What we do is closely related to who we are. And as Christians, you and I are responsible to give all of who we are and what we do to the Lord.
Often we get tripped up in thinking about vocation. We might struggle to see how our work brings glory to God. Alternatively, our eyes might show us the farmer as the provider of food, or the pastor as provider of spiritual nurture. But we easily miss that God is present and active in everything they do for us.
In my new book Visual Theology, coauthored with Josh Byers, we seek to display theology applied to the Christian life in a helpful, visually appealing way (think: infographics meet doctrine). We treat topics such as the gospel, Christian identity, becoming like Christ, and more.
But arguably one of the most enjoyable and rewarding topics to take up has been vocation, and specifically some applications for how we might see the worth of our work.
You Have Many Vocations
A great misunderstanding about vocation is that each of us has just one: I am a pastor or I am a mechanic or I am a homemaker. But a thorough understanding of vocation teaches us that we all have many areas for which we are responsible before the Lord.
You are a citizen, a son or daughter, a neighbor, a church member. You may also be a mother or father, a husband or wife, a worker or manager. Some of these vocations are more important than others. Some demand great swaths of your time, while some demand much less.
No matter what your vocations are, they all carry the same great purpose: to do good to others and bring glory to God. Your purpose as a citizen is to do good for others as a citizen and in that way to bring glory to God. Your purpose as a husband or wife is to serve your spouse, which brings glory to God. As a friend, your purpose is to do good to others and bring glory to God. [You can see my vocations represented in the graphic above.]
Vocation Brings Dignity
The doctrine of vocation brings the utmost significance and dignity to your work. When we understand that vocation is extending the goodness and grace of God to others, to serve as the “mask of God,” we understand that in a sense all vocations are equal. All of them have the highest dignity.
The dignity of work does not come from the amount of skill necessary to do the job. Nor does it come from the importance of that work for the functioning of a nation or society. The dignity of work comes from the source of that work, which is always God himself. The doctor who operates within the deepest recesses of the human brain is in the same line of work as the person who hauls away the trash from the end of the doctor’s driveway. They are both working on behalf of God. They are both in the business of extending God’s care to other people. Both have the choice to joyfully submit to God’s will in vocation or to flee from it.
My wife and I have often spoken about her frustrations with her vocation of caring for our home and family. It is not that she has ever wanted to do anything else or that she feels trapped in a life she did not choose. It is simply that her work is difficult and repetitive and, in many ways, unrewarding. She lives in a cycle of tasks she does not particularly enjoy—washing dishes, folding laundry, applying bandages to bloody knees, and providing emotional stability to a needy husband.
What brings help and hope is this doctrine of vocation—the fact that she is serving as a kind of conduit for the goodness and grace of God. When she fulfills her vocation, she is doing God’s work on God’s behalf. God wants us to bring order to a chaotic world, and Aileen brings godly orderliness when she keeps the home. God wants to care for those who are hurting, and Aileen brings his care and tenderness when she bandages a child’s knee. God wants to extend help to men who are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, and he extends this help through her. She is the means of God’s providential care. [The image to the right models how our vocation extends God’s goodness, grace, and order to others.]
And so are you in your vocation. If God has gifted you with a logical, orderly, mathematical mind, then you extend an aspect of God’s concern for this world when you design buildings or bridges or software. If God has gifted you with an eye for color and an instinct for design, then you extend an aspect of God’s concern for this world when you create beautiful art or design a slick new product branding. God could have arranged the world in such a way that he would do all of these good things himself. Instead, he assigned them to human beings, so you do this work on his behalf.
Your vocation is your day-by-day opportunity to glorify God by serving others and, in that way, serve as a faithful representative of the God who glorifies himself by serving others.
Editors’ note: This article is adapted from Tim Challies and Josh Byers’s book, Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God (Zondervan, 2016). This article is made possible by support from readers and Zondervan in accord with TGC's confessional statement and theological vision.