Take your calling to work

How people in any career can contribute to God’s mission in the world

By John Elton Pletcher
Take your calling to work
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/DanielMirer

Zach’s architectural career has lost the razzle-dazzle of earlier years. He wonders if designing fancy, high-priced buildings holds any lasting significance. Perhaps God wants him to respond to a “higher calling.”

Maggie owns a mobile veterinary clinic. She loves animals, but deep down, she despises their pesky owners. Amid her frustrations, she wonders if there is any eternal consequence to her daily work with critters.

Ben, a seasoned doctor, sits in yet another board meeting at the hospital, stroking his goatee and twisting what little hair is left on his head. He wonders if all the wrangling ad nauseam over administrative minutiae could possibly have heavenly value.

How can Christian mechanics, painters, designers, lawyers, pastors, stay-at-home moms, and math teachers—or people in any career—discover God’s perspective on their daily work? How can they carry the primary call on their lives—to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbor—into their places of work? And how, in so doing, can they contribute to God’s mission in the world? Scripture actually reveals quiet truths, often missed amid the frenzy of our preconceived notions and busy lives. If properly applied to our attitudes and actions, such truth can both strengthen our sense of significance and motivate us in healthier ways for the work God assigns us.

The Bible at work

From cover to cover, the Bible echoes a resoundingly positive view of work. Such biblical perspective conveys empowering implications for our own workplace approaches. Prior to humanity’s fall and the resulting curse, work was all good. Genesis 1:26–28 announces the imago Dei—the powerful truth that we are made in God’s image and hold intrinsic value. What’s more, because we are made in God’s image, we are uniquely called to reflect His kingly creativity and bring it into our own work. The ancient Hebrew word for work conveys rich layers of meaning—including labor, worship, and service.

Adam and Eve’s fall and the resulting curse brought about ugly work outcomes (Gen. 3:17–19), but the God of redemption intervened. His plan involved full-scope redemption, the saving of humans as well as the whole of created nature—a process of restoration repeated throughout Scripture and continued today. And, as scholar Darrell Cosden points out in his book The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, our work is included in the reach of God’s gracious salvation.

Christ probably knew the workplace and its business people quite well, living the bulk of His life as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Many of Christ’s parables shed light on the dynamic relationship between God’s kingdom and the ordinary work of Christ’s followers. Jesus’ classic parable of the “talents” shows that the reward for good work is more work (Matt. 25:14–30). According to theologian Ben Witherington, God is delighted when we do work well, for His glory, matching His purposes. Jesus even declared that His Father was always working and would reveal even greater works (John 5:16–20).

God is delighted when we do work well, for his glory, matching his purposes.

The Apostle Paul declared that creation—which includes ongoing creative works, both God’s and ours—is groaning in anticipation of full redemption and glory (Rom. 8:18–22). Our salvation by grace through faith includes God’s marvelous new creation and plans for us to do good works (Eph. 2:8–10). Since the original creation included the imago Dei and our co-creative work, we can understand such glory to include eventual redemption of tangible work in the New Creation (Isa. 65:21–23; Rev. 21–22).

Highs and lows at work

But, let’s be real; we all still groan. The longing in Ecclesiastes 2:22 expresses our raw quest for significance: “So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety?” (New Living Translation)

Amid such frustration, the classic approach has been to dichotomize our thinking and compartmentalize our actions. For centuries, people have chosen to split their sacred calling from their secular work, resulting in a great divide. Certain roles and tasks get labeled as high (church services on Sundays, global missions work, and pastoral roles). Others are deemed low (farming, fixing cars, constructing buildings, and leading a sales team).

God offers us a more holistic vision. For Christians, calling includes all of life as holy vocation. Christ called us to love the Lord with all we are (Matt. 22:37–38) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Paul insisted that we glorify God in whatever we do (1 Cor. 10:31). Our faith in Christ should have a direct impact on how we work every day. We are called to boldly integrate all of life, to serve others for God’s glory.

Missionaries at work

More intentionally integrating our work and faith leads to profound fulfillment of mission. Our daily work actually plays an amazing role in the missio Dei, God’s mission in this world. When Christ-followers overcome the dualistic thinking of “church” and “work,” we can begin to view the daily workplace as our primary mission field.

In The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Christopher Wright argues for greater understanding and application of the missio Dei. Such integration will produce a more missional approach in our own workplace stories. Daily work can be infused with a service orientation that truly matches Christ’s call to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:39)—including clients, customers, and business contacts—in more profound ways. Theologian Miroslav Volf, in his book Work in the Spirit, suggests we can actually serve in our everyday jobs in more energized ways, based on our spiritual gifts. With new life in Christ, we now fulfill God’s original mission as His co-workers. We “rule and reign” as He originally intended. We help create new culture, and we partner with Him in His kingly, redemptive plans for a new kingdom (Matt. 5–7). Kingdom workers enact justice, right wrongs, heal the sick, feed the poor, and cultivate human flourishing.

In addition, glorious work in the here and now leads to further opportunities for more effective witness. Relationships can be cultivated over time and lead to conversations of eternal consequence. Curiosity can be piqued. Co-workers and other work associates can ask questions, opening deeper and wider conversations regarding the life-changing hope found in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

Moreover, when we embrace and embody God’s mission in our everyday jobs, our work can make Christ more and more famous! The outcomes of our daily work glorify God and have lasting significance. As we offer stellar products and services, reflecting our original Creator, we are in fact fulfilling our call to love God with all we have (Matt. 22:37–38).

Faith at work

Deep down, we all feel those frustrations with Zach, Maggie, and Ben. So we each must ask: Will I purposefully take my faith calling, strengthened by biblical truth, into my daily workplace so God is glorified? When we do, we discover a marvelous match-up of our efforts with God’s redemptive mission. Every Christ-follower can become a workplace missionary. Will you passionately take your calling to work?

This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 issue of In Part magazine.
John Elton Pletcher

John Elton Pletcher is lead pastor of Manor Church (Lancaster, Pa.). He explores the spiritual dimensions of our everyday work in Henry’s Glory: A Story of Discovering Lasting Significance in Your Daily Work (Resource Publications, 2013).

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