Here is what I submitted for our local paper. Area clergy get to take turns as guest columnists. It has to be fairly brief, so bear this in mind when reading it!
God At Work: Finding Meaning in Every Day Life
It’s the middle of September, and everyone knows what that means in Iowa. Before long, if not already, we’ll be seeing clouds of dust arising from corn and bean fields as farmers begin to gather in the harvest. And let us pray for a bountiful one!
This is also a good time to remind ourselves of an important part of Christian teaching, one that was largely forgotten in Christendom until the Reformation in Germany in the 16th century. I’m talking, of course, about the doctrine of vocation, the teaching that God Himself is at work in the daily calling and work of Christians.
Up until this time, it was believed that if you really wanted to please God and do something “holy” you entered the priesthood or joined a monastery. Butchers, barbers, farmers and other “common” occupations were viewed as less holy. This was due in part to the medieval understanding of justification as a process rather than a declaration or imputation of righteousness on account of faith. Taking monastic vows was one way of furthering oneself on the road to justification, or so it was believed.
Once people were freed from the opinion that justification was a process, and that one did not need to join a monastery in order to be more pleasing to God, their daily work took on a whole new meaning. Since God was already pleased with them on account of their faith in the merits of Jesus, He was also pleased with their works. They could apply themselves to their God-given callings as mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, workers and citizens knowing that such works were pleasing in God’s sight.
For Luther, this meant that a mother who changed her child’s messy diaper was doing as holy a work as any monk or priest. A child who served and obeyed his parents “has, in the first place, this great consolation in his heart, that he can joyfully say and boast (in spite of and against all who are occupied with works of their own choice): ‘Behold, this work is well pleasing to my God in heaven, that I know for certain.’ (Large Catechism).
The doctrine of vocation also helped people to see God’s hand in their daily work. Mothers and fathers, farmers and butchers, even government leaders were viewed as “masks of God,” behind which God Himself was at work in his creation, serving, loving, and caring for his creatures. The Christian could confess with St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Today there is often a new form of monasticism that is seen in the Church, the idea that if I want to be pleasing to God, and do “holy” things, I need to be constantly serving at the church, or even entering a church-work career. The whole Church could benefit, even in our day, from the Reformer’s understanding of vocation. Where do Christians need to be? Right where God has called them. And we have the added consolation that it is really God who is at work through our daily calling and work.
So farmers, grocers, grain bin workers, truckers, students, mothers, fathers—get to it! If you are a Christian, then your work is good and pleasing in God’s sight. And God will use the work that you do to bless us with our “daily bread”!