God gave Abraham the dream of building a new nation, but Abraham had to make the decision to leave everything he had and go out into the unknown. Just like these men, you will never realize God’s dream for your life until you come to the point of making a decision and stepping out in faith.

It is helpful to understand the call of God in three distinct ways.

First, there is the call to be a Christian. The God of creation invites us to respond to His love. This call comes through Jesus, who invites us to be His disciples and to know the Father through Him. To be Christian is to respond to this call to know and love God, and to love and serve others. It becomes, then, the fundamental fact of our lives; everything about us is understood in light of this call. Every aspect of our lives flows out and finds meaning in light of the fact that we are a called people. And the church – the Body of Christ – is made up of “called” ones.

Second, for each individual there is a specific call – a defining purpose or mission, a reason for being. Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world. Each person has a unique calling in this second sense. We cannot understand this second meaning of call except in the light of the first. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus. Therefore, while we all have a general call to love God and neighbor, we each follow our Lord differently, for though He calls us all to follow Him, once we accept His call we are each honored with a unique call that is integrally a part of what it means to follow Him. The second experience of being called is derived from the first.

Third, there is the call that we face each day in response to the multiple demands on our lives – our immediate duties and responsibilities. The call to be reliable and trustworthy when my family needs me, or to volunteer during our church’s annual baseball and softball clinic as part of the meet-and-great team assigned to parents and grandparents of the kids enrolled in the clinic, or to respond to some specific need presented before me. These are my tasks – not in the sense of burdens, but as those things that are placed before me today by God. It may be nothing more complicated than helping my elderly neighbor put her groceries away. But that is what God has for me today. I would not speak of these as my vocation (which is closer to the second meaning of call), but they are nevertheless the duties and responsibilities God calls me to today.

Calling, or vocation, is much deeper and all-encompassing than career or occupation. Indeed, there are some who may not even begin to discover their vocation until after they have retired from a career. It is a sheer gift if we are able to fulfill our vocations through an occupation. But for many, a job is a means of supporting life and family; it is often a matter of getting whatever work might be available. We need to discern our vocations and then also discern how God is calling us, within the complexities and demands of this world, to fulfill these vocations. The pivotal issue is one of self-knowledge and of living out our lives in a way that is consistent with who we are, as individuals.

KNOW YOURSELF

The key to finding your specific calling is simply “know yourself.” This is implicit in what we read in Romans 12:3: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (NASB) The Apostle Paul calls us to look at ourselves with “sound judgment.” God has granted grace to each of us, so we can take an honest, critical and discerning look at ourselves. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to observe that when it comes to answering the question What is God’s vocation on my life there are really two critical questions. The first: Who am I? And the second: Am I willing to live in humble acceptance of the call of God?

Make an appraisal of yourself – an honest assessment. Think of yourself in truth. Who are you? What makes you unique? How has God called you? We are not all the same. In fact, Paul compares the church to a body (Romans 12:4-5), with different gifts, differing contributions, differing abilities. Vocational identity is found in discerning who we are within this mix. What is the ability, the talent, the deep passion that God has given you? Where is it that God is calling you to make a difference for Him in the church and in the world? Consider and think of yourself with honesty; make a sound judgment.

If we seek to be anything other than who we are, we live a lie. To know ourselves and to be true to ourselves is to be true to how God has made us. How He has crafted our personalities. How He has given us ability and talent and passion. God will call us to serve Him in the church and in the world. But this calling will always be consistent with who we are, with who He has created us to be. A.W. Tozer calls this “living with freedom from pretense.” His comment captures it well, for in living truthfully we no longer live with a mask, a façade, but rather with a deep honesty about who we are and who God has created us to be. During a period of my rebellion and doubt, my favorite song was The Stranger by Billy Joel.

Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on

I think that Billy Joel’s “stranger” is similar to what psychologist Carl Jung called the archetypal shadow self. The part we disown, usually because it is disapproved of by our family, our spouse, or society in general. Anything that contradicts our “public image” gets consigned to the shadow. Unfortunately, the shadow self contains enormous energy and alternate possibilities that we ignore at our own peril. We need to acknowledge the “disowned” parts of our personality and seek to heal our brokenness through Jesus Christ. If we don’t, the dissociated aspects of ourselves, like hungry dogs locked in the basement, can wreak havoc when released. We truly have no idea what can happen when we deny and continually suppress defects of character that need to be healed.

