by Doug Cooper
Jesus commands us to go and we have probably already gone!
Too often, those of us who work in non-clergy or non-missionary vocations see our job simply as a way to get by or get ahead. Our occupation is what we do 40-50 hours a week to accumulate the money, status, and achievement necessary for us to survive and thrive. For those of us who are compelled by our faith in God, we have been conditioned to believe that our everyday work is separate from our service to God. We go to work each week to do the mission of our employer and then we join God’s mission on Sunday and in our other free time outside from work.
Maybe you are one of vast numbers who thinks that answering a sacred calling from God means to abandon your current secular job to ‘move into’ full-time vocational ministry – that only ministry folks are the ones responsible for reaching humanity. Or maybe you feel that you need to put aside the goals of your current job to focus solely on becoming a “fisher of men.” If so, I want to ask you a question: What if Jesus walked into your office or studio or lab and asked you to rethink your work? What if, instead of saying, “Leave this job and follow me,” he said, “Get back to work, because you are right where I want you to be.”?
In other words, what if Jesus has called you to go and you have already gone? What if he has already placed you exactly where he wants you to be, positioned to do exactly what he wants you to be doing? Might that change the way you think about your work?
We get some good affirmation of this idea in the scriptures themselves. Early in the book of Luke we witness John the Baptist, rib-deep in the Jordan River, calling the people he encounters to a righteousness and partnership with God’s mission, deeper than a ceremonial cleansing to get a fresh start in the rest of life. He is calling people to be baptized as a sign that they have reconsidered the purpose of their lives and are ready to commit every part of their being to “preparing the way” of the Lord and to bear fruit contributing to his plan to restore the world back to himself.
In the crowd surrounding John there are a group of corrupt tax collectors and soldiers who are seriously compelled by the life to which John is calling them. But, being shrewd men, they want to know exactly what John is asking of them.
First, the tax collectors simply ask John, “What should we do?”
John’s equally simple response is, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
Then the soldiers ask, “What should we do?”
John replies, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
This was the big moment when John the Baptist was asked to breath ultimate purpose and meaning into these men’s lives. John doesn’t tell them to change careers or to improve their spiritual practices or to become pastors or monks. He tells them simply to go back and do their work. And he tells them to do it in a way that looks like the Kingdom. And in so doing, John connects their work with preparing the way of the Lord.
This idea is even more profound when we understand tax collectors and soldiers were often allies in a corrupt scheme within a corrupt system. Tax collectors would make common practice of extorting money from innocent people by taxing them more than they owed and then keeping the extra for themselves. When the people wouldn’t or couldn’t pay, the soldiers would menace and threaten the tax-payers until they came up with a way to pay. Then the tax collectors and soldier split the spoils of their corruption.
Instead of telling the tax collectors and soldiers to abandon the corrupt systems they were in, John challenged them to do their jobs in a way that healed the corruption and treated tax-payers with honor and fairness – which is how they would be treated in the Kingdom! He told them to get back to work!
Could God’s call to you be, not to leave your current job, but to begin to approach it in a way that brings the way of the Lord closer to your peers, your supervisor, the people you lead, teach or serve? Instead of asking you to abandon or ignore the broken systems and practices of the everyday workplace, might he be calling you to approach your work in a way that restores grace, peace, healing and excellence to them as cultivators of God’s good will?
Maybe to these questions, your answer is, “yes.”
And your question might be, “What should I do?”
Maybe the reply is trite. I don’t think so. I think it is powerful and deep and transforming. The reply is: Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and God will give you everything you need to make your work and your calling one and the same.Doug Cooper is the Executive Director of the City Gates Initiative, a program of Ashland Theological Seminary. If you are feeling God’s call to make your calling and your work one and are still asking, “What should I do?” Ashland Theological Seminary’s City Gates Cohorts can help!
Mr. Doug Cooper serves as Executive Director of City Gates, an initiative of Ashland Theological Seminary. City Gates Cohorts provide men and women with a formational path of discovery and change, preparing them to cultivate God’s good will within their everyday vocational context. City Gates Cohorts facilitate a deep, group-based learning process that prepares frontline Christians to approach their work and life with true Kingdom mission, perspective and instinct. A new round of Cohorts begins right here in Columbus on October 16, 2015. If you are interested in more information or would like to register, please visit the City Gates Initiative website.