He was an orchidologist and a committed lay leader in his church. And while he understood the spiritual significance of his ministry in church he was never quite clear about the spiritual significance of his work with orchids, something he did well but I suspect with a sense of futility since he believed this fallen world would be destroyed at the end of time. He was in my class on Vocation, Work and Ministry, and I had suggested that all that is good in this life, including the fruits of our daily work, would be redeemed and transformed and have a place in the new heaven and the new earth. He told me that it was a key insight that had given him fresh joy and motivation for his work with orchids. When he told me that it gave me fresh joy and motivation for my work as a teacher.
In life we are responsible for many roles at any given time. My roles include husband, son, brother, church member, friend, and citizen. And while we are to be responsible for the roles we have, there is also a calling that is unique to each one of us and one of our life duties is to discover that calling and make it available for the Lord and for others. I like how James Martin, SJ puts it.
The most important spiritual insight I’ve learned since entering the Jesuits is that God calls each of us to be who we are. “For me to be a saint means for me to be myself,” said Thomas Merton . . . As a result, holiness consists of being true to the person God created. In other words, being holy means being your true self. [James Martin, SJ, Becoming Who You Are (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2005, 71)].
Martin is not denying there is an ethical dimension to being holy. We are all called to reflect God’s character in that sense. He is talking about the vocational dimension of holiness, that we are all uniquely created and our uniqueness is a clue to who we are and what we are to do. In his book, The Gift of Being Yourself, David G. Benner writes:
Without deemphasizing the value of the Bible in knowing my calling, I have come to understand an even more basic place in which God’s will to me has been communicated. That is in the givens of my being. My temperament, my personality, my abilities, and my interests and passions all say something about who I was called to be, not simply who I am. If I really believe that I was created by God and invited to find my place in his kingdom, I have to take seriously what God had already revealed about who I am. [David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004, 101)]
Why am I reflecting on vocation? Because today is my birthday. Today I turn 58 and it feels strange. Those who hear me preach and teach on a regular basis will know that I refer to my age quite often these days. It is not because I feel old. It is because I feel strange. I am intrigued by 58 because in two years I will be 60. Sixty feels really strange because I grew up in a time when people retired at 55. Sixty sounds really old. And that is what I’ll be in two years.
Of course times have changed. People work till much later in life. I have friends in their 80’s who are still writing and teaching. Only God knows how long we will live on this side of heaven. If the Lord were to take me home today, I would feel a deep sense of gratitude for all He has given me in my life. I have felt this way for many years now. But I am still here and while I am here I want to be a good steward of my life. When my time comes I want to be able to say like Jesus: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 NIV)
But what is the work that God has given me to do? Recently a member of one of my mentoring groups came up to me after I had preached. I can’t recall her exact words but she implied that while my mentoring was so-so, I was called to preach. I agreed. I have known this for a while. I have been called to preach and teach the word of God. I want to see lives transformed through the relevant, accurate, and passionate preaching/teaching of God’s Word. This is who I am.
There are still areas of my preaching/teaching that require serious work. And I am very aware of the pride that comes so easily to those who speak publicly on a regular basis. It is a heady experience. From my vantage point at 58, I see the Lord lovingly cutting me down to size again and again through the years of my life. He is still doing it because I still need it. And I know that as a teacher, I will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). What to do? This is who I am.
My friend the orchidologist is a great Bible teacher. And he should continue to teach the Scriptures. But he has been called to work with orchids. I fully expect to see some of his handiwork in the new heaven and the new earth.
What will I be doing this birthday evening? My beloved Bernice is out of town on ministry so the celebratory dinner awaits her return. Tonight I will be teaching my course on Vocation, Work and Ministry. Feels right somehow.