“IF I HAD MY DRUTHERS.”

Ask yourself, If I were able to only do or be one thing, what would it be? A follow-up question might be, What do I long for more than anything?  What brings me joy? It is important to get to the root of the matter. It is not what you imagine might bring you joy; it is seeking what fundamentally and actually brings joy. We cannot buy into the lie that more money or more prestige would do it. Such motivation is a distraction. When we get at what really matters to us, we get to the passion of our hearts. But the “instrumentality of our culture” distracts us from what really matters. Any many of the things that matter most defy measurement. It’s easy to yield to that which is doable and practical and popular. Worse yet, as I tended to consider recently, was my deciding how impractical it was to go to graduate school at sixty years of age and become an addictions counselor whose clientele will be exclusively sixteen to twenty-nine years old. Teens and young adults. This, however, is an area of great importance to me.

What matters to us reflects who we are and gives meaning to our lives. What matters is reflected in the life we live; it is reflected in the way we engage life, spend our money and our time. Here’s a thought: If we don’t have the time to do something, perhaps this is a sign that that particular thing does not matter to us. Really, what we need is to stop complaining about the economy, the limitations we are facing, the problems of our past, and begin to take responsibility for our actions (to be the cause rather than wallow in the effect).

Perhaps another way to get at the core of who we are is to get at what makes us angry. Anger is often dangerous terrain, of course, but I’m talking here about righteous indignation. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” (NASB) This is the same type of anger displayed by Jesus when he threw the money changers out of the Temple. (See Matthew 21:12) When our anger is consistent with God’s view of the world, could it be that what matters to God matters to us? Could it be that by attending to what makes us angry we begin to get a read on what moves us? It’s been said that the antidote for exhaustion may not be rest but wholeheartedness. In other words, could it be that we are exhausted because we are not doing our true work?

What are your elemental waters? What is your core, the sense of who you are? David Whyte is an English poet whose poetry and philosophy is based on what he calls the conversational nature of reality. He has been quoted as saying, “One of the distinguishing features of any courageous human being is the ability to remain unutterably themselves in the midst of conforming pressures.” Whyte was essentially saying when in our work we are engaged with tasks or responsibilities that are deeply congruent with our fundamental self, we are in our “elemental waters.” When the young shepherd boy David refused the armor of the soldiers when he went to take on Goliath it was not so much that he wanted to trust in God and not in his own strength or capacities, though that was surely the disposition he brought to this encounter. Rather, he was not at home in that armor; he was at home in his shepherd gear and with a weapon he had mastered; not the sword but the sling.

WHERE DO YOU FEEL THE WORLD IS MOST FRAGMENTED?

Consider this question: Where do you feel and the operative word is feel – the deepest fragmentation of our world? Certainly, we each see the world’s needs differently. And our vocational identity is in some form or another aligned with how we each uniquely see the pain and brokenness of the world. Often we miss our vocation because our sense of the needs of the world is informed and shaped by the expectations of others. Sometimes preachers and public speakers outline the needs of the world in a way that is very compelling, and they describe these needs in such a way that they communicate that if we really care, then we will respond according to their expectations and evaluations. They assume that we should see the world as they see it. But the needs of our world are complex, and we need to be alert to how others use the word should.

If we are prepared to listen to our own hearts, we will recognize that we long to help and serve and make a difference just as much as they do. But it will be our own vision for a needy world – a vision informed by our own reading of the Scriptures, but also a vision sustained by the witness of the Holy Spirit to our hearts. So where do you see the brokenness of the world? What impresses you to the core of your heart and calls you to be or do something? When you are able to set aside ego gratification and ask honestly what you long to do to make a difference because you see the need – quite apart from any monetary return or honor that might come your way – what comes to mind?

