A third source on a theology of work and calling is Ryken’s Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. Ryken’s book provides much information on the Reformers and the Puritans’ teaching on calling. He says these early Protestants spoke of two callings; a general and a particular calling. The Puritans emphasized that “God first of all calls his people to a godly life. This general calling takes precedence over everything else, including our work” (Ryken 191). The Puritans believed this general calling of all Christians was directly related to the particular calling of believers. Ryken asserts that the priority of the general calling “reminds us of the primacy of the spiritual in all of life.” It helps us understand the place of work in the Christian’s life. “Work is not the most important thing in life; being faithful to God is” (192).
An important point Ryken makes is that the concept of work is broader than one’s job. It includes all the different “tasks and duties that attach themselves to the roles God has given us,” being a parent, a church member, a citizen and others. All of these tasks are callings from God. It is important that we take serious all of God’s callings. We must also keep them in proper balance. Particular callings must not suffer because of overemphasis of some of our callings.
Why is the idea of calling important? For one thing, it personalizes it. We serve God through our calling. Our calling is lived out in a personal relationship with God. Ryken notes that “if God calls us to work, then to do the work is to obey God”(197). C.S. Lewis wrote in one of his letters that God uses our vocation to shape us and to perfect us in Christ. Ryken states that “work becomes a calling only if we recognize God’s hand in it and view it as part of our relationship with God” (197).
How do we know what is our calling or vocation? Ryken and the Puritans believe it is because of God’s providence. This was also stated similarly by Lewis when he told his audience in, “Learning in War-time, that if God has provided us with the opportunity and He also equips us with the gifts to pursue a scholarly life, we can take it as evidence that he has called us to the “learned” life. Ryken notes that “God’s providence is seen as the force that arranged circumstances in such a way that a person has a particular work; God also equips a person with the necessary talents and abilities to perform the work” (200). The early Protestants believed that “God ordinarily blesses a person’s calling with signs of approval and achievement” (200). Calvin compared God’s calling “to a watchman or sentry that keeps a person from being distracted from his or her main business in life” (200). Thus, a sense of calling would keep us focused on God’s specific calling for our life and keep us from being distracted by other opportunities of service. Ryken states that it will “keep us on the main path of our greatest service to God and society” (200). Dorothy Sayers also spoke on this matter. She says that “when you find a man who is praising God by the excellence of his work—do not distract him and take him away from his proper vocation to address religious meetings and open church bazaars; let him serve God in the way to which God has called him” (200-01).
Ryken believes that “the Christian doctrine of Vocation” is a meaningful concept for Christian workers who are not called to work inside the church or to a “church-related occupation.” He adds that it opens the door to see that the believer not only serves God “within” his work, but also “through” his work(200). He believes these are two distinct ideas. Ryken states that “we can be Christian not only in our work but through our work if we view our work as an obedient response to God’s calling. . . . A sense of calling not only relates the worker to God; it also changes the way in which she or he relates to the work itself. As Russell Barta notes, ‘There is a certain intimacy in the way the concept of vocation links to our work. When we say that teaching is a vocation, we convey a sense of personal dedication that is absent if we use, instead, the word “career.” (Ryken 201)
At the most basic level, our calling is our current job that allows us to provide for our needs and the needs of others. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be diligent in our work. That we are to work with all our might; we are to put our whole heart into it. We are to do our work unto the Lord, not unto men. We are to work with integrity and excellence. The Bible has much to say how we are to work. The Bible teaches also that we are to provide for our families. Ryken asserts that the “job by which God is currently providing for our needs is our calling and as such is worthy of our best effort” (201). This, of course, assumes that the job is morally legitimate.
A person might ask the question, how can I know what my vocation and calling is? This assumes we have a choice in the matter. Ryken gives an answer to this question that is similar to the answer given by Lewis and Witherington. Ryken answers by saying that “our choice should be guided by the principles of effective service to God and society, maximum use of our abilities and talents, and the providence or guidance of God as it is worked out through the circumstances of life” (202). We might ask another question, how can I know if my current occupation is God’s calling for my life? The answer would be similar to choosing a particular vocation. Ryken writes that “if we are of service to God and people, if our talents are being used, if we are fulfilled in our work, and if God through circumstances blesses our work with positive results, then we have every reason to believe we are in the right vocation”(202).
Ryken confesses that in his book he has “focused on occupation or career;” the early Protestants looked at calling as more “broader” than our occupation or career. They considered all of our “roles in life” as callings. Ryken states that “being a spouse, a parent, a church member, a neighbor, and a Christian are all callings”(203). Russell Barta makes a good point: “What if, instead of using career as our organizing model of work life we used vocation? A vocation demands that we search out our unique gifts; it demands self-knowledge and, at the same time, calls for an effort to convert our gifts into service for others, for the community” (Ryken 204). Let us summarize the idea of work as a calling with George Herbert’s poem, “The Elixir”:
Teach me, my God and King
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
To do it for thee ….
All may of thee Partake.
Nothing can be so mean[mundane]
Which with his tincture [for thy sake]
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.