The word “vocation” comes from a Latin term (vocatio) that means “a call” or “summons.” A key passage related to vocation is 1 Corinthians 7:17, where Paul writes, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (ESV)
While people today typically understand vocation as referring to one’s work, a biblical view recognizes that it also refers to other aspects of one’s life including: family relationships, church responsibilities, duties tied to the government and responsibilities related to society.
Vocation is thus not limited to one’s job. It includes many spheres of one’s life.
We may define vocation as follows: God’s means of “work[ing] through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their talents, serve [him and] each other.” Vocation includes the actions people take in relation to others, whether in a formal job or other areas, to fulfill God’s will and purposes in the world.
A husband and wife bearing children is an example of a couple fulfilling their vocation as a father and mother. A new mother changing her baby’s diaper is an example of a woman fulfilling her vocation as a mother. A son caring for the needs of his parents in their old age is an example of a man fulfilling his vocation as a son. A believer singing in corporate worship on a Sunday morning is an example of someone fulfilling her vocation as a Christian worshiper. Our vocations cover many spheres of life.
(1) The definition above describes vocation in terms of God working through people and serving God and others. How do these descriptions of vocation influence your personal understanding of your actions when carrying out your diverse vocations?
(2) What are several specific ways you desire God to work through you? How would you like to serve as his instrument?
(3) What is the danger of seeing work as one’s only vocation or calling?
Vocation of Work
While vocation may refer to many areas of one’s life, the statements below focus specifically on the vocation of work.
— During the Middle Ages in Europe, people held incorrect understandings about the vocation of work, believing that those who served in full-time church work (e.g., priests) engaged in a superior vocation as compared to other workers (e.g., businessmen, carpenters, farmers). In contrast, Martin Luther (d. 1546) studied the Bible and came to a different conclusion: all vocations are sacred callings through which believers serve God and others.
— Luther also taught that in our vocation God works through his people. He uses our gifts and talents in our vocation to accomplish his will.
— In every vocation, a believer should carry out her duties as a calling from God, displaying excellence in all that she does. Dorothy Sayers (d. 1957), one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and an influential Christian thinker in the twentieth century, insisted that Christians integrate their faith and work and thus “make good tables” (i.e., do quality as opposed to shoddy work in their vocation).
— On the one hand, you choose your work vocation based on your interests, passions and inclinations. On the other hand, your choice of work vocation is constrained by your limitations in regard to ability, talent, gifting and opportunity.
— At times, our vocation may seem boring, thankless, mundane, unsatisfying or pointless. Nevertheless, it is through our vocational activities that God blesses people and advances his purposes. God works through our works, in spite of what we think of them at times.
(1) Why do we sometimes view certain vocations as superior to others?
(2) Why is it important to remember that all vocations are holy callings? Do you view your work as a sacred calling?
(3) Consider again the following statements: “On the one hand, you choose your work vocation based on your interests, passions and inclinations. On the other hand, choice of your work vocation is constrained by your limitations in regard to ability, talent, gifting and opportunity.” How might these statements guide faculty when advising students who are exploring possible future vocations?
(4) The Welsh priest and poet George Herbert (d. 1633) wrote “The Elixir” (see below). In his poem, Herbert refers to the ancient practice of alchemy, which involved using an elixir or substance that some believed may possess the ability to change a base metal into gold. While not affirming this belief, Herbert nonetheless suggests that a task a believer regards as insignificant or mundane may be “transformed” into a noble work when he or she recognizes that God is present and that they perform the task for him. Recognizing God’s presence and why we perform even an unpleasant task, according to Herbert, “Makes drudgery divine.” What unpleasant tasks accompany your vocational work? How does viewing even the most disagreeable duty tied to one’s vocation as a noble work done for God in his presence influence one’s attitude toward his or her vocation?
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest, [put you first]
And give it his perfection.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or it he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy [see].
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean [insignificant],
Which with his tincture [i.e., small amount that affects the whole] –“for Thy sake”–
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
Helpful Writings on Vocation
Timothy Keller, Every Good Work: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
Gene Veith Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Calling in All of Life
 See Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” Colossians 3:23-24 also supports Sayers’ statement, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)