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I have found that taking the steps I’ve outlined in this post helps to assure that my vocation will in some fundamental way be aligned to how I see the brokenness of the world. By taking what 12-step recovery calls a fearless and thorough moral inventory of myself, I have the opportunity to take stock of who I am. This includes the negatives and the positives on my “balance sheet.” As I look long and hard at my moral shortcomings, I am actually able to start fleshing out a plan of spiritual and emotional recovery. Such an inventory should be written down, because it becomes the first tangible proof you have that these issues are real, and that they must be addressed. Of course, this personal evaluation will also allow you to get acquainted with your talents, your skills, your passion for life. It allows you to answer the four basic questions I brought up earlier: What do you want most of all in life? What matters to you? Where do you feel most comfortable (your elemental waters)? What breaks your heart about the circumstances in the world today?

In John 17:4, Jesus says these remarkable words: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” I want the same to be true for my life. I want to come to the end of my days and know that in God’s eyes I fulfilled my vocation. Work can be difficult. Especially when we consciously choose to embrace a life of addressing the evils and brokenness of this world. Jesus reminds us, however, that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. For a yoke to be easy, it means that it fits us. It is designed around the contours of who we are; it is congruent with the character, strengths, potential, and personality that we are before God. I believe our only hope for vocational clarity is that we come to terms with our own hearts – with what we individually believe is happening in the very core of our being.

Each of us has something that we feel is the very reason for which we have been designed, created, and redeemed. In the end, we embrace this call, this purpose, because this is who we are. In the end, there is something to which we say, “This I must do.” Now we are in the position to give up our lives for the sake of others. (See Matthew 16:25) We do it because we must. And we accept this as from God – as that which God has placed in our hearts. What drives us is the very conviction that God has placed there. This is what is meant by vocational integrity and personal congruence.

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere, but God Himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one-by-one, by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, The Message)

What Good Is Work? Is Government Assistance Biblical?

“Christians must revive a centuries-old view of humankind as made in the image of God, the eternal Craftsman, and of work as a source of fulfillment and blessing, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight, and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”
                                                                                                                                Dorothy L. Sayers

Public Assistance

I know from experience that lack of work almost always leads to complacency, stagnation, negativism, and laziness. It can eventually lead to serious financial woes, including insolvency and lack of preparedness for emergency. I suffered a back injury in 2004 while helping a gentleman “flip” houses for a living. I did a lot of concrete work, tear outs of old kitchens and bathrooms (oh, the cast iron tubs and old radiators!), and hanging drywall. I spent hours at a time on extension ladders painting the eves of houses. Due to my injury, and the subsequent collapse of discs in my lumbosacral spine, it became impossible to work in any capacity for several years. I subsequently began receiving welfare benefits, then, ultimately, social security disability benefits. Recently, I have been able to hold a part-time job or two while still collecting SSDI benefits.

A sense of guilt eventually set in, and I felt it necessary to return to the “world of the working,” which to me is akin to the world of the living. I am currently attending online classes at Colorado Christian University to finish my undergraduate degree in psychology, and will graduate next year. I have applied for admission to the master’s degree program in professional counseling at Lancaster Bible College (with a concentration in addictions). Classes begin September 2018. It is thrilling to me to be able to finally complete my education in psychology which I started at the University of Scranton in 1982. It is my intention to work as an addictions counselor until the day I can no longer make it out of my house and to the office.

It’s is sad to see the extent of “welfare as a way of life” in America today. Indeed, it often spans generations. There are so many factors that feed into this dilemma; too many to get into here. I think there are two ways we can help break that cycle. One is through an incentive-based public assistance program. We have to STOP allowing people to collect benefits while doing nothing whatsoever to improve their station in life. The other is to make college much more accessible to lower income families. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, approximately 25.3 percent of the Commonwealth’s population (one in four) receive some type of vital support, ranging from cash benefits and food stamps to medical assistance and low income home heating grants.

Welfare Benefits Pie Chart

In the matter of people who are incarcerated, it is paramount that we focus on vocational, psychological, spiritual, and educational programs and not merely on warehousing of criminals. In addition, we have to do something about the stigmatizing of felons, which is disenfranchising them from the workforce upon their release. Then there’s the nationwide opiate epidemic, mainly heroin, and our tendency to criminalize what is actually a brain disease. Yes, the individual makes a choice to get high, but the power of the morphine molecule is impossible to resist by sheer willpower, and the result is relapse and recidivism.

