Editor's note:

“Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry,” writes A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God. “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.”

Tozer is right, of course, but it’s still tempting to think of some jobs as holier than others, especially if our vision of the Gospel is smaller than it should be. My thanks to Faith Today for inviting me to explore my own theology of vocation, and for allowing me to share my reflections here.

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

I was scheduled to speak in a prairie town at a Christian conference. One of my dearest friends from university teaches college in the area. We’d lost contact, so I googled her. I discovered her profile on “RateYourProfessors.com.”

I hesitated to look at my friend’s scores. I knew disgruntled students are typically more motivated than happy ones to “rate” their professors. Still, I clicked on Sally’s name.

I read the posted comments through tears of pride. “She makes learning fun,” wrote one student. “English was my most hated subject. After having Sally, it’s one of my favorites,” professed another. “Best teacher I ever had!” exclaimed a third, summing up the apparent sentiments of countless others. It was thrilling to get a bird’s eye view of a friend making a difference.

I eventually tracked Sally down. We connected over pizza. After a while, she sighed.

“I read your conference bio online,” she said. “I’m so proud of you. But I wonder about my life. You’re out there doing things for God, and I’m just here teaching English.”

I was shocked. How could my friend be teaching college kids to love language, ideas, and themselves, and not think she was doing things for God?

I assured Sally that God was obviously doing things through her. We found ourselves unpacking how we’d been raised to think about vocation.

As kids, Sal and I learned that the point of life is to tell people about Jesus. When we contemplated our future vocations, there were three faithful options: homemaking, jobs that allowed us to explicitly share the Gospel, or employment that earned money to support ministries. We had been taught to prioritize the salvation of individual souls. But I don’t recall hearing much about participating in the redemption of culture.

We had what author and speaker Gabe Lyons calls a “half-story” gospel. Lyons and others argue the Bible reveals a sweeping drama unfolding in four acts—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Our childhood churches had zeroed in on Acts 2 and 3—the problem of sin and the solution of the cross. The fervor for those middle acts was good. But our understanding of Acts 1 and 4 was impoverished.

It’s in Act 1 that God creates a world teeming with possibility. When he asks Adam to name the animals, the Creator is inviting human beings to join him in governing creation. If we take Act 1 seriously, we begin to see that every time we participate in good governance, creative endeavor, the cultivation of beauty, or the nurture and protection of created things, we participate in the gospel—in the story of God’s good plans for all He’s made.

Better yet, we see in Act 4 that God intends not to annihilate his creation but to restore it—to make “everything new” (Revelation 21:5).

If we wonder what a restored creation might be like, the prophets reveal that what God has planned is shalom—a peace that Andy Crouch calls, “the comprehensive flourishing of all things.” Isaiah’s vision of shalom includes the turning of swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4), and wolves living peacefully with lambs (Isaiah 11:6). Jesus promises it involves freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). Paul envisions a reality that obliterates racial, socio-economic or gender hierarchy (Galatians 3:28).

If Acts 2 and 3 show us it’s important to tell people about Jesus, Acts 1 and 4 tell us it’s important to cooperate with Him in His plans for the world. We are to be what pastor and author Jonathan Martin calls “people from the future”—people who, because Christ lives within us, carry His coming shalom into our current contexts.

There’s no job in which we are not called to be a sign of the goodness God intends for his creation.

Author Kai Nilsen asks what would happen if our churches had commissioning services for accountants every April. If Sally’s church commissioned teachers each fall, would she see her offerings of syntax and story as in-breaking shalom? What if we commissioned our janitors, CEOs, and new mothers? Would we start to see that God’s interests and plot twists are more varied than we can imagine?

Ever since our pizza night, Sally and I have begun to envision a less-abridged version of God’s story. We worry less about “doing things for God.” We’re far too busy delighting in the things that God is doing for His creation … even through us.

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First published in the March/April 2016 issue of Faith Today, and used gratefully with their permission.

Originally published April 2016.