Vocation Now and Later

by Stephen R. Clark

Whenever the idea of Christian vocation is addressed in an article or conversation, there’s a well-known quote attributed to Frederick Buechner that almost always comes up: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Actually, as Buechner himself explained in an interview¹, it’s not a direct quote, but it captures the essence of what he was getting at.

As Christian writers, imbued with God’s image, we all want to know why we’re here. What we’re supposed to be about. For what purpose did God create us?

And we tend to spend a lifetime seeking “the” answer to that question.

In the meantime, we write and live and move and have our being, going about our days, doing our best to please God and enjoy Him for now and here, longing for over there.

This we call our Christian walk.

God-shaped

In the process of living our lives and doing our writing in the light of God’s Word, we seek to be better people. To be Spirit-filled, God-shaped, Christ-redeemed creations.

We care about those around us. Go to work and do our writing as well as we can. Give money to those in need. Do acts of service. Treat people well. Grow where we are planted.

As we do these things, our writing vocation and purpose take shape through our humble, clumsy service to God.

Perhaps we even recognize that our “purpose” is not singular, but rather a series of purposes, a multiplicity of callings. All, of course, anchored in Christ connected by His will flowing through us.

From time to time, our thoughts turn to heaven. “What’s that going to be like?” we wonder.

Honestly, I’m not sure Christianity has done a good job of revealing what heaven and the new earth will be like.

What it won’t be like is how it is cartoonishly characterized: you’re sitting on a cloud wearing a halo and wings strumming a harp. The Bible does, however, refer to us reigning with Christ. It mentions streets, cities, dwellings. All of this implies activity.

Frankly, I’m really hoping there will be books. I think there’s going to be a lot of time to catch up on my reading!

Foreshadowing the new earth

A couple of years ago I read a really great book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I strongly recommend the book to everyone.

On the topic of Christian vocation, Pearcey states, “In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

As Spock would say, Fascinating!

This means we’re going to have stuff to do over there on the other side. Stuff for which we are perfectly suited, that fits to a T our created personalities, that extends our unique giftings into eternity!

Wowza! That sounds, well, darn fun!

And how we live now, all we do here on earth in this short time we have, prepares and shapes us for the rest of our eternal lives.

Holy vocational education!

Going back to Buechner, he explained, “When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn’t need that.”

This helps sift down the possibilities for us in terms of what we’re made for. Wanton carousing isn’t something this earth or the new earth needs.

Glorify and enjoy

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In this we find further guidance when it comes to vocation as well.

We seek to do that which pleases God, serves Him and provides us a sense of enjoyment—joy, satisfaction, contentment—in the process.

Add in the context of Luke 10:25-37, where the double commands to “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are clarified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Clearly, what we do must also benefit those around us.

So vocation is not about us having our fun, doing what we want, living our truth, even if it’s not hurting anyone else. How we live here on earth, what we do now, has eternal consequences.

And so our vocation doesn’t end at heaven’s gate, because death for the Christian isn’t an end. It’s a new beginning to a new life . . . and a truly glorious career!

So, how’s your on-the-job training going?

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¹ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, “Frederick Buechner Extended Interview,” May 5, 2006

 

Is Writing a Spiritual Gift?

by Joyce K. Ellis

Is writing a spiritual gift? This question often surfaces in Christian writing circles.

Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit has given each believer at least one spiritual gift—an ability entrusted to us when we began our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:11). God gives us the particular gifts we can use. And he expects us to use these “presents” to bring him glory and expand his kingdom.

The lists of spiritual gifts that Paul and Peter give in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 may not be exhaustive, but they reveal types of gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. We find general categories—teaching, encouraging, and leading. Not specifics, such as spring-break beach witnessing, singing with a worship team, or even writing.

But we can use each spiritual gift in many ways. Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of gifts…different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

So, personally, I don’t believe that writing is one of “the spiritual gifts,” but it is an avenue through which we can express them.

Just as some pastor-teachers use their gift in large congregations, others at racetracks, and others in children’s work, some of us use ours in print.

Other writers use their gifts of encouragement, healing, or evangelism in their writing.

Sometimes a believer uses the same gift in multiple venues. Paul obviously put his pastor-teacher gift to work in preaching and in his writings—all of them originally letters, remember. With his spiritual gift of encouragement, he restored the once-AWOL John Mark to meaningful service—and also wrote to the Philippians, from a prison cell, about joy in difficult circumstances.

Direction

Understanding our spiritual gifts may provide direction for our writing, too. If one writer identifies his spiritual gifts as leadership, giving, and mercy, he may write about those topics, avoiding what Charles Swindoll calls “trafficking in unlived truths.” But the Lord may also lead him to write direct-appeal letters for relief organizations. Or perhaps he’ll be drawn to writing profiles about people in need, including sidebars about practical ways to help.

If another writer’s spiritual gifts include teaching and encouragement, she may find her best opportunities in expository articles or practical Christian living articles.

Avoiding frustration

Often, writing frustrations come from working outside our spiritual gifts. Some years ago, I helped a retired pastor with some writing projects. Each time we met he brought short devotionals, and he lamented his quick-turnaround rejections.

A brilliant theologian and preacher, he could have been writing expository articles and books—clarifying deep truths. So I encouraged him to use his spiritual gift of teaching to help his readers go deeper in God’s Word.

Peter reminds us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

So unwrap your spiritual gift package and look for ways to use these presents in your writing—for God.