Changing one dirty diaper doesn’t mean you can scratch “diaper changing” from your to-do list. You’ll repeat this task hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. An argument with the boss doesn’t eliminate arguing in the future. Correcting third-grade math assignments doesn’t get less boring, whether you do it three or 300 times. The latest dull sermon may not be the last.

Such unpleasant, repetitive tasks can seem entirely meaningless. They certainly remind us of the curse that haunts our daily lives. Pain in giving birth and toiling against thorns and thistles are the order of the day (Gen. 3:16–19).

But our everyday tasks do more than remind us of the curse on creation. The reformers of the 16th century, led by Martin Luther and John Calvin, knew that the tasks of daily life, as unexciting and wearisome as they often seem, are necessary for the sustenance of individual life and the functioning of society. And even beyond that, they’re assignments—the reformers’ word is “callings”—from God himself, a part of his provision for his human creatures. Everyday tasks are opportunities to serve on God’s team—opportunities that keep his world running and in good repair.

Luther and Calvin on Calling

Scripture, of course, speaks of God calling all people to himself, to repentance and faith in him. However, medieval Christians developed another usage for the word vocatio or calling. Callings were holy jobs—like priest, nun, or monk—that served God in a more meritorious fashion than others. But Luther didn’t believe any human activities merited God’s favor. He believed that if everything done without faith in Christ is sin (Rom. 14:23), then everything done in faith pleases God, even though it doesn’t earn his favor. Those who trust in Christ have been given God’s favor apart from their performance, simply because of the Creator’s unfathomable love for his people. They go on to live with gratitude wherever their Creator places them.

The tasks of daily life, as unexciting and wearisome as they often seem, are necessary for the sustenance of individual life and the functioning of society.

Luther and Calvin challenged the medieval idea of calling, but they accepted the medieval configuration of society: first, the home, and with it, economic activities; second, civil society; and third, the church. Some modern scholars suggest that the medieval analysis of society is no longer useful. But we all experience life in the family circle, in economic activities, in society with its political and other aspects, and in religious life.

Humans serve one another within these structures because God knows people shouldn’t be alone (Gen. 2:18). He provides for human life through this network of mutual service as individuals and groups take on functions—God’s assignments—that support and foster good living. People exercise their responsibilities in specific roles in family, occupation, society, and congregation and sometimes simply as Christian sister, brother, or friend.

Our Work Brings Pleasure to God

It’s encouraging to know God has created us to embody his love for his world and its people. The God who humbled himself and became a servant in order to rescue his people cultivates in them this attitude of Christ (Phil. 2:6–8). This means abandoning selfish ambition and humbly doing whatever God calls us to do. It’s easy to be discouraged when we’re caught in repetitive activities that never seem to accomplish much. There’s genuine solace, even inspiration, in being reminded that God doesn’t change diapers, correct math tests, or greet the same people Sunday after Sunday at worship services. Instead, he has placed us “mere mortals” in positions to keep life going with such activities.

Realizing we’re part of God’s providential care for his world even in the lowliest tasks reduces jealousy and self-deprecation and emboldens us to be ready for self-sacrifice as we answer God’s calling. It also helps us make ethical decisions about how to use our time. Christians are well-schooled in obedience to biblical commands, but we obey these divine mandates within our callings. Making good decisions requires knowledge of God’s commands and our God-assigned vocations.

God calls, and we respond, in the vocations of home and occupation, society and congregation. Here we live out the kind of life that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ has restored and keeps on restoring.