You live long enough and you get to hear your fair share of declarations like the above in its various permutations. Live a bit longer and you will discover as I have done that virtually none of those who structure their life in that way actually get around to doing what they believed was their life calling.
Apparently this is also true of vocations that are not directly related to the church. In his article “What Should I Do With My Life?” (FAST COMPANY January 2003, 68 ff.), Po Bronson writes:
“It turns out that having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do that. The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you. It takes twice as long as anyone plans for. It requires more sacrifice than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world—and psychologically adapted to it—that you don’t really want to ditch it.”
Now FAST COMPANY is the flagship publication of the “new economy”, hardly a Christian magazine. But even the world recognizes that organizing your life around the pursuit of money, for whatever reason, changes you.
At the heart of the matter is the issue of security. We all have legitimate needs. Some of us have more financial responsibilities than others. We need to nurture and educate our children. We need to care for aging parents. We all need food and shelter.
But security is not a matter of numbers—“if I have x dollars I will be secure”. Security is finally a matter of the spirit. Jesus addresses this issue directly in Matthew 6: 19-34. There He explicitly commands us not to worry about our needs. And He gives us a few reasons why we shouldn’t worry.
First He tells us that worry is totally unproductive. Next He tells us that we need not worry because we have a heavenly Father who cares for us.
“Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (v.32-33) NLT
Earlier in the passage Jesus has explicitly warned us that there can be only one organizing principle in life. It’s either God or money. It cannot be both (v.24). Which may explain why even the best of intentions may not ensure that we will finally pursue our life’s work after we make enough money. Any amount of time spent orientating our lives around the pursuit of money somehow distorts our hearts. By the time we have “made enough” we are no longer the same person we were when we set out.
And then there is the matter of our life calling. Few of us may be sure as to what our life calling is. In the same article, Bronson concludes, after exhaustive interviews with 900 people, that people “found their calling after great difficulty. They had made mistakes before getting it right.” Personally I think that for most of us, the pieces don’t begin to fall into place till we hit 30 and beyond. Of course there are some of us who found their callings earlier. (I believed God first made it clear to me that I was to give my life to teaching the Word in my final year of university.)
I also believe that there is no spiritual hierarchy of meaningful work. Some of us are called to church related vocations. But it soon becomes clear that God’s world will grind to a halt without teachers, engineers, nurses, garbage men, homemakers etc. At the same time we do need more pastors, cross-cultural missionaries, counsellors, apologists, theologians etc.
God is not in mass production. There is but one of each one of us. If He called you into existence He had a role for you to play. Life is short. It makes sense to devote our life to discovering who we are in Christ and then to devote our life to that calling.
And when we begin to live out our calling we will find that we can live within our means. Again wisdom from Bronson and FAST COMPANY:
“The shortest route to the good life involves building the confidence that you can live happily within your means (whatever means provided by the choices that are truly acceptable to you turn out to be). It’s scary to imagine living on less. But embracing your dreams is surprisingly liberating. Instilled with a sense of purpose, your spending habits naturally reorganize because you discover that you need less.”
I think Bronson is on the right track. But I don’t think you can leave God out of the picture. When your heart is full of God and His purposes you find that you are less addicted to the need to build your life around mammon.
God is no man’s debtor. He has already promised that He will provide for our daily needs if we put Him and His purposes first.
May this year find us closer to knowing and living our life callings.
Your brother, SooInn