As you may have noticed, there was no article last week. I’d like to say it was for some wholly holy (see what I did there?) endeavor, but it was due to a career move for which I am truly grateful. And that has me thinking this week about vocation, careers, and God’s plan for my life.
This was an issue which bothered me for a long time, and it may be something you struggle with as well. If so, I pray this article is helpful.
As a young Christian, I really REALLY wanted to please God. And it was important (to the point of obsession) for me to know what God wanted me to DO. Sure, I was saved, but now what? What is God’s plan for my life? Where does He want me to go to school? Who does He want me to date, and to marry? Where does He want me to work?
And to be honest, it got pretty goofy. Simple decisions weighed me down as I wrestled with what God would have me do in nearly every mundane sitauation. And since, after multiple times reading the Bible cover to cover, I’ve yet to find scripture addressing college selection or career choice, I did what all of us tend to do… I looked for “feelings”.
Funny thing, feelings. You can convince yourself of just about anything. Like the time I came home on military leave, convinced that eventually God would have me marry a nice girl from my hometown. I shared this information with a friend.. who happened to be engaged to said girl. (Yes, that happened. And yes, I still want to pound my head against the desk everytime I think about how stupid I’ve been in trusting these “feelings”. By the way, they’re a beautiful couple who have been married for more than 15 years, raising a beautiful family, and doing great work in Christ’s name.)
So, then, where do we go to find “God’s plan” for our life? Our jobs? Our college majors?
Let’s start with the basics:
You want to please God. I get that. That’s not a bad thing.. but realize that God is *perfectly* pleased with you in Christ. PERFECTLY. There’s nothing you can do to please God more. Get that. So, where scripture doesn’t speak, we have freedom.
What this frees us from is thinking that any given career is more or less pleasing to God.
God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does!
God uses you in very normal, “boring” ways every day to accomplish His will on earth.
But that’s not very “audacious” or “radical”. And because of that…
God’s people have struggled with this since the beginning of time. Remember the purpose driven mantra which has become the favorite “life verse” for millions?
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11
If you take this verse as being about *you* then you end up with a wonky theology which says that God has this amazing plan and it’s your job to discover it. The problem? Not only is it nowhere in scripture, but it’s incredibly damaging to believers.
See, the vast majority of the time, our life isn’t EPIC, it’s mundane. And if you think that anything less than epic isn’t pleasing to God you begin to see vocation (jobs) as either spiritual or non-spiritual. Working at the church, then, becomes “more holy” than, say, working at McDonalds. Spending the weekend at a “retreat” becomes “more godly” than changing diapers or bathing your kids.
Do you see how damaging this is to folks who are “just” living a “normal” life? How do I please God when “all I do” is get up, drive to work in traffic, do my job, come home and take out the trash? How does the mother changing diapers and cooking dinner please God? This is just “regular” stuff, right?
This mentality is what caused damage in the early church as men and women who were “really” devout and dedicated to God ran off and joined monestaries, becoming nuns and monks. It created two categories of Christians; essentially, amateur/part-time, and professional.
But the problem is that scripture doesn’t teach this. God has chosen to work through common means to accomplish His will: Ink, Paper, Water, Bread, and Wine… and people.
Each night as my daughter goes to bed and prays The Lord’s Prayer, one of the peitions is “Give us this day our daily bread”. And God DOES give my daughter her daily bread. How? Not through direct deposits of manna on our lawn, but through the farmer who grows the crops and raises the livestock. Though the truck driver who delivers it to the grocery store. Through the grocer who sells it. Through her mother who makes delicious meals. Through me, as I drive in traffic every day to earn a salary. Even her very life is a gift of God; Not through a creation out of the dust (like Adam), but (as bluntly and tactfully as I can put it) the “means” of her mother and I.
God. Uses. Means.
God uses these means to accomplish His will on earth.
Martin Luther called these “masks of God”. While we know that God is sovereign over His creation, and that God will bring His perfect will to pass, the means by which He does so are often hidden to us.
So, while I know that my command (and pleasure) is to be used as a means of gospel proclamation, I don’t know (and may never know this side of heaven) the ways in which my vocation is used to accomplish His will.
Remember the verse from Jeremiah 29:11? Most of those people died as slaves during the 70 remaining years of captivity. (Seriously, if you think that’s a promise for your “best life now”, you might want to check out my article here: http://marc5solas.com/2012/04/27/stuff-the-bible-doesnt-say-part-2-for-i-know-the-plans-i-have-for-you/)
So, even in this situation, what was God’s guidance to these people in their day to day life as He worked, sovereignly, to free them?
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29: 4-7
Big purpose for their lives.. ready? Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what you grow. Get married. Have kids. Work for the good of your community. Pray for your community.
Not very epic, huh?
How about praying “audacious” prayers? God’s big plan for your life? I’ll be honest, that stuff sells like hotcakes. People gobble it up faster than Steven Furtick, Mark Batterson, and Rick Warren can churn it out.
But that’s not what scripture teaches.
When Jesus himself (a pretty good authority on prayer, one would think) taught His disciples to pray, how “audacious” and “radical” were His prayers?
Give us daily bread.
Forgive us our sins.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
Bookmark that on each end with God’s epic plan for the exiles (plant gardens, build houses, and have families) and God’s great comission to His followers (proclaim the gospel, baptize, and make disciples) and you start to see a God who works in the mundane, pedestrian lives of normal people to accomplish His magnificent plan. There are no “nominal” vocations when seen in light of God’s use of means!
Which leads me to CAPTCHA (because I’m a nerd, and I think like that).
Even if you don’t know CAPTCHA by name, you’ve certainly seen (and hated) it if you’ve ever tried to do anything from purchase movie tickets to use various facebook functions online.
While most people know that it’s purpose is to ensure that the fields are being filled out by a person rather than a computer, and for security.. here’s what you may not know:
Those weird words in goofy fonts that you have to type?
Those are scanned images from printed books, often books which are out of print and not available online.
See, when books are scanned, OCR software doesn’t do a very good job on old ink or old fonts. What used to take hours for a proofreader to go back and manually review and correct now happens in seconds as problem images are pushed out via reCAPTCHA. What you’re doing when you read these words and type them in is actually proofreading an old book and providing valuable feedback! So while you can’t see the big picture of daily activity, the part you play is infinitely more important than they seem!
So, young mother, you are absolutely being used, powerfully, of God as you change that diaper. Read that again. I’m not overstating this. God is using your work as a mother as His “mask” as Luther said, His means for accomplishing His will on earth. If you work oustside the home and rush home to get the kids fed and bathed and in bed, you are the very means by which God is caring for them.
Dad, as you fight traffic and work through your day, you are being used as the means by which God cares for His creation.
Student, as you struggle through homework, you are serving God. You are preparing skills which God will use to providentially care for His creation as you serve your neighbor.
So rest in the salvation we recieved by grace through faith in Christ. Know that you stand righteous before God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness. You don’t have to DO anything to earn His favor… and in doing so be freed to wisely pursue a career, a family (or not), knowing that God is sovereignly using you to administer his creation.
LOVE God and SERVE your neighbor, knowing that you’ll fail in both but that you are perfectly *perfectly* justified before God in Christ.
NOTE: I’ve only very briefly touched on this subject. For an ouststanding article, and links to primary sources, I highly recommend this article: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=881