Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute and Ridley Certificate Coordinator, Kara Martin talks about vocation.
What are you?
If you had a single word (or a brief sentence) to describe what you are, what would it be?
I am a writer.
I am many other things: a Christian, a lecturer, a mother, a speaker, a wife, a dreamer, a strategist, a leader, a culture-changer, a planner…
However, at the core of everything I do and have done… I write. When I write, I feel God’s pleasure, to borrow Eric Lidell’s famous phrase from Chariots of Fire. I write to express myself, to describe what I see, to let out emotions, to communicate with others, to teach people, to preach to people, to encourage, to mourn, to celebrate, to set a business plan out, to describe sales and budgets, to inspire, to change things.
What about you? What is one word that describes you? I am a…
Chances are that the word you are thinking of has captured your vocation. Vocation is simply a Latin word that means ‘calling’. Vocation is part of our everyday language as a result of Martin Luther. Until Luther, the only people who had “vocations” were those in the church. A vocation was considered a special calling from God, a higher calling. Martin Luther questioned whether only priests and monks could be called, and he argued that everyone had a vocation. In his famous essay, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”, he wrote:
…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic labourer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks… all works are measured before God by faith alone.
So vocation became linked with everyday jobs, and thus we have vocational guidance, vocational colleges…
Unfortunately, having lost the concept of ‘vocation’ to the masses, the church often now talks about discerning one’s ‘calling’ to the work of God; once again implying a higher calling. However, at the essence of the idea of calling is the concept that someone is doing the calling: that is, God. Thus vocation is not so much what you ‘do’, it is about responding to the one who calls you.
Regent College’s Paul Stevens has done a study of ‘call’ language in the Bible and has identified how it is used in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word qara refers to the people of God being summoned to salvation, to holiness and to service. There is an amazing parallel in the New Testament with kaleo/klesis referring to an invitation to salvation through Jesus, to holy corporate and personal living, and to serving God and others. Thus we all have a basic calling: to receive salvation and enter a new relationship with God marked by a willingness to serve and obey God.
As well as this basic call, Stevens’ notes a special calling to apply our gifts amongst God’s people, at work, in our family and/or in our community (1 Corinthians 7:17, Ephesians 5:21-29, Romans 13). This special calling can be lived out in very ordinary circumstances. Luther referred to changing nappies, while Australian poet Michael Leunig gives us this beautiful image of a working man:
I watched a man making a pavement in Melbourne in a busy city street: the concrete was poured and he had his little trowel and there was traffic roaring around, there were cranes and machines going, and this man was on his hands and knees lovingly making a beautiful little corner on the kerb. That’s a sort of love… That man’s job is important and he’s a bit of a hero for doing it like that… Love involves that as much as it involves what happens between people. It’s about one’s relationship between oneself and the world and its people and its creatures and its plants, its ideas.
I believe that this special calling is not often something that we get audible instruction from God on. Sometimes it is something we stumble across, sometimes it is offered to us, sometimes a friend tells us it is obvious what we should be doing, sometimes a door opens, and sometimes a door closes. However, in my experience, it is helpful to focus on five dimensions to narrow down what it might look like:
A friend summarised those five areas as: What can I do, what can I be, where have I failed and learned, what moves my heart, what makes me wave my arms around when I talk about it!
If you are not sure what that special call might be, then continue doing what you are doing, but invest it with all the love and service and hope you can, as if you were working for God (Colossians 3:23). One of my favourite quotes about vocation comes from Os Guinness in his wonderful book The Call:
Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, do and have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.
From this we learn that God initiates: He has called us; and that the strength of our vocation is related to how decisively we feel called. No matter what our vocation, we can experience a special devotion, a dynamism and a direction because our essential calling from God gives everything we do meaning and purpose. Thus, we live out our vocation in relation to God, not our employer.
Our call is responding to the one who calls us. It is about being Christlike in the place where we find ourselves, seeking to serve God and others.