As a new school year gets underway, parents and teachers are frequently asked, "how will I ever use this class later in my life?" We find schools more and more publicizing such things as "job placement" rates, while students and their parents demand "practical" courses, at least in addition to and often in place of the more academic course offerings of a few generations ago. Schools and colleges are often chosen based more on their facilities than their faculties. A roomful of late-model computers or a well-equipped woodshop is perceived by some as offering far greater value than a history or language class, while the worth of good grades in one class or another is judged on the basis of career impact.
There can be little doubt that proper preparation for one's vocation is as essential today as ever. Society demands, and genuinely needs, a high degree of competency in every area of work, whether on the farm, the factory floor, in the office, or in the pulpit. We find support for this in Scripture, as in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..." and Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart..." How can we fully apply ourselves to our work without first preparing for it?
In both these texts, however, we are told to be diligent in "whatever" work is set before us; clearly these passages at least do not support the idea of defining for ourselves, especially in advance, what sort of honest work we will accept or refuse. Indeed, our Bible offers many examples of people whose education seems unlikely to have prepared them for their eventual careers. When Joseph, at the age of seventeen (Genesis 37) related his early dreams to his father and brothers, he was rebuked. It was clear his older brothers would obtain the inheritance and power of the family; beloved as he was, Joseph seemed to have little need for training in leadership or administration. When Samuel visited Jesse, the youngest son was almost forgotten in the shadow of his older brothers, for young David seemed unlikely to become more than a shepherd. The first four disciples called by Jesus were fishermen, Amos was a farmer, Lydia a salesperson; the Bible offers many examples, but the point is clear – to do with all our might and heart "whatever" work God gives us we cannot be content to merely prepare for one specific job or career.
The word "vocation" shares its roots with such words as "vocal" and literally means "calling." We use this term for various types of work, but Scripture recognizes only one kind of calling: our calling to salvation and to serve the Lord. And here we might go back to one of the texts we cited earlier to see that our calling, our vocation, is not intended to earn us wealth or influence, as our career counselors may tell us, but to serve a much higher purpose. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart," says Colossians 3:23, "as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." To prepare for so lofty a vocation, our focus cannot be on technology, nor on "income potential", nor "self-fulfillment." Our training might happen to include these things, but most of all it must prepare us to hear and readily serve the Lord in whatever He gives us to do. Our preparation, like all our service, must be undertaken wholeheartedly, not to "improve our prospects" but to ensure our usefulness to Christ and to His Church.
Because I belong to Him, Christ ...
makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.Heidelberg Catechism Ans. 1