As we approach Labor Day, I want to invite you to reflect for a moment about work — your work. Whether you’re a student, a state employee, or a stay-at-home mom, we all do something. We all have work to do. In recent years, the term vocation has come to describe whatever work in which someone is (gainfully) employed. However, vocation has a deeper, older meaning that is still relevant to us today.
Coming from the Latin word vocāre, which means “to call” (think vocal), vocation originally meant whatever work to which you were called. In other words, your vocation is your calling — the work that you feel compelled to spend your life doing. As the meaning of vocation has drifted toward exclusively career applications, calling has more frequently come to refer to some sort of quasi-mystical experience reserved for those supernaturally directed to leave the secular workplace in order to pursue sacred responsibilities. This is unfortunate for both terms because we all have a calling, not just those who do church work.
Lest we forget the obvious, your primary calling is to follow Jesus (Rom. 1:6; 8:28). In fact, God wants everyone to be saved, and His call to salvation is universal (1 Tim. 2:4). Because of this, all those who follow Jesus are called to be ambassadors for Christ and plead with the world to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:16-21). You don’t have to be a “professional Christian,” as one dear friend jokingly refers to me, to know that you have a lifelong calling to serve Jesus. This calling to serve the Lord then shapes your response to any other opportunities in your life, including the work to which you may be called.
Over the years, I have refined my thinking about vocation and calling to the following formula:
Desire + Ability + Opportunity = Calling
When considering what you may be called to do, I suggest you begin by thinking about what you have a strong, enduring desire to do. Before Paul gives the qualifications for a pastor, he says, “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work” (1 Tim. 3:1), but this can apply to anything from being a surgeon to a sanitation worker. At other times, your desire may be irrelevant if God has already given a clear prohibition or command. For example, once you’re married, you’re commanded — and therefore called — to remain faithful to your spouse, regardless of how your desire may change.
The next consideration is what abilities God has given you. Despite any desire I may have to play sports, I’m quite confident that God has not called me to be a professional athlete because of my lack of sufficient talent in any particular sport. So take stock of your gifts and capacity, even if you may need to try to further develop them to determine whether they indicate a possible vocation. Lastly, you must consider what opportunities you have available, especially as you look for needs in the world that you could possibly address. If you have a strong desire and the necessary ability but no opportunity to put those to good use, then it would appear that God is not calling you to that field — at least not yet. But once God brings together your desire, ability, and opportunity, then you can have confidence that you’ve identified a viable calling, or vocation.
And wherever you may find yourself working, always remember:
“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24