According to a recent Barna study, Millennials are looking for a “more potent theology of vocation”; a way to connect the “rich history of Christianity” to the “unique work God has called them to”.
They want more than just an admonition to be honest, ethical or good witnesses; more than the idea that their jobs are a source of income from which they can give to ‘real’ church ministry, more than the call to work for the common good (of their coworker, community, city or world).
Of course, all of these things are crucial parts of what work is, but surely they are not all that work is. Surely work has an even higher purpose.
I think I’ve had a glimpse of what that purpose is.
As I’ve preached dozens of sermons on people’s jobs over the past five years (on everything from auto mechanics to hairstylists to investment bankers to molecular biologists), and researched my book, Every Job A Parable, I’ve come to realize something crucial – that each job is a kind of vocational parable; something within which and through which God is speaking.
Work is a place where revelation happens; a place where the sovereign, providential, world-making God speaks.
As you learn to listen, the ultimate purpose of the work you do will become clearer.
And it all starts with a good theological foundation.
You are made in the image of a working God. Your keen sense of reason, creativity, organizational skills, aesthetic capacities, ability to make something out of nothing, aptitude with numbers, ability to follow the data, or your high EQ were all put there with intent. God made you the way you are so that you’d resonate with the way his Spirit works in the world.
You’ve probably felt those moments of flow where you lose all sense of time and space and get totally lost in your work; diving deeply into the audit, helping that injured person in the ER, serving all those waiting customers, or cleaning the house. There’s something about the goodness of work in those timeless places that feels fully human and alive. Could it be that these moments of flow are pointers to the something more that work is meant to be?
In the gospels, Jesus revealed the mysteries of God’s kingdom through parables that spoke of laborers, farmers, jewel merchants, kings, judges, managers, builders, general-store keepers, landlords, and vineyard owners. Real people doing real jobs!
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For years I somehow missed this fact. I understood parables to be narrative tools for the conveyance of moral and ethical truth, stories with a built-in spiritual lesson. I still believe this. But lately I’ve come to realize that the created elements of Jesus’ stories—the down-to-earth, real-life content of ordinary people doing ordinary things— also carried revelatory weight. Jesus was telling stories filled with things he made (soil, seeds, agriculture, and farmers), things that revealed something about their maker (farmers, like God, are finely attuned to life’s vulnerability, mystery and fragility (Dr. Norman Wirzba)). Parables, in many ways, were an affirmation of God’s revelation via creation. When Jesus wrapped a parable around a particular vocation, he was affirming the creational goodness of that job.
I think Jesus is doing the same today – through the parable that is your job.
If all things are made in, through and for Jesus (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:2) then surely there is something of God to be seen, heard – or overheard – in the work you do (and through the things you work with); something that reflects his being and heart.
I think those reflecting moments can be iconic; pointers to what work is ultimately meant for – a real time experience of the timeless presence of God.
Servers image a humble serving God every time they take a meal from kitchen to table. Nurses feel his passion when all they can think about is restoring a broken person. Artists know God’s delight whenever they celebrate their creations they’ve made.
This is a very potent theology of vocation; one that’s potentially experienced in all of our working moments, as God works in and through you and as he works through the jobs of others.
Imagine experiencing God’s world-arranging wisdom whenever you see a florist do their work, or knowing God’s light-and-energy-bringing presence through the work of an electrician, or his making-you-new heart at work through the hands of your stylist!
Our world is full of vocational parables (including yours) just waiting to be read (if you have eyes to see).
All of this makes me wonder how Jesus experienced his work as a carpenter. Did he know the presence of the world-building God as he did his work? When he took abstract ideas and turned them into concrete creations, was he experiencing the universe-making heart of his Father?
Can Christ-in-us lead us to that same place?
John’s new book Every Job a Parable; What Walmart Greeters, Nurses and Astronauts tell us about God (Navpress/Tyndale) comes out June 20th.