All followers of Jesus are called. Individually. In regards to their work. We were created by Jesus Christ to do something eternally significant at work. When we listen for the voice of Jesus and obey His call to a personal work assignment, then we are literally part of fulfilling God’s purpose and agenda in the world. But hearing and responding to His voice isn’t always a simple process.
A member of our team loves to fish. Every year he goes on a fishing expedition with three friends. Three of those annual trips have been on the Buffalo River in the Ozark National Forest, right here in Arkansas. The last 25 miles of the Buffalo, just before it dumps into the White River, is a remote wilderness area with no road access. Besides having breathtaking beauty, it is peaceful and serene and you almost never see any other people.
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It takes four days of floating and camping to fish all the way to the White River. You haven’t really lived until you have done a little top-water smallmouth bass fishing on the lower end of the Buffalo.
But the group’s first trip was memorable for more than the fishing. As usual, they were equipment heavy. They loaded all their food, camping apparatus and fishing gear into the flat-bottomed, 18-foot riverboats. They waved good-bye to the toothless stranger who had promised to deliver the cars to them at the end of the trip. They shoved off and went on their way.
Less than 400 yards into the 25-mile trip is a sharp bend to the right. As they approached the turn, they heard a noise that sounded distinctly like a waterfall. Directly ahead of them was a steep drop. They couldn’t believe it. They had been in the water less than five minutes, their cars were gone, and no one expected to see them for four days.
They were not happy. There were some mumbled comments like: “I thought this was supposed to be the Buffalo, not Niagara.” Then they huddled up and did all they knew to do. They got in the water and wrestled the boats, one by one, around the drop-off and through the rapids. Getting to four wonderful days of fishing meant they had to do some tricky navigation at the beginning of the trip.
Understanding the calling of Jesus on our work life often feels like trying to pilot a fragile boat through troubled waters. It can be an unsettling process. Hard questions have to be asked, like: “What was I created to accomplish?” “Am I fulfilled through the work I am doing?” “Is this the work Jesus wants me to do?” “Am I continually pulled other directions and towards other opportunities?”
Sometimes career course corrections and transitions are the result. But the earlier we hear and heed the calling of Jesus in regards to our career, the more productive and meaningful our life at work will be.
What is calling? What does it mean to be called by Jesus to our work?
1. WE ARE CALLED BY JESUS TO SERVE GOD’S PURPOSE
Calling is Jesus Christ’s personal invitation for us to work on His agenda, using the talents we’ve been given, in ways that are eternally significant. The invitation is personal to each individual from Jesus. Our work involves God’s agenda in history. Jesus created us with a gift-mix and internal wiring package that aligns with our work assignment. And the work He calls us to has eternal significance. What could possibly be more fulfilling?
The concept of calling in Scripture is confusing if we don’t understand the difference between calling, purpose and meaning. They are not the same, but they are closely connected.
Purpose in Scripture is synonymous with God’s sovereign design, His overarching view of history and what He is accomplishing. We are to serve God’s purpose, whatever it is, even though we do not necessarily know all the details.
For example, Acts 13:36 points out that King David “… served God’s purpose in his own generation …” David’s work included stints as a shepherd, a musician, a soldier and a king. Did David know how the work he was called to fit into God’s agenda for history? Yes, to some degree. How? Because God gave David an explanation that is recorded in II Samuel 7:5-16. Are most followers of Jesus aware how their work contributes to God’s agenda in history? No. Access to that kind of detailed background information regarding God’s purpose is very unusual, even for the men and women we meet in the pages of Scripture. We may or may not know God’s purpose. But we must know and understand God’s call. That is our job.
Many think their purpose will be fulfilled if they make it to the next rung on the ladder or when they become their own boss and launch their own company. They are pulled to do something bigger, but that search for purpose is always outside their grasp. However, to search for purpose in career advancements, or in our increasing net worth, or in fulfilling our dreams, completely misses the point. Those are not the things that give our work purpose. Our work has purpose because a called work effort contributes to God’s agenda for this place and this time. Put differently, our work literally has eternal significance when we are called to what we are doing. We serve God’s purpose by listening for, knowing and obeying the calling of Jesus Christ on our work life.
