Vocation, or, To what life and work does God call you?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question, often addressed to children or grandchildren in the range of four to ten years old, can yield some very entertaining answers. “A fireman!” “A nurse!” “I want to be a doctor!” “A teacher!” “A mommy!” It is especially interesting when the young girl answers very emphatically, “I want to be a minister!” Ah, we have some instructing to do here. This is harmless fun, and it is interesting to chart where the children’s interests lie and how their aspirations change as they mature.

Yet, at some point in our children’s lives the question should be changed to something like, “What do you think God might be calling you to do with your life?” This is the question that Christians must face, and that parents should help their children consider seriously. For the Christian, the question never is, “What do I want to do with my life?” Rather, it is, “What does God will for my life?” The path to knowing God’s will is relatively easy and straightforward for some. For many it is not. It is the search for the right path that this and a subsequent editorial will explore, with a particular goal of encouraging the youth seriously to consider serving God and His church as directly as possible, specifically as teachers and ministers.

What is your God-given calling in this life? This question makes two assumptions that require demonstration. First, it assumes that God has a specific calling for each and every Christian. Second, it assumes that each Christian can discover what that calling is.

I Corinthians 7:20 speaks of the Christian’s calling. The inspired apostle exhorts the believers, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” The “he was called” refers to the call of God by the Spirit in the preaching of the gospel—the effectual call unto salvation. However, the “same calling” refers to the believer’s work, for the apostle continues in verse 21, “Art thou called being a servant?” that is to say, “Were you a slave when you became a believer? Was that your place in life—your calling?” That place and work was the calling in which God had placed them.

The Belgic Confession, Article 12, points to the reality that God has a calling for each person. Describing God’s work of creating all things, it begins,

We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by His Son, hath created of nothing, the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto Him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator.

While the article gives an overview of the various creatures that God made, it applies to each individual person as well. God gave to every human being his “being, shape, form, and several offices to serve [His] Creator.” An office is a particular position or a specific work. In other words, it is a calling. You, believer, were created in a specific way to serve your Creator in a specific calling.

The truth of God’s sovereign, all-comprehensive counsel also supports the idea that all Christians have a God-given calling. God’s counsel is His eternal will or plan of what He has determined, which plan includes all creatures and events. Isaiah 46:9-11 sets forth this truth as explicitly as can be found in the Bible. God testifies through the prophet:

I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Truly, God has planned all things, and He executes the same by His powerful, governing providence. In this counsel, your life is determined. If God in His counsel knows “the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:9); if God’s own Son was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” in order that He might be by “wicked hands…crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23); if God could say to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5), why would anyone think it would be different for his or her life? Each one has a God-determined path, which includes his calling.

This doctrine of predestination likewise has implications with regard to calling. God has predestined each one of His beloved unto the adoption of children (Eph. 1:4, 5). Each one of those predestinated ones is part of a temple, built on Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, “in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22). Each member is called a “lively stone,” and together the living stones form a “spiritual house” (I Pet. 2:5).

From this it is clear that, not only is your life determined by God in His eternal plan, but God also has a place, a function, and a work in His church for you. And these two things are, in God’s perfect wisdom, in complete harmony—your life’s calling, and your place and work in God’s church on this earth, whether that earthly position and work is that of an auto mechanic, an accountant, a homemaker, a doctor, an engineer, assembly line worker, truck driver, farmer, or teacher. God determines the church, with all the “living stones” perfectly planned. All the members are unique, and all have gifts, experiences, and labors that shape them for their respective places in the church.

It truly is exciting to observe the gifts that the various members possess to serve the church. Some members excel in scholarship and love to study. One such member might research past decisions of synods on a matter and report back to the consistory. Another searches the Scriptures and is a fount of wisdom and knowledge in the Bible society meetings. Some members have notable gifts in writing, whether it be a consistory report, or a lovely and encouraging letter to the missionaries. Still others are blessed with good, sanctified common sense—one of the most important qualities ever found in an elder or deacon. Others work with their hands and do astounding work serving the church through physical labors. Other members have great compassion for the weak members of the congregation. The point is, God choses His church eternally and forms the members according to His perfect plan, so that each will be able to serve His church in some way for the blessing of the church and the glory of His name.

Part of that perfect plan of God is the vocation, the individual’s life-work. God uses their respective vocations as part of the molding process that fashions men and women for their places in the church here on this earth, and, in some mysterious way, understood only by God the Master Builder, for their places in the church universal in the new heavens and earth. To that end, God has formed you for a particular work in this life, and He calls you to labor in that calling, that vocation.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the same in Lord’s Day 49. Expounding the petition “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” the Catechism instructs:

[G]rant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey Thy will, which is only good; that so every one may attend to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven.

The will of God on the foreground in this petition is not the will of God’s command—that is part of the prayer for forgiveness and sanctification in later petitions. Rather, it is the will of God’s counsel. In all the circumstances of our lives, we are to renounce our will and obediently submit to God’s will. We are to desire that God’s will be done in our lives.

As we have seen, that will of God includes our calling. The angels in heaven have a station and calling, and they fulfill their calling perfectly. We all have a station and calling. Whether it is wife, mother, husband, father, carpenter, nurse, or machine operator, our work a station and calling.

Do you know that station and calling for yourself? For many who read this, it is clear to you. Your life, or better, God’s counsel, has directed you into a certain path, and you have a place and position in this world to which you know you are called. It would be very difficult to change that calling. A husband and father must provide for his family, and may not simply quit his job and see what might come up. A wife and mother may not simply desert her vital post and try a new career, leaving husband and children to fend for themselves. For many individuals, their vocation is pleasing to them—they enjoy what they do. Others go to work purely out of necessity—unsatisfied and not relishing another day on the job—obviously not a pleasant thing. But the believer must seek to work in his or her calling as faithfully as the angels in heaven. This includes working not to please men, but to please the Lord. And (in the previously quoted I Cor. 7:20) the Lord even admonishes the worker not to be too quick to change vocations, charging that a “man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” May one never change occupations, then? Does one’s vocation never change? John Calvin dismisses that idea in his commentary on this verse. He also gives good counsel based on this admonition.

Now it were a very hard thing if a tailor were not at liberty to learn another trade, or if a merchant were not at liberty to betake himself to farming. I answer, that this is not what the Apostle intends, for he has it simply in view to correct that inconsiderate eagerness, which prompts some to change their condition without any proper reason, whether they do it from superstition, or from any other motive. Farther, he calls every one to this rule also—that they bear in mind what is suitable to their calling. He does not, therefore, impose upon anyone the necessity of continuing in the kind of life which he has once taken up, but rather condemns that restlessness, which prevents an individual from remaining in his condition with a peaceable mind.

We trust that is has been made plain that every believer has a particular calling from God. We turn next to the way of coming to know what that calling is. The focus will definitely be on the youth, and on the parents seeking to guide their youth in this endeavor. It is not an option for the believer. Each must seek to know that particular work to which God calls His own.