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When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation pt 2 – No Day is a Waste

In the first part of this series I introduced the Doctrine of Vocation – the Reformed Christian doctrine that basically says that God actually cares about the work you do during the day. I need to expound what the heck this means so that it’s clear why I find it so liberating.

In the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus says we should ask God to “give us our daily bread”. But how does he answer this prayer? Does bread fall from heaven? Usually, no. What we usually mean is that God would give us a salary so that we can afford the bread. What we usually miss is the larger and ordinary means that the bread comes to us – through the work of wheat farmers and cow milkers and bakers and truck drivers and retailers and cashiers and probably others. Our daily bread comes through jobs – those people working to bring the bread to us are serving us, their neighbour.

What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? He said we are to love God and love our neighbour (Luke 10:27). The work we do every day is us loving our neighbour. It really is. That’s why the work is important – God sees it as part of the ‘good works’ he encourages us to do.

The idea of loving our neighbour has become very abstract these days. We often think it entails doing charitable things – giving a poor person some food, being nice to those at the office, or standing up for justice. All that is true, of course, and encouraged. But how many of us think the physical day to day work we do, regardless of how menial it is, is actually an act of loving our neighbour?

The Reformers called this our “vocation”. Vocation means “calling” but it’s a better word, I think, because it doesn’t come with the baggage that modern charismatic extremes have pinned onto the word ‘calling’ – God zapping some world-changing idea into our heads, telling us how we are going to do ‘big things for God’ and be ‘God’s man / woman of the hour’ and all those cliche phrases the televangelists like to use to pump us up. That idea, however, is exactly like the old Monastic idea where the only work God sees as important is work done in the Church because it means ordinary work isn’t big enough for God.

So we look for our ‘calling’ in the Church. What is it I can do? For some reason, we feel that serving tea on a Sunday morning at church is more important to God than serving tea at the office during the week; or serving tea at home to our family. We couldn’t be further off the mark. God sees them equally and is just as pleased with all of them.

The Doctrine of Vocation affirms something that I’ve found to become more and more important – how God works in ordinary ways. His means of answering our prayers usually comes through people’s vocations. Sick? Well, he might heal you supernaturally, but the doctor has been called by God as his means to make us well. In need of some inspiration or entertainment? Lo and behold, God has actually called the artist, musician, actor, director, video game designer or sportsman to serve you in that. Every job is a calling from God, besides the obvious ones like drug dealing and sex working.

Suddenly menial work is just as grand and important as the pastor who is ‘saving them by the millions’. God calls some to be evangelists, some to be teachers, some to be pastors, some to be video game designers.

Vocations don’t need to last forever they can often be seasonal things. We also have a number of vocations – serving our family is a vocation from God. We can get into finding our vocations in another post. For now, the point is that all work is seen by God as ‘good works’. See Eph 6: 5 – 7 in this light and things change.

This has been liberating for me for this reason: all throughout most of my twenties I did a job I hated. For eight years I did regular two-o’clock-in-the-morning stints, found myself constantly frustrated, and pretty much hated life. It was an endless slog that sent me into deep despair. Day after day I saw myself sinking into this deep dark pit of meaninglessness. Life felt utterly meaningless. I mean, it sucked. I tried to console myself through my music and my work at my church, but it all just wasn’t fitting.

At last, about five years ago, I grabbed at a chance to get out – I took a voluntary retrenchment and started freelancing as a writer. That, too, over the years has brought its own frustrations – especially the frustration of not being where I want to be yet. I want to be writing books, not writing articles all day. And that dream is nowhere near coming to pass.

Here’s the thing: I always looked back at those years as wasted years. I felt my job meant nothing to me or to others or even to God. I felt I had no impact on anyone’s life and did a botched up job not only in the work environment (ultimately, everything I worked at failed) but also never did anything I thought God would be interested in (no one got saved, no one cared). But, looking at it through this new lens, not one day was a waste. God saw all the hard work for the company as good works. God is not just interested when we help old grannies cross the road. He sees it all as good works. And he rewards good works.

His rewarding I’ll need to expound on in a further post as this one’s getting a bit long. For now, though, you can see why the Doctrine of Vocation had such an impact when the Reformers saw it. None of our work done is in vain. In fact, the idle rich are the ones who, despite living the ‘good life’, are going to be in trouble sooner or later. Jesus said that many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matt 19:30). The guy who collects the rubbish, who works harder than the rich man who lives off an inheritance, will collect a far larger reward either in this life or the life to come. The rubbish collector doesn’t need to have a zillion people ‘come to Christ’ or stop slavery or create some new technology for God to count his work as good. He may die in obscurity to us, but never to God.

Suddenly, everything carries meaning as everything is counted as love towards my neighbour. That’s liberating. Motivating. And inspiring.


9 thoughts on “When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation pt 2 – No Day is a Waste

  1. Pingback: Ryan Peter. Writer. » When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation, Pt 1

  2. What if what I do, does not benefit anyone? Why does only work that ‘make an impact’ or are ‘meaningful’ count? Why does it have to be off service to someone?

