We reflect God’s glory through what we do and how we do it.
In fact, we are the most brilliant reflection of God when we are who He S.H.A.P.E.’d us to be (see Part 1 for more details). Too many people are trying to be something they’re not. Unfortunately, many traditional missions organizations have been complicit in that by trying to press people into certain roles rather than embracing and encouraging who God made them to be. When we do that, we set people up for failure because they exhaust themselves doing what they weren't designed to do. And they slowly die.
But God made everyone unique, and He did that for a grand purpose — that we would take what He put inside us and use it to move creation forward under His will and in His ways. In so doing, we bring Him glory.
When God gave humanity the collective role of governing His creation, He created unique individuals to live together in community in such a way that they could run it — so that they could take it forward.
We see people in ancient Israel playing this out in the story of the tabernacle in Exodus as farmers, shepherds, craftsmen and artists. God’s grand purpose was to establish the nation of Israel as a beacon of His glory to the nations, with Himself as the center and the tabernacle as the place where the nation would worship him and enjoy His presence.
PURPOSE vs. VOCATION
When people say, “I’m working out my purpose,” what they often mean is, “I’m working out my role.” I encourage you: Don’t confuse the two. Your purpose has already been defined by your Creator. All that remains is to find how you’re going to live that out within his purpose. So remember:
Work out your vocation based on what God has made you to be. If you try to be something you’re not, you are trying to control something that God gave you to do under His control — and, you’re not going to be very good at it. Frederick Buechner’s reminder here is powerful: “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
Realize that when you do that under His grand purpose, you have incredible freedom in how you express what He made you to be.
In service to our own ideas and priorities, we have over-complicated this entire enterprise. It simply should not be that way. We shouldn’t be putting Saul’s armor on people and telling them, “You must look like this — you must look like a soldier.” Well, no — you should look like a person doing the thing God created you to do.
If you say, “God made me to be a nurse — I love being a nurse, and I’m good at it,” then enjoy the freedom of that! You don’t have to sit around saying, “What’s my purpose?” Again, that great purpose has been set for you. Vocationally, that’s your place in the kingdom: nurse.
WRAPPING VOCATION AROUND PURPOSE
The key question then is, “Are you wrapping your vocation around your kingdom purpose?” Those two things are inextricably linked, and you know you’re doing it if you’re bringing God’s goodness with you and pointing people to God in your job. Rather than simply being a really good nurse (which is part of it — more on that later), you should constantly be seeking to bring God’s goodness into your interactions and bring out that goodness by bringing Jesus into the conversation and pointing people to Him.
Doing that, as the person God created you to be daily, erases the mythical sacred-secular divide that has hobbled people’s thinking for hundreds of years in the West. That divide does not exist in the historical Judeo-Christian worldview, nor in the ancient Hebrew way of thinking. It’s a modern Western fabrication that suddenly evaporates when people wrap their individual vocation around God’s grand purpose for humanity.
We have to explicitly embrace a truth that many believers understand implicitly: Your work is central to the mission of God in this world. It is not peripheral. Your actions and the work of your hands are key ways through which you fulfill your place in God’s kingdom. Put another way, you don’t fulfill your place in God’s grand purpose just by volunteering at church; you do it by living who He made you to be everywhere you are.
EXCELLENCE IN WORK AND ATTITUDE
Finally, how you do that in the marketplace matters very much to God, particularly in the excellence and the attitude you bring to your work.
When you do your work with excellence, you reveal the image of our excellent Creator. And when you bring a great attitude to work, you reveal the character of the God who says in His word, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world …” (Philippians 2:14-15, ESV).
Beyond that, as followers of Jesus, we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. We are the salt brings out the good flavor of everything around us and light that reveals God’s glory and brings it to bear everywhere we go. That’s acting out our real purpose, no matter what vocation we choose to pursue in line with our individual S.H.A.P.E.
Here are some questions to ponder as you search for your place in God’s grand purpose:
What is my S.H.A.P.E.?
Am I working within my S.H.A.P.E. right now? If not, what could I do about that?
What do I love to do that has been valuable to others, as well?
What do other people say are my strengths and weaknesses (make a list)? Who could I ask about that?
Have I prayed through what God has designed me to be and to do (make another list — your prayers and God’s responses)?
What do I fear most about possibly pursuing a new course of work? What does Scripture say about that? And should I really be afraid of that?
In light of how God made me, what other people say about me and what God seems to be saying to me, what are some vocational possibilities for me?