Vocation, or, To what life and work does God call you? (2)

Previous article in this series: March 15, 2018, p. 269.

The truth of God’s absolute sovereignty is beautiful and comforting to the believer. God leaves nothing to chance. This is embedded in the Reformed believer’s confession of his greatest comfort: “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” This same Jesus, “so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1). Indeed, fellow believer, Jesus executes the counsel of God, and every step of your journey is directed to bring you to your place in glory. That includes your vocation—the work to which God calls you in this earthly pilgrimage.

In the previous editorial, it was demonstrated that God has a specific calling for each of His children, and that every believer can discover what that calling is. We take up now the question of how this is to be done. It is our desire to assist parents and their youth looking to discover their life’s calling.

We point out, first of all, some general considerations or guidelines in the process of seeking God’s will. One of the first elements that comes to mind is money, and that is a legitimate factor, rightly considered. How much a job pays is not the overriding factor, but it is significant, especially for the man who is or hopes to be the “bread winner” for a wife and family. The Reformed “Marriage Form” gives this admonition to the husband:

And since it is God’s command that the man shall eat his bread in the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19), therefore you are to labor diligently and faithfully in the calling wherein God hath set you, that you may maintain your household honestly, and likewise have something to give to the poor.

With this obligation laid on him, a man pursues a calling that enables him to provide for his family and support the causes of the kingdom, including the thousands of tuition dollars for Christian education. At the same time, the size of the paycheck should not crowd out all other considerations. For the fact is that, frequently, the life-style and spending habits of a family are more important than a man’s take-home pay. Many a family on a large income cannot seem to make ends meet due to extravagant living, while, on the other hand, many other families make it just fine on far less money. For all that, a responsible man consciously seeks a job that will enable him to support family, church, and school.

More serious is the matter of church membership. Someone examining a particular vocation must be sure that it will not lead him or her away from membership in a faithful Reformed church. For a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches, that means membership in a Protestant Reformed congregation. Each must consciously face the question, “Will I be able to hold this occupation and live near a Protestant Reformed church where I can be an active member in the same?”

In addition, it should be obvious that some occupations are ruled out because they lead to compromise with Christian principles, yea, even violations of God’s express commands. This includes a violation of the fourth commandment (working on Sunday, not in a work of necessity or mercy), the fifth (joining a labor union that may strike), or the eighth or ninth (stealing or dishonesty). Jesus’ word applies here—“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

In addition to facing these general considerations, the believer seeking to determine God’s will regarding his vocation must make a personal evaluation of himself. God, the all-wise Creator, has formed each one for the place and function in society and in the church that He determined. An evaluation of his interests and God-given gifts will direct a believer in his search for God’s will. This starts with one’s personality. Although a particular personality does not necessarily pinpoint one’s calling, it can help rule out some. An individual with a stern and unsympathetic personality must not seek nursing as an occupation. A believer who prefers to follow rather than to lead should not attempt to start his own business. Some personalities are fit for certain vocations, and others are not.

In addition, in this process of coming to know God’s will, the believer must take stock of his gifts, both physical and intellectual. Young believers should not only examine themselves, but they would also be well advised to seek out the help of other responsible Christians who know them well. Closely associated with that are their interests—what they enjoy doing. This is not necessarily determinative either, but a young person seeking his vocation may legitimately look for something that he enjoys and is good at. Past education and training can also help determine one’s calling.

These personal considerations are guides giving some direction, even though often in negative ways. That is to say, one can conclude that he is not called to this or that vocation because he lacks the necessary gifts or personality. A young person must evaluate all these elements, and with much prayer, seek to know God’s will for his life.

And then, there is the matter of opportunity. Very significant in determining one’s calling are the options available to the individual. The possible vocations available to a believer at a given time as determined by God direct him in discerning God’s will. Allow me to demonstrate this with just one personal example. While attending high school, I became convinced that my calling was to teach in a high school, with at least some courses in my first love, mathematics. I went to college with that determination and expectation. It seemed clear to me that God’s will was that I teach in Covenant Christian High School (the only high school supported by Protestant Reformed members at that time). I based this on my evaluation and my desire—I loved mathematics; I wanted to teach high school-age students; I was qualified in history and economics (obviously high school subjects); I received training in college for secondary education; and I did my student teaching in a Christian high school. Surely, this must be my vocation, I concluded.

It was not. When I graduated from college, Protestant Reformed schools advertised for many openings, but not one was available in Covenant Christian High. Clearly, it was not God’s will that I teach there. In various ways, God made it plain that I was to teach all the subjects in grades six through eight, and be administrator of a school as well. The point is, God often gives us clear guidance in our vocation by limiting the options. We can be thankful that this often directs us to the place God would have us to work, for He is far wiser than we are.

However, even with a careful examination of gifts and interests, as well as of opportunities, you might not be assured of God’s will. You may not take the easy way out with a kind of fatalism. A fatalistic attitude says, “I do not know what my calling is, but if I take this job, it must be God’s will, for His counsel is all-inclusive.” A believer may not make decisions in that way.

This becomes plain when one compares seeking to know one’s calling with seeking a husband or wife. Consider a situation where a young woman meets a man who is attracted to her and asks her out on a date. He continues to take her on dates, and eventually asks her to marry him. Ought her attitude to be, “If I agree, and we do, in fact, get married, then it must be God’s will”? Regardless of his spiritual condition? Even if he manifests no interest in the Reformed faith? Obviously, she should not reason so.

That is an extreme case, but this is an issue even when a believing girl meets a believing man—both committed to the Reformed faith. They both desire to know God’s will as regards whom they should marry. Among all the godly, Reformed believers they know, is this the one God determines for a husband, a wife? What is God’s will for my life in marriage?

To be sure, there are significant differences between choosing a life’s mate and one’s vocation, the most obvious being that marriage is for life, and the vocation is not necessarily so. Additionally, marriage is the single most important decision a believer makes. Marriage is life-determining. It determines one’s family, friends, church, and home life. One’s vocation ordinarily does not have the same impact.

Still, the question remains, among the possibilities one has before him for a vocation, which is God’s will? God does not reveal this will in mystical ways—through special messages or dreams. And one must be careful not to be too influenced by some striking event in his life that might seem to point to a particular calling. Rather, careful consideration, coupled with fervent prayer will lead one to know God’s will.

I exhort young believers to seek God’s will for your life. I have witnessed you, conscientious Reformed youths, struggle mightily with this matter. You come to parents, to pastors, and teachers seeking help. In your seeking, I urge you to be spiritually minded. Jesus guides you into this way of thinking. In the context of instruction on earthly goods and a warning against serving unrighteous mammon, Jesus commands you, “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 6:33). That is to say, in all things seek the kingdom of heaven. And He reminds you to store up your treasures in heaven, not on the earth.

This directs us to the reality—we are on earth to serve God and His church. We must work with our hands the thing that is good, but for most of us, what we produce in our earthly labors will be burned up when Jesus returns in glory. It is not of lasting value. What is done serving the church is lasting. The inspired apostle Paul indicated that the same was true even for ministers of the Word, writing in I Corinthians 3:12-15:

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If this be true of a minister’s work, how much more of our earthly labors?

Yet, each member of the church, regardless of his or her vocation, in some way can serve God by serving the church. The particular calling one has could make a difference as to time and energy available to serve the church. Some vocations enable one to serve God by serving Christ’s body more directly, specifically, teachers in Christian schools and ministers of the gospel. Exactly for that reason, you young men and women ought to consider—before anything else—whether God calls you to the work of teacher, and young men, whether God calls you to be a minster of the Word. Before any other option is considered, these are first.

To this we turn next time.