Several years ago, when my son was in first grade, he angrily asked me why we weren’t missionaries. His accusatory tone had me feeling slightly defensive about our career choices, and when I pushed him for more details, he matter-of-factly stated that you have to be a missionary to be a good Christian.
To give some context, his aunt, uncle and cousins had recently returned from serving two years as missionaries in Paris. After a few long weekends catching up with our family and listening to hours of stories, all my son heard was delicious bread and Nutella.
His very serious questioning of our vocational choices required an equally serious conversation about God’s calling on our lives. My son’s perception of working for God was traveling the world, living in famous places and eating great food all while sharing the gospel. He was comparing the circumstances of our country Kansas life to his cousin’s exotic situation on the mission field. Even though it was easy to explain that Nutella wasn’t on the menu every day, it was more difficult to explain how God calls us to serve him and make disciples in any job we are called to.
I personally haven’t felt called to overseas missions, and I can clearly articulate why I feel God calling me and my family to be right here right now in my rural Midwest town. However, explaining that rationale to a first grader who pines for adventure—and misses his cousins dearly—wasn’t as simple.
The first-grade level conversation we had with our son began by asking him to think about school as a job. We discussed ways he can share Christ’s love with classmates by being kind and inclusive. We also encouraged him to invite friends to church or over to our house to play. His question started a longer conversation that we continue to discuss as a family—how do we serve God wherever he calls us, specifically with our work?
It’s no wonder that my son was so drawn to the stories from the mission field. Their excitement for their “job” was evident, and it is contagious. Of course, he wants us to serve God—it sounds awesome! My husband and I do not come home from work with exciting stories of changed lives. And, we certainly don’t have fresh bread around every corner—just wheat fields.
If I want to model the example for my son that my work is also a calling from God, I should be excited about it. I should be just as energized, and it should feel like the adventure it truly is. It’s easy for me to forget that God did call me to see disciples made through my work. He calls us all into missions, just not officially.
God makes us unique
Each of us is called by God to do his work, but that work looks differently in each of our lives. God made us uniquely for his purpose, and we know this because he tells us so in the Psalms. Psalm 139:13-16 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Knowing that God uniquely planned all the days of my life, even before I was formed, allows me to confidently respond to my son that when I go to work, I am working for God even if missionary isn’t in my official job title. When God planned our days, he did so with the knowledge of our unique skills and gifts. He knows us on an intimate level and forges our paths accordingly. This allows us to see that our work has an eternal significance.
From a very young age, I have been a talker. Not only did I talk a lot, but I was also really loud. I still like to talk, but thankfully, with some time and grace, I can now control when I need to be heard and when it’s best to use my inside voice. It is humorous to think that I grew up getting in trouble for talking in class and now it’s my job to talk in class! God knew he would call me into the classroom, and he prepared me with skills and abilities that inform my work and make it truly a calling from the Lord.
My unique ability to talk too much also allows me to build relationships with students, coworkers and campus visitors. Quick conversations open doors for more conversations, and eventually an opportunity to talk about Jesus presents itself. Getting to those moments where the conversation shifts to the spiritual, where hard questions are discussed and hearts start to soften, I know I’m right where God has called me to be.
God gives us confidence
As God makes each of us unique, he also places us into unique situations. Acts 17:26-27 says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
His placements aren’t accidents. We can be confident that we are right where he wants us to be. We can rest in the assurance that our work is part of his plan. Regardless of the job we are in, whether it’s our dream job or not, God calls us there and creates us to make disciples. We are working for the Lord, not for men.
Vocation is a buzz word in the college world these days. It means to have a strong calling toward a career or profession. In a Christian context, it implies a calling to serve the Lord with your career.
My son has a few years left to go before he can get a job, but most of my students are only months away from starting their careers. The uncertainty around their very near futures often causes them to think less about vocation and more about salaries and benefits. The stress causes their minds to shift into selfish mode, and rarely can you discern big decisions in this state of mind. In their stress, God orchestrates conversations to remind them why we work. Thinking vocationally stills the worry about being in the right job or career path.
As the world changes, working for the Lord does not. As jobs become scarce and industries evolve, following God’s call in your work never goes away. God made us for the adventure he set us on. Let’s lean into our uniqueness and answer his call.
Staci Janzen is chair of the business studies department and an assistant professor of marketing at Tabor College. Janzen has degrees from Kansas State University and is completing her doctorate at Northcentral University. Janzen and her husband, Jimmy, live in rural Hillsboro, Kansas, with their two children and are members of Hillsboro MB Church.