I Need a Vocation!
No, it is not a spelling mistake. In this editorial I want to deal with the matter of vocation, not vacation, although I am sure that, at this time of the year, many readers might long for a vacation in some warmer location. In the big picture, a vocation is more important than a vacation, for vocation touches on what we do with our lives. It gives a sense of purpose.
The question of vocation is of particular relevance to young people, especially those coming to the end of their high school years. They will have had to make decisions about life after high school. Many will have applied for admission to university or college. While admission requires specifying a field of study, many students are still not fully sure that it really touches on what they really want to do, or even how they can do anything with what they would like to study. Others are planning to enter the work force, but they don't necessarily know what they would really like to do. All this need not be written off as a matter of youthful indecision. There may be serious thought about what the Lord really wants. In some cases, the question may even be formulated in terms of, "What is the Lord's will for my life?"
I have put it in terms of the youth, but it is not an issue restricted to the youth. People may have certain stages in life when they wonder if they made the right choices, if they are really using their talents in the way the Lord wants them to use those talents.
It would indeed be nice if everyone could say they had some clear direction from the Lord about what to do with their lives. Then one could speak of truly having a vocation, right? When we listen to Scripture, we will learn that we are not going to get such specific direction.
We do, however, get some direction to point us in the right way. This comes out if we give some thought to the word "vocation."
What Really is "Vocation"?
The term "vocation" can be traced back to the Latin word "vox" for "voice." When the word is turned into a verb, it has the sense of "to call, to summon." In history, we can see how the term vocation was the term of choice to describe those who entered into religious service. Vocation was seen as different from just a job. It seems much more important to be able to speak of having a vocation than having a job, for it suggests there must have been some direct involvement by God. It can even be put in terms of having an office or a calling.
While the word "vocation" has been linked to religious service, this is too limited. The word vocation can be applied to any and all jobs. Just think of how there are vocational programs, geared to help people enter the trades. This view of vocation, including also the trades, is not something new to our time. The Heidelberg Catechism contains evidence of this liberation from narrow thinking about vocation when it explains the third petition, "Your will be done." In the second half of the answer we read,
Grant also that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven. HC 49
You could just as well substitute the word "vocation" for "office and calling." We see in this answer of the Catechism that the Reformation of the sixteenth century brought about a major change in how people looked at their daily work. The farmer as well as the minister had an office and calling, that is, a vocation.
When it comes to vocation, it is not so much about how one ended up in his or her particular task but how one looks at it.
While it is true that in Scripture we do learn of those specially chosen by God, with the most vivid example being our Lord Jesus Christ, it is safe to say that the general rule is that no one can claim to have an immediate call from God indicating what task they should pursue. We can, however, speak of a mediated calling.
I use the term mediated calling because the Lord is pleased to use various media, that is, various means of directing us in our lives. These means include things learned from his Word as well as the realities of who we are and the situations we experience in our lives.
First, there is what we learn from his Word. We can bring it back to the creation commission as found in Genesis 1, which also has been called the cultural mandate. To put it in terms of vocation, God called the human race to subdue the earth. We might say in broad terms: we are called to get to work. It is good to start off with this broad calling to make it clear that inaction is disobeying God's calling. This call to work is reinforced in the eighth commandment. To be sure, the commandment is phrased negatively in terms of "You shall not steal," but the positive sense of that commandment is: work! Paul indicated this in the letter to the Ephesians when he wrote that the thief should no longer steal but work (Ephesians 4:28).
While it is good to be reminded of this broad calling, it does not, of course, tell each of us specifically what to do. What work is right for us? It is at this point that we go to the realities of who we are.
In terms of the realities of who we are, we speak here about how the LORD has made each of us as individuals, with our own personalities and abilities. There are a wide variety of talents to address the wide variety of work that needs to be done. The LORD God made mankind different from all the other animals. Part of that difference is the ability to think, evaluate, and come to conclusions. We need to use these abilities and evaluate what the LORD has entrusted to us. Some people are more suited for jobs that involve intense mental concentration, but they have no aptitude for holding a screwdriver. That should be a clear indication they were not cut out to become mechanics or carpenters. Others are just naturally inclined to hold a hammer and fix things. We can think of Bezalel and Oholiab, who were the two main craftsmen assigned to construct the tabernacle. They had been endowed with the necessary skills to do that.
While this does begin to narrow the field somewhat, there is still tremendous variety. Again, we see the hand of the LORD in the way he gives people different interests. Some are fascinated by machinery while others by construction. Some are fascinated with zoology while others are fascinated by ancient history.
There is one more factor to consider, and a very important one at that. One may be aware of one's own abilities and have an interest in a particular area, but even then there are so many different possibilities. This brings us to the third aspect to consider, namely, opportunities. There may not always be a position that matches one's abilities and interests exactly. It is then necessary to apply one's abilities and interests in the possibilities that present themselves. Very fitting are the words found in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." We can also think of the words of Paul in Ephesians 6 where he told slaves to obey their masters, serving them wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord (Ephesians 6:7). This impresses on us that we just can't sit around waiting for the opportunity that matches our interests and abilities but we are to apply our interests and abilities in the opportunities that present themselves.
Enjoy Your Vocation
When you reflect on the creation commission along with God's providential guidance of our lives in the way he gives us abilities and interests, along with providing us with opportunities, we realize there is no special voice which will tell us which vocation to pursue. We should always be wary when someone says, "The Lord told me to do this." That is true even for those whose vocation we tend to describe in terms of a calling, such as ministers. They get no special voice from heaven either. There too it is a matter of abilities, interests, and opportunities. What is required of all of us is that we reflect on who we are in terms of our abilities and interests, and apply those in the opportunities that present themselves. As we go through life, more opportunities may present themselves. Yet, whatever our hands or our minds find to do, we may see it as our vocation. It is our task, ultimately given by God, and a way to serve God.
To mention once more the words from Ecclesiastes, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." In short, enjoy your vocation!