“The things that we are doing every day when we are being productive—answering emails, going to meetings, making supper for the family—are not just things we are doing. They are good works…The activities of our everyday lives are not separate from the good works that God has called us to. They are themselves part of the good works that God created us for in Christ. And, therefore, they have great meaning.” – Matt Perman, What’s Best Next
As I wrote about in my last entry, I am passionate about right thinking about God and the Scripture because of the way that translates into worship and life. One way in which I have seen wrong/incomplete thinking and teaching play out in my life has been concerning the sacred-secular divide which is addressed in the doctrine of vocation (calling). This is the theology of how the things we’re called to do in our various stations in life (e.g. as a child, student, mom, worker, etc.) are done to the glory of God. I’ve posted about this in bits and pieces in a few posts on motherhood, but I thought it may be helpful to show how the lack of a Biblical understanding of what the “secular” aspects of life had to do with living for God manifested itself, and point anyone interested in reading more to an excellent resource.
Here are the ways that my lack of understanding regarding the doctrine of vocation showed up in various stages in my life:
Half-hearted work: When God wakened my heart to the gospel in college and gave me a deep desire to live for his glory, I started pitting “spiritual” activities over and above the “non-spiritual” activities almost immediately. I was a student at the time as a biology major and my motivation for studying ceased once I didn’t want to go into the medical field anymore but wanted to go into ministry. I immersed myself in prayer meetings, Christian campus events, time alone by myself in prayer and reading Scripture, and talking about God but neglected my studies. God was really doing something new in me and I do believe that the desire to change my plotted life course was from God (changing majors and career goals), but my response in the way I treated school was not. But without seeing clearly what God had to do with my work as a student, it was really hard to be motivated because at the heart of it (though I may not have articulated it this way) I didn’t believe God thought it was important or that it had lasting spiritual significance.
A feeling of emptiness in doing ministry: A gospel presentation I heard when I was younger encouraged children to evangelize after they accepted Jesus by asking, “Do you know why God doesn’t just zap you up to heaven after you become a Christian?” The given answer was “So that you can tell other people about Jesus!” Although as a Christian, I knew and was taught that the ultimate goal in life is to bring glory to God, the “you’re only still on earth to bring about conversions” thinking was reinforced in my life through different ministries and speakers that I have heard. Bringing about conversions were often put as the central means of bringing glory to God because of the rationale that souls are eternal whereas other things are not. At one point when I was in ministry, I remember asking someone if they thought it was true that this was the only reason we were still on earth (to bring people to Jesus through evangelizing) and when they said yes, I just felt a sense of emptiness. I believe I felt that way because as people, we were made for more. Yet at the time, I couldn’t refute the seemingly Biblical logic in the argument.
Guilt: As long as I was in ministry, I could feel fulfilled and guilt-free since my “work” was almost completely in the realm of things which I could see were meaningful spiritually. As a student in graduate school, I could also justify my studies in the potential good it would do in helping me have a platform for evangelism in the future. But when I became a stay-at-home mom stationed not in a foreign country for missions, but in Staten Island, the guilt came as did the questions of whether what I did mattered and why.
Confusion: Ultimately I realized there was a huge disconnect between my understanding of “living for the glory of God” and my everyday life as well as the everyday lives of most people I know. Just being told to “do everything for God’s glory” wasn’t helpful in that I did not understand 1. why everything could be done to God’s glory 2. what doing everything to God’s glory practically looks like. Did it just mean being prayerful and having the right attitude when we did something? Did it mean it would have to be part of a chain of events that led to conversions of others (like, cook an egg so that you can have energy so that you can go to work to make money to give to a missionary)?
If you know me, you know that I get really excited about getting solid resources out to others. It is an extension of my passion about right theology that translates into giving away books I own (something I picked up from my mom), sharing online articles, referring people to different sermon series, and tweeting deals from wtsbooks.com. Because I know a lot of people who love Jesus and yet have struggled with the same issue of trying to think Biblically about God and work (whether outside the home or at school or at home), I want to recommend a resource to you!
When I was wrestling a lot with issues of vocation and the theology of the everyday, I stumbled (providentially) upon Matt Perman’s blog was helped a lot by his theologically solid and practical writing. At one point I sent him a question I still had and his answer clarified things for me (will post this later!) So, when he invited readers of his blog to be part of the launch team of his new book (helping promote the book and receiving an advanced e-copy of it), I quickly called my sister and had her do it and then promptly requested to be part of it too.
I’m still reading through the book, but already can think of many people it would benefit from it given our past conversations on work, ministry, and the Christian life. I recommend it to anyone feeling a disconnect between the daily tasks that they do in life as a mom/student/worker/etc. and living radically to God’s glory. There is solid Biblical theology of work and vocation throughout and it is centered on the gospel while not being disconnected from the practical.
Here’s a good description of the book from within the book itself:
Numerous Christian books give an excellent call to living radical lives devoted to the glory of God and the good of others, but they typically don’t go into much detail regarding how to weave this into the fabric of your life. This leaves us at a loss for how to apply these things consistently.
Many secular books on productivity, on the other hand, have a great framework for capturing your overall priorities in life and making them happen, but they don’t call you to set the right priorities based on what God says rather than on what you say.
We are going to solve that problem by showing how to find the God- centered, Christ-exalting passion of your life..then showing how to keep this at the center of your life and weave it into everything you do.
And here are some quotes that have been helped me thus far:
- “Each of us is an individual, with unique talents and gifts. Productivity is not about trying to do good according to another person’s style, or with gifts we don’t have. As the parable of the talents shows, productivity is about taking the gifts and resources God has given each of us individually and making those talents useful for the good of others.”
- “…We need to be creative because God is not simply a God of utility but also is a God of beauty. Putting thought into how we can serve people with creativity is simply an implication of the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
- “Just as we do good works from justification rather than for justification, we are also to do good works from peace rather than for peace.”
I look forward to sharing from what I read (whether in person or more on this blog) and am praying that this book will get into the hands of anyone who would find it helpful for them in living their lives unto God with much joy.
Here is the link to the book on Amazon: What’s Best Next
And here is a great WTS bookstore deal if you want to read a physical copy! What’s Best Next- WTSbooks