What Am I Here For?

This article was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador, April 2008.

In The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren poses a very important question:  “What on earth am I here for?”  Most of us readily acknowledge that pastors, missionaries, evangelists and the like have a God-given calling.  But what about the rest of us?  Aren’t we called by God as well?

I believe that we are.  In the book of Ephesians we read that:

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The good works we were made by God to do could be considered our personal vocation or calling.

Vocation is a topic that has been much written about and discussed in Christian circles.  Before the Reformation only those in religious orders were seen as having a vocation.  Martin Luther and other reformers extended to concept to secular occupations and activities as well.  Luther insisted that the farmer, the cobbler, the milkmaid or the parent had a religious calling as significant as that of a priest or nun.

Vocation has been defined in many ways.  Luther send that in your calling you must “lend yourself as a means and a mask to God.”  Frederick Buechner, Christian chaplain and author describes it as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Thomas Kelly, a Quaker, writes that it is “God’s burdened heart particularizing His burdens in us.”  And Erik Rees, a minister at Saddleback church calls it, “your serving sweet spot.”  One vocation is very clear:  its purpose is service to others.  It has everything to do with Christ’s command to love our neighbor and little to do with worldly accomplishments or success.

Although you cannot choose your vocation (it seems to choose you), there are clues for recognizing it.  You will most likely find it in your own backyard.  Look for your vocation in your career or job, your family, among your acquaintances or fellow church members.  You will have an aptitude for it.  Others will often commend you for it.  It will arouse your passions.  It will energize you.  It may be challenging, but never onerous, for as Jesus says,

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matt.  11:30

In accomplishing it you will feel God’s pleasure, a sense of fulfillment that means you are being true to what God made you to be.  Knowing your vocation helps you to distinguish between the things you can and should do and those that are best left to others.

Your vocation may evolve over time even if it involves the same set of skills and gifts.  For example, I see my vocation as encouraging others.  When my children were young, I wrote and directed our congregation’s Vacation Bible School programs;  later I led small groups and retreats;  and now I find myself writing for the Lutheran Ambassador (and more recently this blog).  One author says your vocation “keeps making more of you.”  Discover and follow your vocation.  It will lead you into a continuing adventure with God!

For more on the topic of vocation, see these posts:

What the Bible Says About Purpose by David Ramos–Book Review

Stewardship of Our Life

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

 

Send Me

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’  Then I said, ‘Here I am, send me.'” Isaiah 6:8

My husband and I watched a show on television recently.  One of the main characters, a detective, had a post-it note on the dash of her car with this verse from Isaiah.  When she was asked about it, she said, that was how she viewed her job.  When things were a mess and bad things happened, God sent her in to help. Wow!  Wouldn’t it be great if we all looked at our lives this way?

Martin Luther would certainly approve, because he believed that every Christian had a vocation — not just priests and nuns.  Here’s what he had to say:

“Every occupation has its own honor before God.  Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling.  In our daily work no matter how important or mundane, we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.”

Think of it this way — we’re all on a mission from God, called to spread His love and His Gospel in the place where we’re been planted.   We can influence our environment in a good way or a bad way.  We can think of our work as boring and unimportant, or as a way to help and serve others.  When I worked at a hospital, buying inventory items, my boss had a sign placed in our warehouse that read:  “The supplies that go through these doors save lives.”  That helped me to understand that even if I was not a doctor or nurse, the work I did contributed to healing others. So did the work of every receiving clerk or warehouse employee.

Of course, there is also the work of simply being kind, respecting others, praying for our fellow workers, helping one another and so on.  Our occupation should not be unconnected from our spiritual life — it should be a place where we live out what we learn in church and Bible study every week.

You’ve been called.  Have you answered?

For more on Christian vocation see these posts:

What’s Your Vocation?

The Mission of the Layperson

Stewardship of Our Life

 

 

Let Your Spiritual Gifts S–T–R–E–T–C–H You

“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Frederick Buechner

Discovering your spiritual gifts will help you find your vocation.  If you are asking yourself, what is a vocation, here’s the definition:

A vocation is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.

At one point in the world’s history, vocation was an idea reserved for priests, nuns and monks who devoted themselves to God.  Martin Luther changed that kind of thinking when he said:

A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…”

All of us have a vocation, or calling in the plan of God.  We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries;  we can use our gifts in our church, our community and our careers.  The challenge is to be aware of this and make a conscious effort to serve others.  When you do this, you will find yourself growing in God’s grace and doing things you probably never imagined.

For example, before I retired, our personnel officer made a visit to me and I shared my feeling that our hospital no longer cared about our lowest level employees;  small benefits were being cut that meant little to most of us, but quite a bit to these people — for example, no discount at the hospital cafeteria.  Because I spoke out, he created an “Angel Fund”– money designated to help employees who were struggling with a particular situation — serious illness, for example.  I served on that committee and it is still going on years later.  It’s something I would never have imagined doing.

I am an introvert, but because I am passionate about spiritual growth, I became the leader of a Via de Cristo retreat.  I love to write and encourage people, and so I wrote a Bible Study for the women of our denomination — this required me to go to a conference and stand up in front of 200 women to give a devotional reading!  If anyone had told me when I was twenty that I would do such things, I would have laughed (hmmm– maybe like Sarah when God told her she would have a child at 95!).

Anyway, my point is this — follow your gifts, follow God’s leading, and you will find yourself in the most unexpected places.  You’ll be amazed at what you and Christ can do together.