Work can be a daily grind; a hard, monotonous set of thankless tasks. In the midst of the toil, many are plagued by a lack of purpose, confused as to what to do and who to become. And while some of our vocations may seem more overtly meaningful than others’, the truth is that most of us work because we have to. It is a means to an end―survival. So a person of faith can rightly ask the question, how does my work life and faith in Jesus connect?
Every kind of work is a sacred calling. However, again, how does my work life and faith in Jesus connect? How does Sunday relate to Monday? What difference does the gospel make when I am stocking shelves, turning wrenches, or answering phones?
“The priesthood of all believers did not turn all Christians into pastors. But it did turn every kind of work into sacred calling.”
These are the types of questions that commonly haunt the everyday, ordinary Christian. For those who are serious and sincere in their faith, but who are not part of a pastoral staff or religious nonprofit, what role do they play in God’s kingdom on a day-to-day basis?
Connecting the dots between the Christian faith and missionary work is easy. Connecting the dots for truck drivers, politicians, union leaders, the police and dental assistants is hard. They are therefore entitled to ask, over and over again, how does my work life and faith connects?
How Does My Work Life And Faith Fits Every Kind Of ‘Sacred’ Work?
Gene E. Veith’s book God at Work has quickly become a classic in the Faith and Work titles. Written in 2002, Veith approaches the conversation, employing the Lutheran framework for vocation that emerged amidst the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
The Reformers, especially Luther, sought to reclaim the notion of calling (vocatio in Latin) for the Christian laity.
Veith writes, “In scrutinizing the existing ecclesiastical system in light of the Gospel and the Scriptures. The Reformers insisted that priests and nuns and monastics did not have a special claim to God’s favor. But that laypeople, too could live the Christian life to its fullest.”
Work (Vocation), Life (Family, Citizenship, Church), And The Priesthood
This dovetailed nicely with the well-known reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. The doctrine that “all Christians enjoy the same access to Christ and are spiritually equal before Him.”
“The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work. It is also about how God works in and through our lives.”
The “priesthood of all believers,” Veith clarifies, did not turn all Christians into pastors. But it did turn “every kind of work into sacred calling.”
Building upon this foundation, Luther and the Reformers recognized multiple callings for every Christian. This includes the calling to work, family, citizenship, and church.
Two-Kingdom’s Model: The Super-Efficiency Of One Compared To Another
Each of these vocational categories receive a chapter in Veith’s book. But, before diving into these, he considers “How God Works through Human Beings.” There, he employs the Lutheran Two-Kingdom’s model to explain how God works through means.
Following Luther, Veith puts forward distinct spiritual and earthly kingdoms. He explained that God uses the spiritual kingdom to restore sinners and to rule in their hearts, equipping them for everlasting life.
Just as God uses the means of the church to accomplish the purposes of his spiritual kingdom, he also works through means of the earthly kingdom, especially natural law, to accomplish his plans.
He as well works through the so-called “secular” vocations of people in the earthly kingdom. “That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design.”
How Does My Work Life And Faith Addresses The Purpose of Vocation?
Veith also addresses “The Purpose of Vocation,” “Finding Your Vocations,” and “Your Calling as a Worker.”
He writes that vocation is played out, not just in extraordinary acts, the great things we will do for the Lord. And not in the great success we envision in our careers someday. But in the realm of the ordinary.
He then encourages that we demonstrate our ‘vocation’ in whatever we face in the often humdrum present. Which can be while washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, or hanging out with friends. He believes this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love.
Connecting Work-Life, Faith, Today’s Misery And Tomorrow’s Greatness?
This emphasis on the “ordinary” is right and beautiful and has gained greater traction in recent years. An arguable extension of the “faith and work” movement has been the revival of interest in everyday liturgies. This see all of life as sacred and holy, purposeful before God, despite how extraordinary it may or may not be.
Veith goes on to say, that “the doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives.” If there were a one-sentence summary to the book, this would be it.
He repeats this idea at the end of chapter five, reflecting on those who responded to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Those responders insisted their bravery was simply, “doing their jobs.”
Veith responded this way, “That is the doctrine of vocation. Ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor, ‘just doing our jobs.’”
Veith’s God at Work made a deep impact upon its release in 2002 and continues to occupy an important place in the ongoing conversation on faith, work, and vocation.
May God at Work remain not only on the shelves of those teaching and preaching about Christian vocation. But may it find its way to the bedside table of all Christians, that each may become a mature and ministering worker of God.
Welcome to WorkLife Feed articles and site-files indexing and adaptation series.
ERLC Editor’s Note: The original article is part of ERLC’s primer series on Christians ethics. It is where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here.