Written By: The Rev. Nathan Stomberg
January 24th, 2021
Who has ever had a job he or she didn’t enjoy? Probably each and every one of us. And this should come as no surprise. Under the curse of sin, we are not promised that work will always be something we enjoy, but we are guaranteed to toil by the sweat of our brow. I can recall my first “real” job in high school, which wasn’t necessarily a hard job, but it definitely wasn’t one I desired to do for very long. With the help of a dear friend, I landed the un-enviable position of “cart boy” at a golf course down in Hope Valley. The duties of the cart boy include the following: lining up the golf carts at the crack of dawn to be ready to go for the first golfers; making sure all the golf carts are filled with gas; driving to different points along the golf course to re-stock the coolers; cleaning out the half-empty beer cans and cigarette butts from the golf carts after every round of golf; and washing and wiping each cart as it came in to make it ready for the next golfer.
The job was supposed to come with the perk of collecting tips, but that usually took the form of quarters left behind among the cigarettes and bottle caps. While I was grateful for the opportunity to get work experience, and to earn a paycheck, it’s not hard to see why this position wasn’t something I wished to work forever. This wasn’t a career, it was a “job”. And while it wasn’t what I would have picked for myself in a perfect world, we clearly don’t live in a perfect world, and so I worked this job to the best of my ability.
The experience of a “job”, as opposed to a career, or even just work we enjoy, is very familiar to us. We all readily acknowledge that there will be work to do that we wouldn’t choose if we had our way. And yet, when it comes time to work a “job”, especially when there’s no end in sight, we have such difficulty accepting this reality!
I think our difficulty stems in part from our negligence of vocation in the Christian life. Our immediate life circumstances will almost always bring difficulty. There will always be work that we have to do, and it won’t always be enjoyable. But as God reminds us, through His Word, and in the wisdom of this liturgical season, Christ’s call to be co-laborers in the harvest supersedes all else, and in it, we can find ultimate purpose and joy in our lives.
Vocation, understood literally, is a “call”, and in our context, that call comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, just as he literally called his first Disciples out of their boats in the Sea of Galilee. But we fall far short of what Christ desires for our lives, if we limit vocation merely to those “jobs” we find ourselves in. Vocation is much broader than just a job, far wider even than just work itself. Indeed, vocation encompasses not only work, but also the function or station we occupy in life. When we acknowledge God’s ultimate sovereignty over all aspects of our life, we more fully experience the Grace of Jesus Christ, working in and through all things, redeeming even the most mundane and tiresome aspects of daily life for His eternal purposes. Brothers and sisters, when we obediently heed the call of Christ, even a job like picking cigarette butts out of a golf cart takes on new meaning.
The Vocational “Sweet Spot”
In my current place of work, there is a strong emphasis on career development. And in that sphere, there is a visualization that is commonly used. Imagine a Venn Diagram with three circles: In one circle is your talent, in the second is the current business need, and in the third is your personal desire. The center of the diagram, the place where all three circles intersect (talent, need, and desire), represents your ideal job position. You’re using your abilities, providing value to your company, and doing something you really enjoy doing! But this concept doesn’t just apply to the workplace – it also works in the context of any vocation in which we find ourselves.
No matter what season of life we are in, where we live, or what the political climate is, we will always have gifts God has specifically given to us, by the Holy Spirit. And regardless of our circumstances, there will always be areas of need – underserved or suffering populations, or people in need of care. The turning point rests, then, on the third sphere: our desires. From a worldly perspective, this whole equation falls apart as soon as we find ourselves in a situation we don’t like! The world tells us that we are the masters of our own destiny, that if we try hard enough and get with the program, we can will into existence a perfect world, a utopia where everything is exactly the way we want it. Dearly beloved, don’t fall into this trap – the desires of the flesh will never satisfy. In contrast, if we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then He will replace our earthly desires with heavenly ones, and by Grace our will, will be conformed to His. For while the desires of the flesh are wholly dependent on our temporal circumstances, the desires of the Spirit work in and through our circumstances to do the Will of God.
The Apostle Paul speaks directly to this issue in his first letter to the Corinthians. In the seventh chapter, Paul is answering questions raised by the Corinthian church, and having just finished his famous passage on principles for marriage, he now turns to the Corinthians’ concerns about one’s lot in life. And the Apostle makes his point concisely: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17, ESV).
Paul goes on to explain his charge in the context of circumcision and economic circumstances. And in verse 21 the Apostle gives a straightforward answer to the Corinthians’ worries: “Do not be concerned about it” (1 Corinthians 7:21, ESV). The Corinthians are likely displeased with their immediate life circumstances, or at least unsure how to handle them, and Paul tells them not to worry. Why? Because we are no longer slaves to the world, trying to satisfy the desires of the flesh. Instead, we are servants of Christ, who gives us new desires, and His calling applies to us here and now. As the Apostle says in verse 23, “You were bought with a price; do not become bond servants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23, ESV).
