“We have a role to play in God’s plan to unite heaven and earth, to advance the story of the world to culmination, and to see the earth cultivated into the garden city…. God’s original intent for humanity has been restored in us through Jesus Christ. In the beginning, God called humanity to fill the earth and subdue it. He commissioned his image-bearers to carry his order, beauty, and abundance to the ends of the earth. This mission, frustrated and derailed by our rebellion, can now be reengaged as we are reconciled to God through the cross and made new in Christ.” – Skye Jethani
The Foundations. The image of God in us should reflect in the way we relate with God, others and the world (Genesis 1: 26-28). From Genesis 1, there is a relationship between humans being created in the image of God and co-creating with Him as we rule over and subdue creation. Obviously, we are not living in the parameters of Genesis 1 and 2, but even after sin we are still carriers of God’s image and are still called to rule and subdue the earth.
“When God created the cosmos, he gave the human race a specific and wonderful part in his design. We are made by God to steward His material world and to create human culture that reveals the full image of God. His mandate in Genesis 1:28 isn’t for us to be farmers; it’s for us to use our gifts to create, according to his image in each of us.” – Landa Cope
God’s original intent to have humans relating with creation is eternal and should be seen as part of the New Covenant made through Christ. It is crucial to pursue our calling in the continuation of His mandate to co-create with God as we subdue the earth. We need ways to include this in our own spiritual formation as well as our discipleship of others.
What is Holy Spirit calling me to do as my work in the world? How does that align with what I am currently doing?
Even though each person has unique gifts and personality traits and carry those throughout their lives, vocation and calling are dynamic and ongoing processes. There are changes of focus and forms of expression as times and seasons of life unfold – just as in the process of spiritual formation and discipleship.
The Impact of Eschatology. The way we interpret vocation and calling is greatly impacted by our eschatology. The church today places great emphasis on discontinuity, which predicates that nothing from this world will matter in the next age except the souls of those who have been rescued. This current world will be destroyed and replaced with a completely new and perfected creation. With this belief, people understandably struggle to see the sense of investing vocationally in a temporary world.
However, continuity is another view to consider. From Genesis 1 there is clear correlation between knowing God and His call to humanity. At the culmination of creation, God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit make humans to reflect His glory: individually and corporately. Part of this call is to reveal His glory through the work that we do.
“A large part of how we know and enjoy him forever is in fulfilling the work he created us to do. We reveal God, in part, through the work of our hands. Just as God’s creation reveals who he is, our work reveals who we are, what we believe, and whom and what we worship.” – Landa Cope
We resemble His creative nature as we take dominion over the earth and co-create with Him. As God’s image bearers, humanity has been hindered from growing into His plan because of sin. However, through Christ’s restoration of humanity and God’s original plan, His people still have a role to play in bringing heaven to earth. In Jesus’ resurrected body, He defeats sin and death, brings together the natural and supernatural world, and restores and makes all things new.
Whether we believe in the full redemption of this world (continuity) or that of a new heaven and earth that will come with the return of Jesus (discontinuity), will impact how we relate to the work we do. An understanding that the work we do matters, not only to the world we live in the present moment, but also to the world that is to come, directly affects our engagement with the work we perform and affects how we disciple others concerning vocation.
Learning from Your Life Story. We need time to reflect, with the guidance of Holy Spirit, on our patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions. Handwriting the narrative of your life story can create space to look at your story with fresh eyes and the illumination of the Spirit. It is also an opportunity to connect seasons of life with a particular set of events, emotions, or patterns of behavior and to identify specific abilities that could be indicators of natural God-given gifts. In turn, these become indicators of where we may need spiritual practices in order to grow, strengthen and mature.
Assessing Your Motivations. We need ways to re-evaluate, and perhaps confront, our motivations for the work we are involved in. Jethani uses the preposition with to describe a life of knowing and experiencing communion with God. He invites us to re-imagine a life founded on a deep communion and loving relationship with God, where God is treasured above all else. (Watch the clip below of Skye Jethani explaining this). Our motivations for the work we are involved in should flow from this.
We need to guard against the belief that our value is determined by the impact we have in the world, or by wealth or power, position or popularity. Fear of insignificance can generate the most driven-to-accomplish people. Fear of insignificance for God, can generate the most driven-to-accomplish Christian and ministry workers.
Spiritual Disciplines as a Pathway to Formation and Vocation. The practice of spiritual disciplines are a pathway for unifying the physical and spiritual realms, promoting awareness of the presence of Holy Spirit and His dynamic and lively participation in daily-life activities, and forming us in Christ-likeness. We need ways to grow in areas we have identified as hindering our vocation and calling, and we need ways to develop our strengths and gifting. We need ways to see, or reconnect with, the idea that every type of work and activity is sanctified and can be a form of worship.
The journey of being transformed spiritually is often seen as an opposing journey to being a human being. However, psychologist and author David Benner (2011) says “…we are spiritual beings on a human journey.… Spirituality can and should be in the service of becoming more deeply human”. We desperately need ways to incorporate these routines as ways of connecting our spiritual journey with our human bodies.
“First and most basically, spirituality moves us away from life whenever it distances us from our bodies. The body anchors the spiritual and the mental, grounding perceptions in sensation, feelings in emotion, thoughts in action, defences in muscles, and beliefs in behavior. Whenever our ties to our body are tenuous, our ties to reality are equally fragile. The body connects us to the truths of our selves, our world, and others.… To be human is to be embodied, so any spirituality that fails to take the body seriously necessarily diminishes our humanity.” – David Benner
We need ways to facilitate people’s growth regarding their calling, so that they can be intentional about the development of their career as part of their spiritual growth. Too often, as we perform work (many times operating in roles that are not our areas of expertise nor our gifting or calling) validation comes from receiving a position of authority (and we hold to a role or a position to find validation and the ‘pay off’ of power – especially in environments where financial reward in not high). But, we need to recover a vision that the work of one’s calling is based on a profound revelation of who God is and who we are in Him. Ultimately it is learning to incarnate in our vocations Jesus’ prayer: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”.
Take a few minutes to watch the video below on Vocational Discipleship by Skye Jethani.
For further reading or discovery I recommend:
Benner, D. G. (2011). Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human
Boren, S. (2013). Difference Makers: An Action Guide for Jesus Followers
Palmer, P. (2009). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
Smith, G. (2011). Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential