Recently, I taught a course over zoom entitled “Vocation, Work, and Ministry” for the Malaysian Theological Seminary. I have taught some version of this course over the span of many years. I have been delighted when many who took this course received greater clarity as to their personal life missions. But this time something happened. One of the members of this recent course was pastoring a congregation where a number were poor and jobless. He said that these folks were not thinking about calling. They were just hoping to find any job they could get to be able to put food on the table for them and their families.
It felt like a rebuke. It was definitely an ah-ha moment. It suddenly dawned on me that all the times I had taught this course, most of my students had tertiary education, and were middle class or better. They were people with choices. That is why they were encouraged to discover their callings and to choose to follow them. But what about the poor? What about those who had no choices? What about those who were struggling to survive?
As I reviewed my material, I was glad that I had taught that our lives must centre on Christ and not on vocation. Christ gives us our vocations but at any given point in time He also dictates the degree to which we can carry out that vocation. I think of my parents and those of their generation. I am sure they were called to different things, but during the war their main task was staying alive. Our first call is to follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). We are called to be faithful to Him in the various circumstances He puts us in. And there may be seasons when we can pursue our calling, but not always.
I also think that this puts greater responsibility on those who can choose to follow their callings. We need to be good stewards of that freedom. If all who can choose to follow their callings do so, imagine the impact on the world, including on those who can't follow their callings.
If I were given the chance to teach this course again, I would be much more sensitive to those who are not in a position to pursue their vocation. I will remind them that God loves them for who they are and not what they do. And, while meaningful work is an important part of being human, our identity is rooted in our relationship with God. I will continue to encourage all to reflect on what their callings may be and to choose to follow them as a key way to contribute to the common good.
As in many things, we must avoid two extremes. One is to totally avoid thinking about vocation. God has made all of us unique individuals and in pursuing vocation we are seeking to be good stewards of our uniqueness. But neither should we make our calling the centre of our lives. Our vocation is important. But it is not God.