God’s call to us in Christ, our vocation, that is, the service to which He calls us, should far outweigh our desire to change our background or immediate life circumstances. Not that we shouldn’t fight sin, or work to provide a better life for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, but that Christ is calling us to that work right now, just as we are.
Look at the example of Christ’s call in the Gospel of Mark. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus calling His first Disciples. There is a lot to be learned from this passage, but let’s focus on the type of people Jesus calls: “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen” (Mark 1:16, ESV). Simon and Andrew are working class people; they’re not already doing anything that the world would consider special. They’re fishermen, working an unglamorous, sometimes dangerous, physically demanding job. The passage goes on, “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets” (Mark 1:19, ESV). James and John, too, are fishermen, likely working in a family business run by their father. By all accounts, Jesus is calling the most ordinary of people to follow Him!
Most importantly, we must not miss the way in which the first disciples heed the call of Christ: “And immediately, they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18, ESV). Both pairs of men literally drop what they’re doing, and go to follow Jesus! They don’t say, “Hey Jesus, can I have a few days to think it over?” Or, “You know, Jesus, I think you have the wrong guy. I’m not talented enough to help you.” No, Jesus calls them where they are, and at once they go to follow Him.
The Two Parts of Christ’s Call
In other words, we know there is an urgency to following Christ and obeying Him. But in this urgency, we are not following Christ blindly. Today’s Scripture readings remind us of the two main parts of Christ’s call. Our first duty is to repent and turn toward Christ. We are turning away from the cares of the world, away from our preoccupation with how things could be better, away from our idols, and embracing obedience to the Lord. God makes this promise through the prophet Jeremiah: “If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory” (Jeremiah 4:1-2, ESV). God, as He always does, turns earthly logic on its head. If we truly seek His will above all else, then the nations (our present circumstances) will be blessed, because they glory in God.
“If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.”Jeremiah 4:1-2, ESV
Our second duty, then, is to proclaim to all people the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. As the Gospel of Mark recounts, “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17, ESV). Like fishermen, the disciples (as well as us), are called to pull people back from the hands of sin and death, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are called, regardless of season or circumstance, to invite all to hear the Good News of the Gospel. But notice the word Jesus uses in His call: “I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17, ESV). Our Christian vocation is a process. The work and ministry of the first disciples did not happen all at once, and we shouldn’t expect the same.
May we take heart, and not give in to the temptation of focusing squarely on those circumstances of life we wish were different. When it comes to serving Christ, there are so many excuses that bombard us, and we must cast them all away:
“Our congregation is too small to make a difference. We don’t have nearly enough resources.” Yet Jesus began His ministry by calling a group of Twelve.
“If only there wasn’t a pandemic, then I would really be able to get back to serving the Lord.”
“I really wish I had that other person‘s talents. I would be so much happier if I could do that ministry.”
“If only I had more money. As soon as I have enough, then I will give to the Church.”
“If only my political party was in office. As soon as we win an election, then Jesus will be able to save my country.”
Sisters and brothers, these are all lies from the Prince of Lies. For us to elevate changing our state of life over God’s call where we are right now is to neglect our duty to Christ’s call, and to fail in stewarding the gifts He has freely given us. Of course, our lives are not what we would have them – but they never are! And that’s a good thing. For instead, our lives are exactly as God has planned them, right this very moment. God has reason for all of us gathering together, with our lives in a whirlwind, right here, and right now.
God doesn’t make mistakes. The talents you have, and the talents you don’t, are not a mistake. The resources you have, and the resources you lack, are not a mistake. God is doing great work in us here and now, even if we can’t see it – and we must be proactive in heeding the call of Christ, and understanding what we can do in obedience, versus wishing and trying to make things perfect. A perfect, easy life is a fantasy, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can roll up our sleeves and enter the harvest. So, what can we do right now? God has given us all gifts. With the help of the local Congregation and the Holy Spirit, we must discern these gifts in ourselves and each other, and encourage each other to use them. God has also given us our circumstances. We must waste no time in prayerfully discerning who in our circles, and in our community, can benefit from the help we as a Congregation can provide. And God in Christ has given us new desires. If we submit ourselves to Him, and conform our will to His, then even when our life is rough, or our job is tough, we can find joy in knowing that Christ is still using us for eternal purposes. May we then go forth with a Lively Faith, and may the whole world perceive the glory of God’s marvelous works through us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.