    What I really really like in what you’re saying is abt how the charismatic view warped ‘normal’ work. I agree fully on that. how “God works in ordinary ways” loves that, well said Ryan. Thank you for sharing abt your personal journey, epic stuff right there.

      • How abt the artist that never sells his work, or even exbits it? He creates purely because he loves to create? It’s only purpose is for him to have an outlet for his expression, its for his own pleasure.

        I shy away from having to validate what I do based on that ‘it has to have a purpose, or a meaning, because who defines that meaning? Its relative

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, I would say that isn’t really a job. But we do have a number of vocations (our job, taking care of our family, our involvement at a church perhaps, our involvements in other communities, charitable causes etc.).

        Overall I don’t think God encourages idleness. He instituted work before the Fall (Gen 2:15).

        I think it’s great that the artist can express themselves and so they should. The probably also draw inspiration from other artists who, in that sense, are serving them. I encourage any artist to find a way to showcase their work, because it seems only right that they look to inspire others; but if they don’t want to that’s OK. However, they have to do something to bring in an income, and that something is another of their vocations.

        If they can’t for whatever reason I bet they are doing things in other vocations. Family, communities, whatever. But if they’re just being idle I think they are subsequently missing out on the call to love our neighbour.

        As to who defines that meaning, I tend to feel Jesus defines it precisely in this ‘love God, love your neighbour’ stuff. We might end up shooting ourselves in the foot if we take existentialist ideas about meaning and relativity too far. And miss out on the joy of serving others. 🙂

      • Take van Gogh as an example. His art was only really recognized after his death. He did try to fill his life with occupations that paid the bills, but he was most unhappy. His life had little meaning in that sense. Only after his death did the world come to acknowldge that he was one of the greatest artisits that ever lived.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t know details about van Gogh’s life, but as far as I know he was very productive. He wasn’t looking to just paint for himself but to share his work and make a living out of it.

        Unfortunately he wasn’t able to make a living out of it, be that for whatever reason. A common frustration artists of various stripes have. One I share, that’s for sure!

        The thing is that, in view of what I’m proposing here, none of his work was in vain. Not even the work he did to pay the bills, despite the fact that he probably didn’t enjoy that work. God would have counted it all towards him as ‘good works’ – the same as he counts philanthropy as ‘good works’. Helping orphans and painting well are both seen as ‘good works’.

        However, it seems that this is only the case when these works are done out of / in faith and love. (Love to others, of course.) I can’t say whether van Gogh painted out of / in faith and love. All I can say is that if one wants to create work outside of faith and love they will more than likely receive a reward outside of faith and love.

        Love and faith both lead to joy and contentment. A lack of love leads to loneliness, frustration, discontentment and ultimately unhappiness. Very often the way many artists feel.

        Artists are often notoriously self-absorbed. As a musician and a writer I understand the psyche of the artist all too well – we often feel lonely, misunderstood, underappreciated, frustrated and so forth. Over the years I’ve realised it’s just because we delve very deeply into ourselves (we wax lyrical about depth and emotions a lot don’t we?) and often, as a result, we get incredibly self absorbed.

        Which often leads to a need to be seen as a genius. The artist often wants people not just to see how beautiful the work is, or how beautiful the thing they are creating is, but how beautiful THEY are. I wrote a beautiful song. Isn’t music beautiful? Isn’t the girl I’m singing about beautiful? Aren’t I such a beautiful person?

        We want people to look at our work and call us a genius. To call us beautiful. The trouble is that these driving factors often mean the work is not done in faith and love. Then, unfortunately, the vocation is being abused.

        My next post will delve into different kinds of vocations. That might clear up my view a little more here.

        Thanks for the conversation! Always enjoy it 🙂 I’m signing off for the weekend.

      • ty for replying, I understand what you are saying. I highly recommend you read Lust for Life abt his life. His struggles as an artist and his search for spirituality is heart wrenching. Looking forward to the rest in this series.

  3. Jim Killebrew says:

    An Outcome is a consequence of something. To a large extent, life is a journey, but more than that, it is experiencing the consequences of our journey. We are taking the “Journey” through life living processes that move us from point “A” to point “B” most of the time expecting the outcomes we want will be delivered. We get up on a cold morning and just expect that the furnace has kept the house or apartment warm through the night, depending on the thermostat setting we chose. When we turn on the faucet we expect that water will start flowing. We basically live on a set of expectations that we have established through our own learning histories. In essence, those personal expectations are tied inexplicitly to other peoples’ expectations and their willingness to deliver appropriate outcomes in their sphere of influence.

    Each person in his or her “vocation” is producing a set of outcomes that in essence serve others. Regardless if we like it or not, we are all interconnected in such a way as to provide a network of dependency that causes others to be enriched or to fail depending upon the way we work to reach our outcomes.

    Jim Killebrew

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