One of the toughest tasks for me in setting up this blog was, believe it or not, working on my Google+ profile.
Occupation? Tagline? Introduction?
Those blanks are a lot easier to fill in when you have what my fellow church member Timothy calls “a W-2 job,” one that bestows upon you a handy title describing what you do.
Since leaving academia, I’ve wrestled quite a bit with the “Who Am I?” question, which is one of the reasons I snapped up this month’s featured book, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life” (2002; 2011 reprint), by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
In God at Work, Veith explores the nature of Christian vocation, first explaining what it means (as defined by Luther), then discussing how it operates in contexts such as work, family, society, and church. The book is worthwhile for anyone who has questions about vocation. (Am I really supposed to be doing this? What’s the point? Why has this door closed? Shouldn’t I be doing something else? What does God want me to do?). It’s also helpful for those who need to be reminded of what they’ve already learned about the subject.
Like people who are prone to thinking of vocation as synonymous with “W-2” job.
Luther’s idea is more expansive and other-centered (and that alone is enough to settle nagging doubts about the “Who Am I? question). As Veith explains: “For Luther, vocation, as with everything else in his theology, is not so much a matter of what we do; rather, it is a matter of what God does in and through us” (p. 9).
In short, we’re God’s instruments. “Our purpose in life,” says Veith, “is to do good works, which God himself ‘prepared’ for us to do. We are ‘[God’s] workmanship,’ which means that God is at work in us to do the work He intends” (p. 38).
God is hidden in our everyday vocations (e.g., employee, spouse, parent, citizen, church member), accomplishing His purposes through us. As Veith explains:
God fed me, not with manna but with what the teenager working at the fast-food joint gave me. God clothed and sheltered me, with the help of my employer. God protected me, though I wish the highway patrolman hadn’t pulled me over. God gave me pleasure, thanks to the talents he gave that musician playing on my new CD. (p. 25)
Vocation, at its heart, is all about loving and serving one’s neighbor.
That focus on loving and serving one’s neighbor is one of the central takeaways/reminders in God at Work. In fact, you could probably sketch out much of the rest of the book yourself, armed only with that idea. (Q. What’s entailed in the vocation of child, parent, employee, supervisor, citizen? A. Doing work that loves and serves others.)
A related and equally important reminder: vocation exists in the present. As Veith notes, “The present is the moment in which we are called to be faithful. We can do nothing about the past. The future is wholly in God’s hands. Now is what we have” (p. 59).
It’s easy to ruminate about the vocational past and worry about the vocational future. But those things aren’t our vocation; vocation is in the here-and-now. It’s what we’re doing today, and that “present” orientation does a world of good to counter moments of uncertainty.
At the end of the day, God at Work didn’t provide me with any clear suggestions for fine-tuning my G+ profile. (I suspect if I listed “Instrument of God” as my occupation, I’d end up on an FBI watch list.) But the book did help clarify my mindset.
A few words worth remembering:
The promises of God’s Word and the conviction that right now, where I am, I am in the station—the vocation—where God has placed me—those constitute the basis for confidence and certainty that God has assuredly placed me here and that He is faithful and that He, even though I cannot see Him, is at work in and through my life. (p. 152)