Vocation: Finding Our Place in God’s Story (Part 1)
This article originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of STILLPOINT magazine.
By Jennifer Brink, Sharon Galgay Ketcham and Corey McLellan
“What’s God’s plan for my life?” It’s a daunting question, and it never gets old. We ask it not only in college, but again and again as we move through changes and chapters in our lives. Along the way, it can take many different forms: The unsuspecting child who is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The anxious college student who hears, “What’s your major?” or “What’s next after graduation?” Later in life, in our careers and raising families, we might ask whether we’re called to a certain place or to particular work.
All these important questions ultimately beg a foundational one: How do we discern our vocation or “calling”?
The Hebrew word avodah emphasizes the inseparability of our work, our worship and our service. This may be found in our paid employment, our career. For many of us, participating in God’s work unfolds not so much in career but in the places we find ourselves in our churches, families and communities, living in obedience to God throughout our lives.
Our understanding of ourselves and our vocation, then, stems from knowing God and seeing our own story within the larger biblical narrative.
Creator and Redeemer
We stand on the shoulders of the early churches who declared God to be Creator in their creeds (“maker of heaven and earth”). They sought to establish God’s supremacy in a polytheistic world and maintain God (divine) as distinct from creation (created).
Creator God is without origin (Genesis 1:1), and all originates from God. God reigns over all, and, by implication, all belongs to God. This declaration establishes our identity. We are creatures. We are derived. God is the ground of our existence: “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
God is eternal (Psalm 90:2), and we are finite, vulnerable and dependent. These can feel like unwelcome claims in our context as we seek to discover our place in the world. Yet like the early churches, this is our hope: We are not our own. God declares creation “good” and we belong to our Creator (Revelation 4:11).
Creator God is also Redeemer. Creation is a beginning with both a trajectory and a telos. If Creator establishes God distinct from creation, Redeemer maintains that God is personally involved with creation (Genesis 12:2–3). Christ enters humanity and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. On the cross, God pronounces judgement against sin, removes our guilt and liberates us from sin’s power. Today, Redeemer God continues to actively move through Christ and by the Spirit to bring all things to completion.
We are en route, and our lives find purpose within the redeeming purposes of God. Our vocational journey involves learning to march to the beat of Christ’s ongoing redemptive drum. Salvation is never from creation but for what God is redeeming in creation—you, me, the entire world.
Our God is one who creates and one who redeems—and likewise, we image-bearers and Christ-followers will consistently find ourselves responding to the call to do the same. Our broader vocation involves orienting our lives toward God and God’s redemptive purposes in the world.
We’re called to participate in God’s creative work: tending a garden, composing music, raising children, launching a new venture. We’re also invited into God’s redeeming work by learning to embody love for God, one another and creation: welcoming the stranger, researching the complexity of immune function, pulling invasive plants from a saltmarsh. Living out this understanding of God’s call on our lives requires the whole of our lives.
Knowing that God loves and cares for every square inch of this world enables us to face an uncertain future with confidence. The world as we understand it now will change. In the future, many of us will have jobs that have yet to be conceived, new geopolitical challenges may merge and, surely, we may face insurmountable personal challenges.
We “face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) in our journey of obedience. Indeed, we know that the Christian life includes suffering in this world and at the same time there are signs of the in-breaking Kingdom all around. God, our Creator-Redeemer, is our hope and the one who sustains us. We respond in our lives.