Sunday, March 24, 2013


It's been a while since I've written anything in this space.  This happens frequently.  Here are the ten things that happen during a writing lapse:
  1. Clever thought enters brain
  2. Fingers begin typing
  3. Brain and fingers have disagreement
  4. #%$&*@!
  5. Writing resumes for 5 minutes
  6. Writing ceases
  7. Temper tantrum
  8. Blog post deleted
  9. Self-loathing
  10. Repeat #1-9
Maybe this time will be different...

* * *

We in the church like to talk about vocation - a word that comes from the Latin vocātiō which means "call" or "summons."  When discussing vocation Lutherans are fond of telling a story that goes something like this:

A shoe maker asked Martin Luther how to best serve God.  Luther asked him "What is your work now?"  The man replied "I am a shoemaker."  Luther told him "Make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price."  

It's a lovely story which conveys the notion that people serve the Lord when they use their God-given gifts in ways that are good and honest.  In this way, vocation is the pairing of a person's abilities and interests with the needs of the community.  

A similar sentiment was expressed (sarcastically and with a few naughty words) in The Onion last week: need to find the one interest or activity that truly fulfills you in ways nothing else can. Then, really immerse yourself in it for a few fleeting moments after an exhausting 10-hour day at a desk job and an excruciating 65-minute commute home. During nights when all you really want to do is lie down and shut your eyes for a few precious hours before you have to drag yourself out of bed for work the next morning, or on weekends when your friends want to hang out and you’re dying to just lie on your couch and watch TV because you’re too fatigued to even think straight—these are the times when you need to do what you enjoy most in life.

Vocātiō seems like a simple concept - serve God by doing what you love.  Yet all around I feel the anguish of people who find this to be unattainable.  There's the teenager who feels compelled to get good grades so he can go to a good college so he can get a job that pays well enough for him to service the six-figure college debt he will rack up.  There's the college student who changed her major because there wasn't enough job security in what she was passionate about.  And there's the young GenXer who can neither imagine working for the same company another year (let alone 30) nor imagine taking the risk of changing careers.

Certainly there are many examples of people who have stepped out in faith to serve God and humankind through their vocation.  There are also people who haven't made a monumental change in their profession, but have modified the way they approach the work they are currently doing.  I wonder how the church - it's people and it's institutional structures - can better encourage God's people to see their work as prayer each day.

Have you witnessed people in your life who live out their vocation?  How might you serve God through your "ordinary" job?


  1. Erik, thanks for this heartfelt post. I feel for you on the procrastination thing (look at my blog and you'll find the same issue), and I really appreciate you taking on "the vocation thing." As you know, it's near and dear to my heart and my work.

    I appreciate the questions that you lift up here, and I'm glad you're helping us all struggle with these issues. But I feel a need to raise a flag of caution: When vocation is described in terms of "find[ing] the one interest or activity that truly fulfills you" or even "serv[ing] God by doing what you love," I get really nervous. Yes, vocation can bring that sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, but using that as the primary evaluator of one's vocation can be nothing more than a sell-out to our culture's individualistic worldview, and contrary to our Lutheran heritage.

    First, our culture is great at telling us, "Whatever you do, just make sure it makes you happy." There are plenty of voices encouraging us to seek and find personal fulfillment. What we're not good at is the concept of sacrifice and service, which is what vocation is about, at least from a Lutheran-Christian perspective.

    So, second, listen to Luther: "If you find yourself in a work by which you accomplish something good for God, or the holy, or yourself, but not for your neighbor alone, then you should know that that work is not a good work. For each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even for one's enemies, a husband for his wife and children, a wife for her husband, children for their parents, servants for their masters, masters for their servants, rulers for their subjects and subjects for their rulers, so that one's hand, mouth, eye, foot, heart and desire is for the other; these are Christian works, good in nature."

    Or, Gustaf Wingren says of Luther's work on vocation, "Our only care ought to be what we should do with all the good that God has made, so that it may benefit our neighbor. But instead we worry how we can get as much as possible for ourselves; and thus we put ourselves athwart creation's generous stream."

    Vocation is a call, from outside ourselves, it's not an inner wrestling by which we figure out what will make us happy, fulfilled, or satisfied. Christians say it's a call from God (and when you go with that and think about God's call to Moses and Mary and a host of others, you find quickly it's not about self-fulfillment!). Even people who practice no particular faith talk about it being a call from their neighbor, or from creation itself.

    So with all of that now included, let's go back and talk to those young adults about how God might be calling them to deny themselves and serve their neighbor.

  2. Dwight - I knew this post would be right up your alley. Thanks for giving me some additional perspectives to consider.


Thank you for taking the time to be a part of "koinonia"