If we serve God’s purpose by knowing our calling, then work satisfaction comes as a gift from Him. King Solomon, one of the wisest and wealthiest men of all time, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes near the end of his life. One entire part of the book is devoted to work. In that section Solomon hammers at the theme that a godly man will find meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment in his work:
“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24-25)
Solomon repeats the same encouragement in 3:12-13, 3:22 and 5:18. But he also issues a warning. Does everyone receive the gift of work satisfaction from God? No. Only those who are followers of Jesus:
“To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (2:26)
We serve God’s purpose by knowing God’s calling. Then God offers us the gift of work satisfaction.
2. OUR CALLING IS WORK SPECIFIC
Calling in the Bible refers both to Jesus calling us to Himself, as well as Jesus calling us to a specific work assignment. When the apostle Paul proclaims that we are “called according to His purpose”(KJV) in Romans 8:28, he is explaining how Jesus saves us and adopts us into His family. But when God says to Jeremiah: “Before you were born … I appointed you as a prophet to the nations,” (Jeremiah 1:5) the calling is to a specific work assignment. God had a job for Jeremiah.
God also had work for Moses. His instructions were very specific: “I am sending you to Pharaoh,” God says, “to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). That work assignment was to occupy Moses for the rest of his career and life, a span of more than 40 years.
God’s call to work is woven as a theme from Genesis to Revelation – Abraham in Genesis 12:1, Joshua in Numbers 27:18-23, Deborah in Judges 4, Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1, Matthew in Mark 2:14 … The list goes on and on, and it presents a clear picture: God calls people to work.
God has work for each of us. Our job is not some arbitrary and random choice that makes no difference.
Its primary objective is not to put food on the table and provide a comfortable retirement. It is not some unfortunate necessity that we do only to enjoy the “fun stuff” such as vacations, weekends and retirement. Work is not a punishment or a curse. Our individual work calling is part of God’s larger agenda in history. To be called to our work means we know what we are doing is what Jesus wants us to do. That should allow us to bring a tremendous energy and enthusiasm to our work.
But we also need to be careful. Work is not the sum total of our life, nor was it ever meant to be. We must never hide behind our calling as an excuse for our work to own us in inappropriate ways. As one who is called, we will work very hard. But it is Jesus who calls us, not our job. Unless we understand that distinction, the job that Jesus calls us to can actually end up calling us away from Him.
3. JESUS DESIGNED US SPECIFICALLY FOR OUR WORK
The people in our organization could not be more different in how they approach work. They do similar tasks. They share the same values. They use the same technology. But they are very different.
Some come at work like engineers, operating best when a process is in place or can be designed. They love systems. They say things like “A good process turns out a good product.” Their thinking is linear. Knowing and following procedure is important. In their way of thinking, the best work is done behind the scenes, in preparation for rolling it out in public.
Others are in their best element as facilitators in a fast-moving meeting full of complex problems and difficult issues. They revel in free flow of information and ideas. Put them in a pressure situation where they have to think on their feet and figure things out on the spot, and they will shine. In their way of thinking, the best work is done in public. Behind-the-scenes preparation is OK, but it may not prove to be that relevant.
Each of us was designed from the very beginning by God to accomplish His purpose. Listen to David reflect on how God uniquely shapes us for our work assignments:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)
Each of us was designed from the very beginning by God to accomplish His purpose. Would it make any sense for God to form and equip us with precise intention, and then call us to do something that does not fit who we are? If God created us to serve His purpose, and if God formed and “wired” us with awesomely precise intention, then our calling should be closely aligned with our makeup.
Jesus is calling. Have we heard? What are we doing?
4 WAYS GOD CALLS US TO WORK
1. God calls me directly by name.
· God actually calls me by my name, audibly. – Moses (Exodus 3:1-10)
· God tells me what my work will look like. – Paul (Acts 9:4-6)
2. God places a desire in my heart.
· I feel a responsibility to accomplish a task and to meet a need. – Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1)
3. God arranges my path.
· I have no list of options, no choices. – Josiah (2 Kings 22)
· It is all pre-arranged for me. – John the Baptist (Mark 1:2-7)
4. God prepares an attractive option.
· I have been led to choose an opportunity. – Elisha (1 Kings 19:20-21)
· It is not a matter of coincidence, but it may seem that way. – Stephen (Acts 6:2-4)
Written by Thomas Addington and Stephen Graves, founding editors of The Life@Work® Journal and founders of Cornerstone Group, a consulting firm that uses Biblical principles to help organizations grow. Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash. Used by permission. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.