Friday, July 10, 2009

John Calvin on Vocation

Today - July 10th, 2009 - marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church.    You might recognize his unique contribution in shaping the doctrines of the church but are you also aware of how his views have helped shape our understanding of work and vocation?  

Together with Martin Luther, John Calvin shared a high view of what it means to receive and fulfill one's vocation in life.   Here's a sample of what he wrote on the topic  -

"...the Lord commands every one of us, in all actions of life to regard his vocation.... to prevent universal confusion being produced by our folly and temerity, he has appointed to all their particular duties in different spheres of life. And that no one might rashly transgress the limits prescribed, he has styled such spheres of life vocations, or callings. "

According to Calvin, every one of us is assigned vocations by the sovereign God.   These vocations are to be taken seriously and represent specific responsibilities in different areas of our lives.  He viewed them as so important as to liken a person's vocation as a post assigned by the Lord for the course of his life.   For a person to not discharge the duties of  his/her post in a responsible manner was to be unfaithful to the calling of God upon his/her life.    Further, to receive these callings from God is actually a blessing from God, to direct us and to grant us purpose.

"Every individual's line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in uncertainty all his days."

Calvin also wrote about how pursuing our vocation in God will lead to a satisfying and joyful life.  When the obstacles and troubles of this life are seen in light of our vocation(s), we will be better able to cope with them.   Furthermore, no task or career will seem insignificant or irrelevant.

"It will also be no small alleviation of his cares, labours, troubles, and other burdens, when a man knows that in all these things he has God for his guide. The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed h'ghly important in the sight of God"

Do you see your vocation(s) as a gift from God?   
Are you faithful in fulfilling the post assigned to you in this life?
How will seeing your work in light of a calling from God change your perspective?


Ted M. Gossard said...

I think I agree with what I understand of what Calvin is saying here. And there is much good from Calvin from my perspective, one of the best Biblical exegetes, maybe the best of that time.

Ecclesiastes is key for me in seeking to understand vocation. That all work is to be received as a gift from God, and that God gives people enjoyment in their work, a gift as well.

Certainly whatever our hands find to do, we're to do it with all our heart. We are responsible to always do the very best we can, in all we do.

Abraham Kuyper is a part of the line from Calvinism I would want to learn from. He carries on some of the best of Calvin's thought and legacy, I believe.

I am thankful to God for all the good that came from his servant, John Calvin.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, ESI. (And Every Square Inch reminds me of Kuyper's application, I take it, of Calvin.)

Maalie said...

Do you see your vocation(s) as a gift from God? ..


Are you faithful in fulfilling the post assigned to you in this life?..

What post? I assigned it for myself, thank you.

How will seeing your work in light of a calling from God change your perspective? .

It won't, I don't see it as such.

Sam Van Eman said...

I guess I should know more about Calvin's comments on vocation. I work for a college ministry that is greatly influenced by him and Kuyper and others.

While the subject is ingrained in me and permeates our daily work and stands at the center of our Jubilee conference, I don't know all of the specifics that inform our organizational history.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - you're quite right - Kuyper applied Calvin. In fact there is a World Magazine article by John Piper that speaks to that.

Maalie - thanks for taking the time to stop with your thoughts.

Every Square Inch said...

Sam - I'm grateful for groups like CCO Jubilee who are connecting young people with a holistic view of the gospel applied to real life.

Marcus Goodyear said...

That parenthetical "s" is really important for me. Maybe I'm just too American, but I have trouble believing God assigned one vocation through which I can best serve him.

Aside from that, Calvin's words are oddly reassuring. I love the idea that vocations are "a blessing from God, to direct us and to grant us purpose."

But I struggle with good being the enemy of the best and the best being the enemy of the good.

Sometimes I allow myself to be distracted by good tasks that may or may not be one of my primary vocations. The good becomes the enemy of the best.

Other times, I am so intent on the excellence of a final product that I shut down and lose heart mid-process. The best becomes the enemy of the good.

For me, it is enough to know that what I do throughout the day matters to God. I can offer it to him, even if my plans and my career never produce anything to write home about.

(Also, I just featured this post on the wibiya toolbar.)

Paul Long said...

Great to find your blog and nice to find you after so many years ... must be over 20 years since we last met. Checked out your photos on facebook. Looking good :-)

My understanding on "Vocation" and "calling" is that it is related to our spiritual gifts, natural talents and leanings, temperaments, opporutnities and stage of life.

Reality however is that often cirucmstances are such that we may not get the opporunity to be in the vocation that will bring us fulfilment. Many of us work in the jobs we do simply out of necessity and the need to survive :-(

Jimmy said...

thanks for this entry and great questions to ponder, as you can tell it took awhile for me to respond. look forward to your thoughts.
In terms of my professional career, i certainly see the hand of God. Every job I have ever had is from the hand of God. When I survey my life, where I came from to where I am, it can only be explained and the gracious and generous hand of God.
There have been times when i have made job moves based on my own selfish desires and the results have been poor in almost every category. Gratefully, the grace and mercy of God was active and He provided a path back to where I needed to be to make progress in my career and provide for my family.
That is what is on the surface. I believe that in each of the "posts" that God has assigned me he is at work in me and all the people around me. In my wonderings He was teaching me to listen to him prior to moving and yet I had brief encounters with other people that I could reach out to with the gospel (sadly I am not always faithful to share the truth of the gospel). For is it not the gospel that was at the center of Calvin's life? Is it not the gospel that we take with us everywhere we go? The calling of God is Matthew 28, isn't it? So, the gospel is really what it is all about, not writing, teaching, photography, engineering, or tent making. These are the vehicles that transport us to places where we can love people with the gospel. Does that make sense? I don't think you can answer these great questions apart from the gospel, for Calvin did make his comments apart from the gospel

Every Square Inch said...

Marcus - I chose this quote by Calvin for that reason - to highlight something I've been learning. That we have many vocations - various callings to various spheres of life.

Paul - thanks for your comment. It's true that sometimes we find ourselves doing work we do not prefer or enjoy. In those times, how then can we experience God's peace and joy? I think it is through remembering our first and primary vocation is to our call to be in right relationship with God...and finding joy in it.

Jimmy - thanks for a view into how God has worked in your life through various means and jobs. Vocation is about Matthew 28 but it's more than Matthew's also about loving God and neighbor through our work.