As a little boy, a lot of time was spent thinking about that question every child gets asked: What am I going to be when I grow up? Many of you are still trying to figure it out. For me, the answer was obvious: from age 5, I was going to be a professional basketball player, no doubt about it. In fact it was rather annoying when I was asked the question because I would think isn’t the answer obvious—Can’t they tell? However, over time, three rather important things emerged: I was short; I could not jump; and I was slow. Other than that, all the necessary skills were there.
By college graduation career thoughts had turned to becoming a Presbyterian minister, but with several reservations. My concerns were for my own maturity at that point and the expense associated with additional education. I also knew I needed to learn something about how the real world worked. To minister well to people living in the working world, I had to know something of it. My first professional pursuit was for three years at a computer company in North Dallas as a corporate recruiter in human resources. What an incredibly eye-opening experience. From day one, it was striking to discover that most people had no idea how to answer the question. This is when I realized that the question may be fundamentally wrong. It is not what do I want to be when I grow up, but who do I want to be. Sadly, people were trying to find their sense of self in what they did and not who they were on the inside. It was stunning to see how hard people were working and yet how utterly empty at the same time.
Truth be told, that is where a lot of us are living today. We find that our days are tiring and unfulfilling. Statistics show 11 of our 16 waking hours are spent working or in work-related activity. 41% of American employees are “chronically over worked” which means long hours negatively impacting quality of life, sleep, and stress. Many feel that other than making money, their work does not seem to serve any larger purpose. For that reason, giving further consideration to that place where we spend so much of our lives—that thing that we do on most days, whether that’s caring for children or volunteering in a hospital or nursing home or selling real estate or teaching school or whatever it is—and understand how God wants us to see it.
Our worldview must include an understanding of work as something larger than simply doing a job.
Work is ultimately and eternally directed towards the building of God’s Kingdom. Paul says, “…give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” The Greek word for “work” is ergon and it actually refers to deeds or actions. In other words, Paul is saying that whatever your behavior is, whatever deeds are acts you will be engaging in during your day, those activities are to be directed to the Lord—to His Kingdom—to His purpose. It is there we find the answer to the “What am I going to be when I grow up?” question. The answer is: a servant of the Lord.
The person that I want to be is someone who, regardless of where I might be doing it or in what position, is the Lord’s servant, engaging all my doings and work in the direction of building God’s Kingdom. When we make that shift, an amazing thing begins to happen: we start to understand work not merely as a means to a paycheck, but we understand work as vocation. Vocation is a word that comes from the Latin “vocare” which literally means “calling.” This is how God has called you to live so that in everything you do, you are oriented towards the Kingdom of God. David Brooks writes, “Your ability to discern your vocation depends on the condition of your eyes and ears. A vocation is not a career.” In other words, the culture would have you believe that a work is about climbing the ladder and working towards some form of personal happiness, but vocation is the opposite. Vocation is about seeing whatever it is you do as imbued with a larger purpose and significance. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:17, “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” We don’t look at the calling of others or compare ours to theirs. We look at our assignment—where God has us—and we live into it for the Kingdom.
My prayer is that we will all begin to view what we “do” through that lens. We work and live for God’s Kingdom and for His glory.
Dr. David D. Swanson is the Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Florida. His teaching is featured weekly on Good Life TV45 in Central Florida, and broadcast live online at fpco.org. He is the author of four books on faith, and currently serves as the chair-elect of the board of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.