A correct approach to our vocation is at the heart of Anglican theology, says The Rev. Canon Dr. Ashley Null.
Did you know that God doesn’t “need” us to do anything? The Bible says the stones will cry out if we don’t. God gives us tasks, and the tasks have meaning and purpose. But if it were only tasks He wanted us to accomplish, angels would be far more faithful, consistent and reliable. Why, then, does God give us something to do? I believe the answer is for relationship. In the midst of doing the task, we are supposed to find intimacy with God.
All of American culture tells us that our vocation, whatever we do for a living, that is the means by which we prove our worth to other people, ourselves and God. It’s even true in the Church. How do you know if you are a good preacher? You’ve got a job. And how do you keep your job? People in the pews.
Photo credit: TheCubicleRebel
Changing Our Thinking
But that’s not an Anglican understanding of vocation. The product may be important, but the process is even more important. We must understand that our vocation is the school by which God mentors us, because in that context we make constant decisions about what is important, who we are, how we act, what we value, what we worship and honor. Our vocation is first of all the arena in which God mentors us into discovering who we are—which means Christ in us, the hope of glory. Our vocation is the arena by which He is shaping us to be an eternal splendor.
Our vocation is not only a school of discipleship; it is the arena of mission by which He uses us to transform the world. As God shapes you to be an eternal splendor, He sends you out to share that message, to be His instrument, to help others awaken and discover that they too have an eternal destiny to become an eternal splendor. Before the foundation of the world, He set aside good works for you, and you alone, to do as a means by which He draws you into intimacy with Him, and releases you into intimate service of those around you. When you stand before Him, you are stunned to see in the midst of your very clear human frailties that He has made something beautiful, not only of your life but of so many others through you.
How Satan Derails Us
What does Satan do with our vocation? He wants to make it about us.
This world is full of pain. Ever come across rejection, disappointment, maybe feelings of worthlessness, being betrayed by people who love you or should love you—or worse, discovering that you betrayed people or let them down? How do you make sense of this mess you have made?
Oftentimes we self-medicate. Self-medicating is finding a false savior. Achievement, especially in American culture, has become a popular way to self-medicate. Satan takes your gifting and says, “If you develop it, you will have worth, and once you get that worth, then the pain will go away. If people focus on you through your gift, then you will be important.”
Have you ever noticed that no matter how much you have, the devil always gets you to focus on what you don’t have? He points out the pain in your life, the thing that’s missing, the person who hurt you, whether you’re not rich enough, good looking enough, smart enough, creative enough, successful enough. As you look at what’s missing, you begin to think, “If only…”
A great example of this is found in Genesis 3:1-2, where Satan gets Eve to concentrate on what she doesn’t have. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’
Satan makes Eve believe that because she doesn’t have the fruit, she’s not good enough. She could be something better. When we don’t think we’re loved, we doubt our worth, and the devil offers us the opportunity to use our gifts as a means to earn our worth. He makes our vocation our idol, our savior, that will make us good and whole like God, so we don’t need God. In other words, the devil gives us a problem that we don’t have, by making us doubt God’s love for us. He then offers us a false solution: earning our worth. Suddenly, our gifts and talents are the treadmill by which we have to begin to earn our worth. But God’s vocation is the means by which we express the worth his love gives us.
The Gift of Faith
How many artists, musicians, pastors do you know whose gifting has become a burden and not a blessing? They torture themselves: Has that worship been really cutting-edge and cool? Is the church growing or not? Am I doing something right or wrong? Is God publicly punishing me? Is His wrath and rage directed against me when I’m weak?
The No. 1 thing your vocation as a school of discipleship will teach you is that you have to live by faith. Sometimes it clicks, and sometimes it doesn’t, and we have to trust that one bad worship service isn’t a bad liturgical season. A bad liturgical season isn’t a bad year. A bad year isn’t a bad time at a parish. A bad time in one parish is not a career. A bad career is still not a bad life. We trust that His determination to make us an eternal splendor will win out in the end. His love will redeem.
Getting vocation right will change your life. It will enable you to be used by God to change others. Your vocation is not about performance. It’s about entering into your calling and being surprised how God works through you for His purposes. I pray that you have a transforming understanding of your vocation, because that’s the heart of Anglicanism—to hear what God has called you to be in Him.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Ashley Null is an Episcopal priest, distinguished theologian and prolific writer. This blog is excerpted from teaching at the 2012 pilot of the School of Worship at Trinity School for Ministry and was originally published in The Mission’s print magazine, The Wave (Spring 2013).