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Four questions about calling

Christians must fight dualism, stereotypes, and what we may tell ourselves when we wake up in the morning

Question to author Sally Lloyd-Jones: How have you become productive in your calling as a writer?

I can write about two to three hours, and if I do that, I feel good. If I don't, I feel edgy, like I haven't done any work. I usually start early. Showing up regularly is needed! Even doing 10 minutes is better than nothing. I heard that Linda Sue Park, the Newbery Award--winning novelist, was asked, "What made you want to write novels?" And she said, "Oh, I don't write novels. I'd be too scared. I write two pages a day."

Whenever I start saying to myself, "I can't do this, it's too much," I just remind myself that I'm not doing all that-I'm only doing this little bit. Watch what you're saying to yourself. When you wake up in the morning you're already talking to yourself, and you have to address yourself and take yourself in hand, and say, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? I will put my trust in God," instead of just listening to yourself all the time.

Question to Jennifer Marshall, a Heritage Foundation program director and author of Now and Not Yet, which relates her experience as a single woman: If you had been told when you graduated from Wheaton that you'd have a flourishing Washington career but would also be single, would you have been surprised?

Totally. I thought I would be a mother with five kids, driving a minivan and teaching on the side or even teaching them at home. That's what I pictured. I didn't have a concept at all of having a career. When marriage didn't come along, reality was not matching my expectations, and I had to think through all this. A lot of young women, my peers, wrestle with the same issues.

I interviewed quite a few women: None of them had been instructed as to how to live most of your 20s single. No one, whether in the church or in another setting, had prepared them as to expectations or guidance that they might need. And as a result, this hit everybody in the face, like, "Wow, I expected to be getting married and now I'm on the eve of my 30th birthday."

Meanwhile, we see each other through stereotypes: "Oh, she's 30 and has a good title at her job, so she must not be interested in marriage or motherhood." With the women I talked to, that's not the case at all. They were definitely willing, even eager, to consider marriage. But all kinds of issues are associated with our difficulties in entering and maintaining stable marriage relationships. For example, this year we'll probably hit 40 percent of children being born out of wedlock. We need to look at work and marriage callings in the light of our human aspirations and hopes for the future.

Question to financial advisor David Bahnsen: What do you tell young Christians who ask about vocation and calling?

A simple Google search will show how significant the subject of vocation has become in the life of a Christian: Put "Christians and work" into the popular search engine and 29.4 million results come up. Church leaders know that believers filling their pews have been asking for more career guidance. Church and parachurch programs are seeking to equip believers in the integration of their faith and work.

That's all good news-but the standard evangelical approach to the subject, sadly, is heavily influenced by "dualism," the practice of dividing life into categories of "sacred" and "secular." The doctrine of creation establishes God's significant interest in the universe He has created. Psalm 24:1 teaches that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." We make a fatal flaw when we stick matters of earthly vocation into the "secular" category, thereby denoting it as less spiritually valuable than church ministry or missions work.

The Christian church is right that work is important, but it is not right to teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that work is important only as a means to an end. Yes, our jobs provide us the paychecks we need for daily sustenance and to meet our financial obligations. Yes, it is certainly true that our jobs provide us an avenue to share Christ with unbelievers. Some may even add that tremendous financial success can lead to greater opportunities for philanthropy, including contributions to church building funds.

Both of these benefits, though, only tell part of the story. God created each of us with unique talents, passions, and abilities. When we faithfully and diligently pursue the meeting of our talents and passions in the marketplace, we find a career where we can "feel the pleasure of God" (as the Scottish runner, Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame so memorably said). We do not need to separate "significance" from "success" or "ministry" from "career". We do not need to believe that our pastor and missionary friends have the truly "spiritual" callings, while lamenting the boredom and uselessness of our own.

God has called each of us to a truly special kingdom usefulness, and a large part of that calling (not all of it) can intrinsically be found in our work. We need our pastors and missionaries, but we also need journalists, attorneys, mechanics, entrepreneurs (and even politicians). Every Christian should work toward the glory of God. We should maximize meaning and dignity in our own lives, feel the pleasure of the Creator in our work, achieve our monetary goals, and do so with a conviction that God has called us to the fields or areas in which we work.

Question to Marvin Olasky: Why is it important that the poor as well as the affluent work and have a calling?

Because God instituted work before the fall of man as one of the traits that separates man from the animals. If we lived by bread alone, it would be fine just to feed the poor: Treat them like pets, put some food in their bowls. Understanding that people are made in God's image means extending opportunities to work. Post-fall, work will often be hard for the affluent or for the poor: Through the institution of gleaning (see Deuteronomy 24:19-22) sojourners, widows, and orphans could get enough to eat, and some food to sell as well, but they had to journey to the corners of fields or climb trees.

Such effort built character and-as in the book of Ruth-allowed some to display character. This Old Testament understanding carried over into the New Testament, where Paul, who worked as a tentmaker, told the Thessalonians, "If a man shall not work, he shall not eat." He instructed slaves and employees to work not primarily to please man but to please God.

The early church supported elderly widows, but even they had to have a track record of volunteering their time to do good deeds for others. Early Christians displayed the same attitude by setting up a "three days rule" for new arrivals: three days of free housing and food, but after that they had to work. The goal was to have them use their talents to glorify God.

-with reporting by Kiley Humphries

The Editors

The Editors