Thursday, August 24, 2017

You have a vocational calling

Every Christian has a calling.  This statement contradicts the traditional language of parts of historic Christianity.  In previous eras, Christians considered ministers of the Word to be the only profession that could claim that they were called to their profession by God.  We cannot deny the truth that ministers of the Word do have a calling from God for their office and ministry, but we also affirm that every occupation given to the Christian comes from God's calling as well.  We believe that God is sovereign over all things.  We believe that He has planned the end from the beginning for all things.  This means that that sovereign plan also encompasses all of our individual lives.  He has called us to a particular form of service for Him in His kingdom.  It matters what we do in life.  It matters what we do for a living.

As I arranged the topics for this study, I had to decide the logical order of the specific situations in this section of the third part of the study.  I informally called it, "The Christian's Life."  The topics included in this section included vocation (the present issue), location, education, and relationships.  Ordering this section logically became difficult for each topic involved the others.  You cannot look at them in isolation from one another.  Decisions in one area influence decisions in the others.  In choosing how to address them in some order, I admit to some bias.  I value vocation over the other factors.  That is part of my personality.  This priority is potentially unique to my personality.  Others might value location or relationships of higher rank, and that is acceptable.  We often understand calling in a myopic manner.  We isolate it to occupational considerations.  However, God's calling and design also extends to location and relationships as well.  Some sense God's calling them to a particular place.  Some sense God's calling them to a particular relationship.  Others considerations then serve that primary calling.  We ought not be dogmatic about the priority of calling to every personality and every life.  We do urge that the factors and biblical principles necessary to make these decisions be observed in each area of life.  However you order these issues, each decision should follow the dictates of God's Word.

As noted before, the concept of calling in terms of occupation follows the two principles of divine sovereignty and the kingdom of God.  By sovereignty, we recall that the Lord has ordained all things that come to pass.  He has something for each person in His kingdom to accomplish that matters in the plan of redemption.  That kingdom is not limited to the confines of the church.  It encompasses all creation being redeemed for His redeemed people.  Redemption extends as far as the curse is found, in the words of the familiar hymn. ("Joy to the World")  This purpose and goal for every life, we may properly call calling.  God's calling extends to all His people.  It calls them to a particular work in a particular place for a particular time with particular people.  Discovering that calling requires the careful application of God's word.

The Bible gives us four elements to consider when considering the issue of our vocation, the particular work God has for us to do.  Each one informs the rest and plays a role in making the decision.  We can list them a gifting, desire, provision, and training.  Again, there is no particular order or priority to these factors, but all most be considered together.

God has gifted us with talents to use for His kingdom.

The Bible tells us repeatedly that God has granted us gifts for profitable work in His kingdom.  We can think of the parable of the talents that Jesus tells. (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27)  While the use of money is the foreground, the parable encompasses all resources God gives His people that they are to use profitably.  This includes the abilities and gifts that He gives to each person.  In the spiritual realm, Paul will speak of gifts given to each person to be used for the church. (I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16)  While focused on the building up of the church, the metaphor is equally extended to every part of life.  As God has given gifts to the church to be used and each part of the body is to use that gift, so He has given gifts to His people to be used in the larger kingdom work in all of life.

Finding that talent or gift is a matter of wisdom rather than Biblical directive.  We are not born knowing what gifts or talents God has given to us.  We must learn by experience what it is we have a gift for.  It behooves us to experiment, to try different activities to see if we possess a talent in that area.  Education and assessment by others plays a role in identifying gifts.  Additionally, we ought not merely assume that we have a singular gift.  God is not stingy with His benevolence toward His people.  He gives freely.  It is wise to discover all our gifts in order to discern well our vocational calling.

God gives us desires for work that will advance His kingdom.

In the rush to determine God's will for our lives, I fear we lose sight of one question that gets buried.  We often ignore it because we think it selfish to consider it.  Yet, it is Biblical for us to ask the question, "What do I want to do?"  Why do we think that God will call us to a vocation that will make us miserable?  It is true that our desires or feelings ought not be the sole determiner of our sense of calling.  Nevertheless, they cannot be eliminated from our consideration.

