Calling in the Theology of Work
The Universal Call to Work
Before we can discuss the possibility of God’s guidance to a particular kind of work, we must acknowledge God’s command that everyone work to the degree they are able. God’s command or call to work comes at the very beginning of the Bible, where God chooses to involve human beings in the work of creation, production, and sustenance. Work continues through to the very end of the Bible. There is work in the garden of Eden, and there is work in the New Heaven and New Earth.
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:27–28)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.… So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. (Gen. 2:15, 19–20)
Six days you shall labor and do all your work. (Ex. 20:9)
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. (2 Thess. 3:10)
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. (Rev. 21:24–26)
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (Isa. 65:21–22)
Based on these passages, we could say that everyone is called to work, as long as we recognize that in this sense called really means “commanded.” God commands you to work, even if he does not mail you a specific job offer. In fact, God’s command to work might be fulfilled in some other way than a paid job. We will discuss God’s guidance to a particular job or kind of work a bit later.
Calling to Life, Not Only to Work
Although we are focusing on God’s call to work, work is only one element of life. God calls us to belong to Christ in every element of our lives: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Our jobs are not necessarily the most important aspect of our calling or our service in Christ’s work of redemption. First, we must remember that work is not limited to paid work. The work God leads us to may be unpaid work, such as raising children or caring for a disabled family member or tutoring students after school. God probably does not call many of us to paid jobs that prevent us from unpaid work entirely.
Even if you have a paid job, the main work God calls you to may be outside the job. The job may meet your need for money—and that in itself does make it part of God’s command to work—but it may not fulfill all the other purposes God has for your work. We have seen that caring for children and for aged or incapacitated people is a kind of work, and many people who do it have another paid job. On the other hand, a so-called hobby could be the work God is leading you to instead of your paid job. You might work at writing, painting, music, acting, astronomy, leading a youth group, volunteering at a historical society, maintaining a nature reserve, or a thousand other kinds of work. If something like this is your calling, you will probably engage it in a more serious way than someone else to whom it is a leisure activity. There is a distinction between work and leisure.2 However, any given activity could be work—paid or unpaid—for one person, yet be leisure for another.
Second, we must take care not to let work dominate the other elements of life. Even if God leads you to a particular job or profession, you will need to set limits to that work to make room for the other elements of God’s call or guidance in your life. If God leads you to be married and to be a small business owner, for example, then you will have to balance the time and responsibilities of both callings. Work should not crowd out leisure, rest, and worship. There is no formula for balancing work and the other elements of life. Thus, take care not to let a sense of calling to a job blind you to God’s calling in the other areas of life.
God’s Guidance to Particular Work
At this point, we are now able to delve into the possibility of God’s guidance to a particular task, job, career, or type of work. We have seen that (1) everyone is called to belong to Christ and to participate in his creative and redemptive work; (2) it is rare for God to call someone directly and unmistakably to particular work; (3) everyone is commanded to work to the degree they are able, but God does not usually provide a particular job offer; and (4) God calls us to a whole life, not just to a job.
Putting these four together leads us to conclude that your profession is not God’s highest concern for you. If it were, he would make a direct, unmistakable call to you. Barring that, God is much more concerned that you engage in work in accordance with his word and that you come under the saving grace of Christ and participate in his work of creation and redemption. Exactly what kind of work you do is a lower-level concern.
Although getting us into the right job or career is not God’s highest concern, that does not mean it is of no concern. In fact, the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit is to guide and empower people for the life and work to which God leads them. In the Old Testament, God gave people the skills needed for their work on occasion, as we have seen with Bezalel and Oholiab. Now, the Spirit routinely guides believers to particular work and gives them the skills they need (1 Cor. 12:7–10).3 He provides guidance for both what kind of work people do and how to do that work.