For Christians, work is an integral part of our calling, and our vocation is more than a job or career. But working this out can be challenging. If our occupations are part of our Father’s creative and sanctifying work in the world, we’ve got quite a bit of rethinking to do. Aligning our vocation with God’s great purposes takes grace and ingenuity.
We are all called by our Father to live the life of Christ in each aspect of our world, especially where we spend sixty percent or more of our waking hours—at work. Cultivating our vocation is a matter of listening to God in the particulars of our work situation and discovering the unique things we’ve been created to do. Cultivating our job may mean taking what we have to work with and recreating it.
The Sacred. The Profane.
The divide in the world is not just between the sacred and the secular, it’s between the sacred and the profane. Part of our vocation is to take the profane and make it holy. “For we are coworkers in God’s service” (1 Cor 3:9), taking what has gone wrong and putting it right.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Good work adds value to society and serves the common good. It sanctifies the profane. Most of us, when we look at our jobs, need to raise our expectations and “get in the game.” We should challenge each other to never settle for anything less in any aspect of our lives than the spiritual and moral greatness the power of the Holy Spirit makes possible through our work.
Aligning our specific careers with God’s mission is an ongoing work throughout our lives. However, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and other Christians, we can literally become co-creators with God as we perceive our work as his calling.
Cleaning as a Calling
Take a recent study of a cleaning crew at a university hospital. While many on the crew viewed their jobs as mundane, unskilled, and even demeaning, others saw their jobs as valued, highly skilled, and rewarding. For them, cleaning hospital rooms was a calling.
One hospital room housed a comatose patient in rehab waiting to emerge from her coma. Each time a particular worker cleaned the room, she would take down all the framed paintings and rearrange them. She hoped that moving them would spark something and speed up the patient’s recovery.
When asked if it was part of her job description, she said, “It’s not part of my job, but it’s a part of me.” She described herself as a healer because she creates safe, sterile spaces where patients can heal.
She wasn’t alone. Other like-minded coworkers had creatively expanded their roles in many areas, for example:
- Working with the staff, they developed procedures to determine when it was safe to give a drink of water, help a patient move when asked, and when to call for help.
- By looking at the ceiling when they entered a room, they could see it from the patient’s perspective in case anything needed to be corrected.
- They took note if anyone seemed nervous, troubled, or didn’t seem to have visitors and would stop by to check on them. Purposefully thinking of their own family and how they personally would like to be treated, they took into consideration the patient’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.
Developing their jobs in this way provided them greater meaning and purpose—it’s what the authors of the study have called “job crafting.” But their personal satisfaction wasn’t the primary goal. It was the outcome of doing something important and of value to society and others.
NPR’s “Hidden Brain” recently did a podcast with one of the authors of the cleaning crew study. More insights are also available from a recently recorded presentation the author gave for Google employees.
Job Crafting Means Changing Our Thinking
I see three particular ways we can craft our jobs like some on this cleaning crew did: adapting the tasks we do, investing in the relationships we have with workers and customers, and changing the way we think about what we do for a living. In many instances, it’s not a matter of doing something new, but having a different perspective on what you’re already doing.
We are working for our Father 24/7, 365 days a year. While I don’t know the faith backgrounds of the cleaning crew members studied, they seemed to take what seemed mundane and menial and treat it as the sacred work it is.
For believers, the perspective of working for our Father changes everything. Success is in God’s hands, faithfulness in ours. No matter how hostile or challenging our work environments might be, God is with us. We need his direction, guidance, and grace in order to be aligned with his purposes as we serve him and others. As his coworkers, filled with his Holy Spirit, we let others taste the kingdom of God.
As we become adept at cultivating our vocation, we can use job crafting to draw others into the work of the kingdom, further aligning them to their own created purpose. How we do that will be specific to our situations and take a little creativity.
But then, creativity has always been a big part of our Father’s work.