A Journey toward Understanding Work
I believe how we view our work and how we do our work matters a great deal more than we might imagine. Yet when it comes to this important area of my life, particularly how my work connects to my Christian faith, I must confess I have often found myself in a thick fog. Sad to say, as both a follower of Jesus and as one whose work is to assist others in their spiritual growth, I have repeatedly run aground on some pretty rocky theological shorelines. With the best of intentions and the sincerest of heart, I have led others aground on some faulty ideas about faith and work.
I have wrongly viewed some kinds of work as being more important than others. On several occasions in my life, I have drifted to the perilous edge of workaholism, conveniently making an idol out of my work. For way too long, I did not see work as an essential component of a broader, robust theology of Christian calling, nor did I see how the gospel transforms work. I failed to grasp that a primary stewardship of my pastoral work was to assist and equip others to better connect the professions of their Sunday faith with the practices of their Monday work.
As a pastor, I regret that I have often given minority attention to what most of us do the majority of our time. I am most grateful for the extra measure of grace extended to me by so many as I have wrestled to more integrally incorporate a biblical theology of vocation into my own life and ministry.
A Rewarding Way Forward
Out of my own inadequacies and shortcomings, an increasing passion has been birthed in my heart. Even in a small way, I long to help clear the fog that has settled in the minds of many followers of Jesus who deeply desire to faithfully integrate their Christian faith into their work.
David Miller, who is one of the foremost thinkers on faith and work, speaks of the growing number of us who live increasingly bifurcated lives in which faith and work seldom seem to connect. David observes, “Many who are Christians complain of a ‘Sunday-Monday gap,’ where their Sunday worship hour bears little to no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours.”1 If you feel fogged in when it comes to your faith and your work, if you sense a sizable gap, let me assure you that in God’s sovereign grace there is a transforming and rewarding way forward.
Vocation: A Broad and Sweeping Reality
The theology of Christian vocation is wide and sweeping in its breadth and significance. The word vocation simply means “calling.” Properly understood, Christian vocation is centered in a sovereign God who calls us to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and to follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit as his disciples.
The good news of the gospel is that a transforming relationship with God is not based on anything we have done or could ever do, but on what Christ has already done for us by shedding his atoning blood on the cross. In Christ we experience a new birth and we live brand-new lives in his kingdom here and now. We are and continue to be transformed in and through the power of the gospel.
Our work, too, is transformed. When we come to the foot of the cross, we bring with us what we do as well as who we are. The gospel, properly understood, leads us to a seamless faith.
Os Guinness has given considerable thought to a robust theology of vocation. Keeping the gospel central, Os makes a helpful distinction between our primary calling and our secondary callings. He rightly points out that Scripture first and foremost emphasizes our primary calling to Christ. Os writes, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone, not to something or to somewhere.”2
But Os also insightfully points out that each one of us has also been given a secondary calling, and an essential aspect of this particular calling is to do a specific work. Yet because we refer to work as a secondary calling, we must not in any way minimize work’s importance in living lives of Christian faithfulness.
A large portion of our time on earth is given to our work, and we would be wise to take this stewardship seriously.
This article is adapted from Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson
1. David Miller, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith and Work Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 9.
2. Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 31.
Four New Testament passages provide a cross section of the New Testament’s teaching on how to love God through our work.
This side of the sin at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, our work is ruined by all manner of afflictions moral, physical, emotional, and mental.
The theological doctrine of calling is a rich, rich doctrine all of us should wrestle with and embrace.