Being Called to the Call
The Christian vocation is by definition an anomaly; it is something received in faith, discerned in prayer, and cultivated through action. The gift of opportunity a faith-centered vocation provides is one that must be electively responded to with dedication and consistency. Pursuing this type of career at all is to seek that which makes us most authentically and joyfully human while transplanting the mundane nature of work to which we have become accustomed.
Perhaps it is best to fully establish the definition of work, especially within a biblical concept. When the Bible speaks of work, it definitely does not promise an abundance of happiness or joy within a given vocation, nor does it say we should seek or feel entitled to this. Although work existed before the fall, it was not seen as a necessity to ensure survival. This was not the nature of work until human will changed the idyllic intention that work once held. God recounts the postlapsarian repercussions of human disobedience within Genesis 3:16-18, where labor was divided amongst man, woman, and even animal. Although God remained faithful to still provide for humanity’s needs, work became mostly dependent upon action and thus completely liable to failure.
By exerting their free will to disobey God, the first couple broke their most basic relationship. Together, not just as one, they strained their intimacy with God, no longer talking naturally with Him, and even hiding themselves from his presence. God’s parental response demonstrates His ultimate yet loving authority over humanity, as a Father who wants to actively correct his children to betterment. This solidifies that God indeed prepares, moves, and equips those whom He has called, granting them graces and talents they will need to persevere in a life of ordained service. In this, we are not that distant from the first couple. Work could initially be simply something we choose to do to bide our time before the eventual definition is created that it is something we must do in order to ensure our own survival. It is here that so many of us become stuck. That idea of not really being entitled to enjoy my own work is something I have struggled with through many years of mediocre employment and education. While I have found things that did not feel like labor and instead even made my heart fulfilled, they did not support or provide for me. This quandary has been something of a constancy within my adult life…how to feel fulfilled, make a difference with what I do, while maintaining a lifestyle financially independent from student loans, family, or debt? It seemed to be the holiest of grails and the quest for it utterly mapless.
I am coming to grips with the fact I may have to entertain a profession of provision before I’m able to fully experience my calling; mainly that I will likely be required to work in an unrelated field in order to financially prepare myself for the road and calling of ministry. I am also realizing that any work can be a dedication to the Lord. Our calling as Christians is not to solely represent our faith in vocations of faith, but to serve others. We are unanimously called to this. It is this that is our true and universal “calling”. Remaining mindful of the tenant of Brother Lawrence in “Practice of the Presence of God”; we must first learn to experience God in the mundane in order to experience Him moving in larger areas of our lives. Therefore, any work done in the name and glorification of Jesus is holy; it is the actual vocation that is reflective of our calling. In Called, Mark Labberton clearly distinguishes that our call is primarily in the here and now, that even the larger picture of our vocational work will always include God’s call for where are currently are (45-49). The fact we are able to discern the moving of God within our lives at all is a gift that bears our following, and we are not the only ones. Throughout biblical history, men and women have felt directed by a power not their own. The only misleading thing about drawing inspiration from these stories is that we would have to ask God more than once for direction. This itself was something I had to come to grips with prior to entering seminary, that I may not always hear His directive clearly or immediately. In my disparity, I arrived at the point of giving God an ultimatum. What I had yet to realize was that my calling wasn’t entirely clear, at least not to me. He had only to lead me to the place where it would become so and there I would form my heart towards a particular life path.
My definition of a vocational calling is something akin to a small still stirring in our hearts that easily notices what we don’t have in this area of our lives and maintains a hunger for more. It is ultimately similar to the feeling C.S. Lewis speaks of in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”. This still small stirring is a gift that requires other spiritual gifts in order to discern properly. First, we may know what type of work makes our hearts feel most at home. Then, we must press into this with discernment and prayer. Finally, we must ask God to exert His will while supplanting ours and equip us for the journey ahead into unknown territory. Tod Bolsinger talks about vocation beginning not with a search, but within a heart of service, and formed through a commitment to fulfill His commandments (“Formed, Not Found”, Fuller Magazine 2014). Ultimately, we are to emulate Jesus through our lives and work, including service. Matthew 20:28 confirms Jesus’ life was fully of service, not to be served. His life’s work was entirely focused on the communal. In other words, a religious vocation is not something one can advocate or promote because either God stirs this in your heart or He doesn’t. It’s because of this that makes discerning what spiritual gifts God has given you so important in order to foster a vocation therein.
Ray Anderson’s practical theology model especially impressed me when placed in contrast with Branson and Martinez. Anderson’s encouragement to maintain God and His desire for a situation as part of the ultimate outcome is a lesson tracing all the way back to Ignatius and one I will seek to maintain when dealing with any situation or decision of importance. I have even drawn from the questions within this model for direction in positive things, not just crisis. The reminder to ask what God desires, where He is at work, and how we see Him reflected in these has been formative for me. In addition to Anderson’s practical model, I did identify with the empathetic praxis set forth by Mark L. Branson in his “Theory to Practice Model”. I agree that is only when we assume someone else’s experiences and context that we can practice these theories properly. This model encourages us to have a heart for others in the way we are all called to community and an inherent mentality of service. Additionally, Gideon Strauss’ videos on vocational and vocational discipleship were instrumental. The notion of being first called into deeper relationship with God before doing the same with those around us deeply shifted my view on how I would organize my heart in service. The simplicity with which he approaches vocation and its place in one’s life was inspiring. His theology reiterated that of Branson and Bolsinger, that God can be served anywhere, in any capacity.
Although all materials represented definitely had a feeling of being deliberately chosen and orchestrated for our purposeful time in this course, I believe one thing will stay with me more strongly than any others, and that is Ray Anderson’s message on vocational calling. While listening to the audio of his voice in class on this topic, I had tears streaming down my face. To know that it is not our sense of calling that puts us in the right place, but our sense of destiny reinforced the sense of God’s process, that He was making me into something. Therein, any place on the trajectory to this final product is seen as being in the “right” place. So long had I felt I had to fulfill something, complete it, allow it to be finished before I would be able to consider a work well done, when in fact this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I firmly believe God needed me to hear this message through the lens of Dr. Anderson, being ultimately confirming, reinforcing, and assuring for where I am in my current journey of vocation and discernment. It is now my renewed and constant desire that I would allow God to bind my hand to the place of my heart, and in so, that He would direct my feet to a path of ultimate fulfillment. I create no end point for myself in this journey anymore, I place no possibility of potential failure on my calling. I simply desire to be on the trajectory and know that my God be able to look on me at any point and say it is a job well done…