There is a great emphasis in our society on working, and rightfully so. We work to feed our families, pay for shelter, and care for ourselves. It is possible, however, that many of us have overemphasized the monetary benefit of working, and therefore, have turned people away from their calling from God to search instead for work based primarily on the pay scale. This type of employment I call a job.
A job is simply the task we do to get paid. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with a job, but I do worry that an underlying message focused on monetary gain as the major goal may be a recipe for disaster in the long run. We go to jobs, perform tasks, and receive a benefit. We can execute jobs without being deeply connected. We are able to arrive at the start of our day, work very hard, and expel emotional energy. We might even work extra hours if it means extra pay. Typically, it's not a problem to separate a job from one's "real life." Whether employed as a housekeeper, social worker, banker, chaplain, police officer or cook, all these jobs are important. However, most people wouldn't hesitate to walk away from a job once the check went away.
Calling is different. Calling inspires a deeper commitment to your work. Calling pushes a person to ask significant questions about what they do with their lives—questions such as Who am I? What are my gifts and talents? How is my life being shaped by this work? What life would remaining in this work make impossible for me? Calling pushes us deeper into ourselves when choosing a college, or taking an internship. It doesn't allow us to jump at every opportunity simply because it pays more. We take personal responsibility about our life direction and choices.
Sometimes we are aware that our job is not really God's calling on our life. Still, we don't sense that God has instructed us to leave it behind for a new endeavor. Sometimes, our calling may run parallel to the work we call a job. One example is my friend Rob. Rob absolutely hated his job. It was not what he had planned on doing. He had run out of money before he could finish college, but he didn't want to take out more loans. He was in college one semester, and then he was dumping out trash from offices in the middle of the night.
Rob's plan was to finish college slowly, taking one course at a time as he could pay for it and also clearing up his student loan debt. When we met, he was about halfway to earning his degree. Rob was a very smart man who always had a book in his hand. He would give great insight if you had the patience and determination to get it out of him. Still, even in his best moments, there was absolutely no denying that he did not like his job or most of the people around him. He was often a bitter person. His 6-feet, 3-inch stature, deep voice, and intense stare intimidated most people, giving the impression he was going to annihilate you at any moment.
Rob intrigued me, so I made efforts to get to know him. He highly respected hard work, and since I was a diligent worker, he would talk with me, especially when we worked together on projects during the midnight shift. I soon learned that Rob was a Christian, but he didn't care much for the church. He attended a couple times a month and gave money to things he thought were worthwhile. Rob and I spent many working nights discussing life, marriage, hopes, and dreams.
I discovered that Rob had a soft spot in his heart for young men with potential but no resources to realize it. Their situations resonated with him because it was also his story. What I figured out about Rob was that while he hated his job and made no bones about it, what he mainly despised was how people were treated on the job. He cringed at the way supervisors talked to employees. He disliked the way the schedule was organized. He didn't appreciate that if you were five minutes late getting back from break, someone would talk to you like a child and write you up regardless of the job you had done well. And most important, he hated the way people cleaning offices were looked down on. I learned that Rob cared more about the people working than most others.
A supervisor's position opened up one day, and as was the custom, it was posted for the staff and employees first, so they could apply for it if they chose to do so. This had happened many times before, but this particular night, Rob asked me if I thought he should put in for it. He asked me if I thought he would do a good job. I affirmed both. Rob applied for the job and because he had been there so long, he was granted an interview. He was given the position, and Rob worked hard from that point on to improve the workplace.
When I asked Rob why he decided to go after the promotion this time, he told me it was because he felt he had something to offer. He wanted to change the work environment. I could only imagine at this point what Rob may have been wrestling with. Maybe he was even at a crossroads—a decision he had to make about himself and why he was in this job. Had his kingdom imagination kicked in so that he now saw something beyond what was right in front of him and embraced this as an opportunity? Did he just get tired of emptying trash? I am not sure what caused this shift in Rob but something was causing a shift. He was not imagining life differently—a redemption of his thoughts, if you will, from the narrow to the big, from the self to others.
Rob took his ordinary life of cleaning offices and emptying trash cans, a life which felt like a failure to him, and he made an offering of it. He didn't leave his place of employment, nor did he realize God had placed these tasks in his heart as a calling. Rather, he discovered the ways God was calling him to serve and care for his coworkers through leadership. His simple job transformed into a calling to help people, and Rob's life became extraordinary. Rob's transformation also created an environment where others could experience grace and perhaps see their contribution as important. Extraordinary calling lifts, inspires, and creates on roads for grace to be established and experienced.
When we stop to think about it, we want those around us working for more than simply their paycheck. What type of care can you really receive from the doctor who is just doing his job? And what about a pastor who only preaches to cash his paycheck? Sometimes it even feels difficult ordering a hamburger from someone who is clearly there just to clock in and clock out. In all the areas of our lives, we are blessed and encouraged by those who are working out the calling God has placed on their lives. We hope that those taking care of our children, our health, educating us, or ministering to us love what they are doing and truly have a deeper understanding and commitment to their work.
Life-giving work is available to all of us. But we must alter our primary question from "How much money can I make?" Instead, we must explore those areas where we can serve. How can I take what I am doing, what I believe I was made to do, or what I feel God may be calling me to do, and turn it over to God? In this offering, we can count on him to transform our offering into something extraordinary. We must let God use our lives to change the world, draw people to him, and offer hope in desperate situations. That calling brings excitement, engagement and much more motivation than money can provide.
Taken from Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World by Leroy Barber. Copyright(c) 2012 by Leroy Barber. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
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Earlier Christianity Today articles on work, employment, calling, and vocation include:
Calling All Callings: Amy Sherman on 'Kingdom Calling' | Christians can build thriving communities by exercising their vocational gifts. (Feb. 9, 2012)
Blessed Are the Jobless: How Ministries Aid the Unemployed | For millions of discouraged workers, the church can turn job loss into a gift. (Jan. 13, 2012)
Working on Eternity | Ben Witherington sets earthly labor in kingdom context. A review of Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor. (June 15, 2011)
The Meaning of Business | Christians in the marketplace, says Jeff Van Duzer, are not second-class citizens of the kingdom. (January 14, 2011)
Career Counseling in Church | More congregations launch job-search programs for the unemployed. (September 2, 2009)
The Purpose-Driven Job Hunter | Richard Nelson Bolles on discerning God's will when facing unemployment. (September 2, 2009)
Work Is Our Mission | Why the godly baker's most significant task is baking good bread. (Nov. 14, 2007)
Reflections: Work and Vocation | Quotations from Thomas Merton, Dorothy Sayers, and others (Sept. 1, 2003)