When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
What do you do? is obviously about one's occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the element of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation--God himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation he conferred upon our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources--in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam's fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the Fall. To be sure, our labor has added burdens attached to it. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark upon a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly aware of the question, How can I best serve God with my labor?
Vocation and Calling
The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning "calling." In our secular society the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. We will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid upon us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, Am I in the center of God's will with respect to my vocation? In other words, Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do? Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact upon the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: " 'Let there be light'; and there was light." God also calls his people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in his family. In addition he calls us to serve him in his kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. But still the question faces us: How do I know what my particular vocational calling is?
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. As a high school graduate embarking upon college, I remember that a great deal of discussion centered on one's major and career aspirations. At that time it seemed as if everyone were setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the fifties was one that opened up literally thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the seventies. Stories circulated about Ph.D.'s in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
A hundred years ago the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today roughly 3 percent of the population is now employed in farming—a radical decrease in one particular occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Excerpt from Can I Know God's Will? by R.C. Sproul