Blog - Grasping Vocation

"Hello. What Do You Do?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

You’ve just been introduced to someone you don’t know. Typically, he or she may open the conversation by asking, "What do you do?” In other words, "What is your work?” Some of us take the question in stride. Others see it as demeaning.

One Christian recently headlined an article, "Don’t Ask Me What I ‘Do.’” In his opinion, "we need to define ourselves in Christ rather than by our jobs.” He continued, "I resent that question. . . .To be defined by how I earn my living bothers me.” Or as a contemporary songwriter insists: "I am more than my work or my job.”

Clearly our core identity as Christian believers lies in our relationship with God. By believing in and receiving Christ, we become "children of God” (Jn. 1:12). But as God’s children, our identity is multi-dimensional. Scripture first introduces us to God as the Creator, the original Worker. And so as those made in his image and likeness, a significant part of our identity lies in the fact that we are workers. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a significant part of who we are.

We are, as the songwriter reminds us, more than our work. So it’s wrong to seek our complete identity in what we do. At the same time, our work is more than just a way to make a living and more than merely a way to relate to others. In addition, work is built into our very being. As theologian Darrell Cosden puts it, "The person is a worker, not as an accident of nature, but because God first is a worker and persons are created in his image” (A Theology of Work, p. 17). For that reason Cosden describes work as "fundamental to humanness” (p. 18).

Scripture often introduces or identifies people in connection with their work. For example: Nimrod, the hunter. Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives. Oholiab, the craftsman and designer. Heman, the musician. Esther, the queen. Nehemiah the cupbearer. Matthew and Zaccheus, the tax collectors. Simon and Andrew, the fishermen. Luke, the doctor. Cornelius, the centurion. Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul. Tertullus, the lawyer. Elymas, the sorcerer. Simon, the tanner. Demetrius, the silversmith. Paul, the tentmaker. Jesus, the carpenter.

Sometimes, when I meet strangers, it’s awkward to know what to talk about. But I’ve found that when I ask them to tell about their work, most open up and begin to talk freely. Showing interest in their work is one way to love them. It demonstrates that I value knowing about a vital part of who they are.

My wife and I have been helping a couple deal with some issues in their marriage. In our living room, the husband has difficulty expressing himself. His primary identity: child of God. But he is also a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a neighbor, and—a worker. We recently visited the restaurant where he has served as a waiter for the past 20 years. Intentionally we sat at a table in his zone. There, in his working context, he spoke fluently and enthusiastically. In that role, he was finding joy in carrying out his small part of God’s command to "rule. . . over all the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

Two cautions. One, we should not make more of our work than God intended by turning it into an idol. But two, neither should we shrink our work into  something less than it is. God the Worker made us as workers. That’s an essential part of our identity. God worked to create us and he worked to redeem us. In our working, although we do it imperfectly, we mirror something of him. What an honor! What a participation in the dignity of our humanness!


So if you and I ever cross paths and someone introduces me to you, go ahead. Ask me what I do. I’ll be delighted to tell you about my work.

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