From a Theological Perspective

I read Courage & Calling by Gordon T. Smith for a class at Colorado Christian University. It’s available on Amazon.com by clicking here, and I highly recommend it. Gordon believes God calls us first to Himself, to know Him and follow Him, but also to a specific life purpose, a particular reason for being. This second calling or “vocation” has implications not only for our work or occupation, but also includes our gifts, our uniqueness, our life community, and what we do day-to-day. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus.

There seems to be this huge assumption in our social context today that work is bad (or, worse yet, something to be avoided) and leisure is good. Billions of dollars are spent every year on ways that help us relax or escape from the toils of work. God made man to work, and that work was to be meaningful. I believe God made mankind workers so that they could be co-creators with Him – not in the sense that they are creators of the Earth, but that their work was a part of God’s continual re-creation. Man is to be a steward over creation. Over all there is.

In Courage & Calling, Gordon says it is important to have a biblical theology of work. The witness of the Scriptures and of Christian spiritual heritage suggest that responsible human life includes stewardship of our capacities and opportunities. A biblical theology of vocation provides us with a critical and essential lens through which to view our lives and what it means to be stewards of our lives. So, we can ask not only “What good is work?” but “What is the good work I am called to do?” Living well, surely, is a matter of taking seriously the life that has been given us – the opportunities and challenges that are unique to us, to our lives, our circumstances. Taking our lives seriously means that we respond intentionally to these circumstances and the transitions of life. This is something I had no concept of, or capacity for, while in active addiction.

I had to come to understand three things. First, our lives are of inestimable value. Second, living our lives to the full is precisely what it means to be good stewards of our lives. Third, we live fully by living in a way that is deeply congruent with who we are. In the Scriptures there is a clear proclamation of what it means to have human identity – a person created by God, with worth and significance. It is also true that the field of psychology has enabled many to appreciate the full significance and weight of this scriptural insight. No lives are dispensable. No one can say that their life or work does not matter. Each person brings beauty, creativity and importance to the table.

Let’s Go To The Scriptures

The Bible has much to say about work, which in its different forms is mentioned more than 800 times. This is more frequently than all the words used to express worship, music, praise, and singing combined. The Bible begins with the announcement, “In the beginning God created…” It doesn’t say He sat majestic in the heavens. He created. He did something. He made something. He fashioned heaven and earth. The week of creation was a week of work. From the very beginning of the scriptures we are faced with the inescapable conclusion that God himself is a worker. It’s part of his character and nature.

Proverbs beautifully illustrates the work ethic. “Take a lesson from the ants you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up?” (Proverbs 6:6-9, NLT)

In Genesis 2:15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (NIV) [Italics mine.] We were created by God to be stewards of His creation through our work. Work is actually a gift from God, and by it we employ useful skills to glorify Him and to help our neighbors. The Fall did not create work, but it did make in inevitable that work would sometimes be frustrating or seemingly meaningless. I believe Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. In the story of Creation, we see God bringing order out of chaos. A gardener does the same thing by creatively using materials at his disposal. Adam was called by God to essentially rearrange the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the benefit of everyone.

I believe our true calling evolves over time, and tends to emerge as we discover and hone our God-given talents into skills and useful competencies to be used for the glory of God and the service of our fellow man. Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Here’s the key: When it comes to work, there is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is, quite simply, an act of praise. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (NIV) Our work matters profoundly to God. We must be committed to the idea that we express our Christian discipleship through our employment, which is an important part of life. It is in this realm that we are called to stewardship.

Certainly, it can be argued that we will not have a meaningful life without work, but we cannot make our work the meaning of our life. As Christians, we must find our identity in Christ, not in our work. Yet, work is the major way we respond to God’s call in our life. It gives us the platform from which we can be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Interestingly, the idea of rest must also be in the picture. God rested from his labors on the seventh day, and so should we. Please know I’m not talking about a dogmatic observance of “the sabbath.” There are literally dozens of interpretations of sabbath from a religious perspective. In Courage & Calling, Gordon tells us the pursuit of diligence can sometimes become the burden of perfectionism, which is a burden to you and to those with whom you work. It can easily lead to a person feeling overworked and exhausted. Our only hope is to keep a balance.