One of the Psalms seems appropriate here. "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." (Ps.37:3-5)  David begins with an oft-repeated proverb.  The trust in the Lord brings security and provision in the land.  When  delighting in the Lord rules your mind, He gives you what you want.  I once heard this verse interpreted that God gives you the desires of your heart.  This translation cannot really be justified by the grammar or vocabulary, but it does hint at the reality behind this promise.  As one delights in the Lord, His desires become our desires.  A sanctified desire can prove a helpful guide toward vocational calling.  Finally, committing that desire to God, leaving its fulfillment in His hands brings complete realization.

God expects us to work to provide for ourselves and others.

If you have a gift doing something that you like to do, you cannot jump to the conclusion that you have been called to that activity.  You must ask a practical question.  Can you provide for yourself and others by this work?  We have the clearest Biblical support for this exhortation. "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." (II Thessalonians 3:10)  Paul in this passage uses his own example among the church to defend his exhortation to the church to work productively.  Even with the charitable frame of mind that ought to be manifest within the household of faith, there remains a necessary effort for each person to attempt to provide for themselves.

In addition, each person should attempt to provide for their own family.  "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (I Tim. 5:8)  Paul delivers these hard words in instructions to his apprentice, Timothy.  In directing him regarding the church's duty to widows, he includes this exhortation that the family ought to care for their own mothers instead of leaving it to the province of the church.  This does not indicate that those incapable of such provision are guilty, but rather condemns those who do not, when able, undertake that duty, but rather abandon the duty, relying upon the charity of the church.  The Bible then teaches us that we are to plan to provide for both ourselves and our family.

Finally, the Bible extends our provision to others.  "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." (Eph. 4:28)  In this prohibition against theft, we find the object of work.  Our vocational calling is to enable us not only to provide for ourselves and our family, but also to give outside the family.  The first gift that comes to mind is that which we ought to give by joy, thankfulness, and love to the work of God's church.  God expects us to give to Him and His local ministry.  Beyond that, we have no biblical imperative, but a general rule of generosity.  We are called to be ready to give generously to those in need.  We need to understand that our vocational calling ought to enable us to provide for ourselves and others.

God provides training to do that work for His kingdom.

The Bible says a lot about training.  The primary example appears in the book of Proverbs.  We often look at the book in a spiritual sense, and so it is.  But the original purpose is supposed to be Solomon's orientation manual for new courtiers in his government.  It is the orientation manual for Israel's bureaucracy.  "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." (Prov. 1:2-4)  Imagine if our nation used the book of Proverbs to train its governmental officials.  What kind of government, what kind of nation would we be?  Solomon wanted his officials trained in wisdom.  As we understand that Proverbs trains us in wisdom in all of life, we ought to also understand that this principle urges us to seek training in the calling to which God has called us.

I have chosen the word "training" carefully.  Do not confuse training with education.  You need to understand that not everyone is called to the same life.  God does not call all His people to go to college.  Not even gift requires formal education.  (We will discuss general education in a later lesson.)  However, most gifts require some form of training.  It doesn't matter if you are a farmer, a musician, an electrician, an HVAC technician, an auto mechanic, a pilot, a soldier, a doctor, a surgeon, a nurse, an attorney, President of the USA, or (perhaps the most important vocation) a mother.  Each calling requires training of some kind, but not all look alike.  If you cannot obtain the training you need to carry out that particular gift, that may be God's direction to pursue another gift.  That is why I remind you that most people don't simply have a single gift, but must choose between multiple gifts.

Simply put, God has a calling for you to do.  While not exhaustive, the root calculation for this calling ought to arise from the intersection of these four factors.  It is a work in which you are gifted that you like doing, can provide for yourself with, and have the ability in which to be trained.  This is how God has called to to work as Christian in an unchristian world.

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