This is only possible with a clearly defined pattern of sabbath renewal in our lives. The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbat, which is derived from the verb shavat, meaning “to cease.” By regular sabbath rest, we are freed from seeing work as a burden; it is ultimately God’s work that is entrusted to us for six days a week, but we are not responsible for, nor should we feel the need to, feel the burden of carrying this work seven days a week. The sabbath gives us perspective. I will go so far as to say we should not call it a “day off,” because this does nothing more than define our day of rest negatively in terms of the absence of work. Sabbath actually builds a sense of rhythm into the whole of creation.

Closing Remarks

Work is a lifelong endeavor. Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (NIV) It is important to realize that through the doctrine of work God changes culture, society, and the world. The entire world has fallen into a state of injustice and brokenness. Redemption is not just about helping individuals escape this world, or saving souls condemned to eternal spiritual death (although this is certainly the message of the Good News), it is about restoring the whole of creation. I can think of no better way to contribute to this goal than through fulfilling God’s call on our lives. We must integrate our faith and our work. It is critical that we perform our jobs with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability.

You and I were designed by God to work. Work is not a curse that we must endure, it is the way we experience purpose, meaning and joy. It’s what we were created to do: work and produce. In fact, not working takes a greater toll on us in the long run. Our attitude toward work should be without parallel. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” God wants us to work in a vocation that compliments the way we were designed to act. Ultimately, this means discovering our skills or talents and using them rather than burying them in the ground or hiding them away. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Our Vocation; Our Calling

I returned to college in March of this year. I am enrolled in the psychology degree program at Colorado Christian University online. Finally, I am at the place in my recovery and my life where I can pick  up where I left off in 1985. Luckily, a number of my previous college credits, including some earned in my major, have transferred. I hope to complete my undergraduate degree within the next 2 1/2 years. At that time, I will be properly prepared to enter the field of addictions counseling, and plan on focusing my attention on teens and young adults struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.

One of the books assigned for my first class is Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, by Gordon T. Smith (2011). There is a wonderful quote from Frederick Buechber on the inside of the cover. It states, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I can truly relate to this statement.

Smith makes some fantastic points in Chapter 2, “The Meaning of Our Work.” He says that when we think about roles or occupations and good work, we are struck by the public side and often overlook the simple fact that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg; most of the work is done with little affirmation, thanks or praise. These people are diligent in their work and in the private side of their work precisely because they are committed first and foremost to good work.

Further, it is said that the biblical theology of vocation is a renewed appreciation of the full extend of God’s kingdom. All vocations are sacred because God’s kingdom is not merely spiritual. God is establishing His kingdom on the earth as all creation comes under His divine authority. To that end, God calls and enables His children to be His kingdom agents within every sphere of life and society. Each vocation reflects only one means by which God, through word and deed, is accomplishing this. It is important to stress that in all of this we must sustain a distinction between vocation and career. A vocation comes from God, and though it will encompass work in every sector of society, from the home to the marketplace to the church, it remains a fundamentally religious principle.

Smith goes on to say in Chapter 2 that we must recover the original meaning of vocation. We must restore to our communities and to our language an understanding of vocation as calling; as something we recognize both as fundamentally religious and sacred, and as something that enables us, in response to the call of God, to embrace whatever it is that God would have us be and do in the church and the world. Also, we must distinguish between vocation and career. We may be called to particular work that is reflected in a career, an occupation done over an extended period of time in which we express a mastery or capacity for a particular kind of work, but we must not allow a single career or occupation to eclipse our personal identity and sense of vocation. The two must be kept distinct.

The language of vocation is a reminder that our work is given to us by another, by the God who is our Creator. Thus our work is not our “god;” rather, it is given to us as a gift, as something for which we are stewards. In the end, it does not define us, however important it is to us and to God. We are not workers; we are, rather, children of God who are called to work. Our work is never the primary expression of our identity, and through regular rest (sabbath), we establish our identity in God and in his love, acceptance and grace toward us. We violate the meaning of work when all we do is work, when we lose a rhythm and routine of both work and play, work and prayer, work and rest.