Some of the preaching about how Christians should live - preaching about the Christian life - strikes the ear as unrealistic. Usually it sounds a bit triumphalistic. It sounds as though the true Christian walks boldly and confidently through life from one triumph to another, the mission of the cross in hand, certain and clear on what is to come and what one is to do in the circumstances they find themselves in. It would be nice if that were how it worked, but it generally isn't.
Of course, there are times when we know what is coming and we have a clear idea of how to proceed and which choices are the best. Those are happy times. I don't know that they are heroic-seeming times, but it is good to know what is happening around you, and why, and how you should respond to events and circumstances. Most of life is not like that, at least not for me.
Most of life is ordinary. It is everyday and not particularly exciting. It isn't dull, either. It is just ordinary, daily life. Most of my life is following the routine. It has a little variety in it, so I am not bored, but I don't see most of it as a contest between good and evil. Of course, it is, but it doesn't seem that way. It just seems like nothing special - not special good and not special bad. Having been raised on a diet of preaching that suggests that the Christian life is somehow heroic, and that we are to be doing battle with evil at every turn, I find that the pedestrian quality of my daily life can create a certain confusion. Where is the battle? How do I go about being that "warrior for Christ" that I desire to be? Frankly, there are times when I do not know what to do.
If your life is like that at times, this article is aimed at you. If your life is always clear, and well-directed, or you get bored easily, you probably don't need to read any farther.
There are times in life when you do not know what to do, or what to do next. It isn't a lack of information about the challenge, or any failure that you face. It is that life is just there, ordinary, and not terribly demanding. What should I do now? It is at times like these that Luther's doctrine of vocation comes in to play.
"Vocation" , means "calling". God has given each of us our place in life and called us to do certain things. Our occupation is part of our vocation, but only part. God created each of us to serve Him by serving each other. When you go to work, you are doing part of what God created you to do. So, God feeds us by the work of the farmer, the food-processor, and the grocer. He clothes us by the work of the farmer, the textile manufacturer, the garment worker, and the store that markets shirts and dresses and jeans. His will is to serve us by the work of others, and to serve them by our work as well.
But the will of God in this regard does not start or stop when you punch a time clock. Each of us has a number of vocations. We are called to our place in family, in society, in the neighborhood, and in church. Not everyone accepts their position or calling in each or all of these areas, but we have our place, and we serve one another, and serve God, by filling our place in every aspect of our lives. Or we fail to serve one another and fail to serve God. One has to admit that reality too, although we don't want to dwell on it here. The positive side is that we serve by living out our vocation in all the areas of life.
This 'service' is not all work, either. Some of things we are called on to do are a joy to do. Parents are called to the vocation of parent. There is hardly a more precious, joyful, or necessary vocation! Moms 'mother' and Dads 'father'. Each task is different, and we serve not only our children, but our society by doing the job well and faithfully. Fathers provide "role-models" for young boys, and contribute to a sense of security in the face of the vicissitudes of life. When they fulfill their vocation of father faithfully, men teach their sons how to be men in a positive and constructive way. They also teach their daughters what a 'real man' is supposed to be like. This list of duties and consequences of doing well and faithfully in one's calling is not exhaustive, but representative. Homes without fathers present often produce children who are ill-equipped to deal with life. Only God truly understands all that a good father accomplishes by his faithful diligence in his vocation as father.
Mothers have a similar list of things that fall under their vocation as 'mother'. She, however, has the nurturing role. It is interesting to note that the word "nurture" is rooted in the verb "to nurse". Mothers originally had to nurture their children or they simply would not survive. Our technology has provided us with temporary substitutes that permit mothers to step away from that task at times, but that fundamental closeness between mother and child is a necessary element in a healthy up-bringing. Mothers teach their children humanity, love, warmth, caring, self-sacrifice, compassion, and civility. This doesn't mean that Fathers cannot participate in instilling these things in their children, but mothers seem to bear this burden in particular as part of their vocation. It is a fundamental truth that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. When you want to change a society or destroy a culture, the first step is to take the mother's hand off the cradle and give the job to someone else. Much like we are doing in modern America.
Again, this list is only representative. Mothers, for example, teach their daughters how to be women in a positive sense. Poorly equipped mothers, and those who are unfaithful in the performance of their vocation teach their daughters how to be something else, something less.
Luther says that parents are in the place of God in the family. They are not to be worshiped, but God has given parents the divine task of providing for their families, and equipping their children to be healthy and competent citizens in the world in which they live. Christian parents, of course, have the added responsibility of preparing their children to be God's holy people in the world in which they live. The importance of faithful parents cannot be overstated. When the family doesn't function well, little else works well in society, either.
Children have the vocation of being children, of being sons and daughters. It is a vocation that changes as the child grows older, but it never actually ends. As a young child, the vocation is learning, primarily. We learn language and customs. We learn the unspoken things of life - body-language, facial expressions, and things like that. Another important part of the vocation of 'child' is to obey their parents. We also learn from this obedience how to follow directions and perform the myriad of tasks that life imposes on us. Self-discipline comes from parental discipline. We learn how to manage ourselves by following the vocation of obedient child.
When children grow up, they don't stop being someone's child. The nature of the vocation changes somewhat, but it continues. In time, some children find that the vocation of son or daughter means that they must become care-takers of their parents. In any case, living in such a way that it brings honor to the parents' name is always part of the vocation of the child - even to old age.
There is the vocation of neighbor. God places us next to those people who live near us. He has a job for us to do in the relationship of neighbor. There is also the vocation of citizen. As "strangers and aliens" living as God's children in this world, we are called to show forth His glory by being the best citizens of this world, and of the nation in which God has placed us, as we can be. We are to contribute according to our gifts and abilities what we can to help our society to be as peaceful and productive and filled with good things as it can be. Christians also share an additional vocation as a member of the household of God.
Undoubtedly, the list of vocations could be multiplied if we take time to think seriously about it, and use the space to list them, but this brief list should suffice for our purpose here. The point is that we each have a number of vocations, appointed for us by God who has called us to serve Him in these various ways. Not all of them are exciting. We sometimes tend to overlook the fact that God has called us into these vocations. If we do, we may forget that fulfilling our place, serving faithfully in our vocation(s) is an essential part of the being the child of God. It isn't frequently a glamorous part. There is generally little or no recognition in the public sense of it for doing well, or failing to do well, in many of our callings. They don't always seem significant even to us.
But doing what God has given us to do, and doing it well and faithfully, is a significant thing. It is like they say, if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. Let me give you an illustration. When terrorists took down the World Trade Center, it was a terrible shock. It caused pain and fear. But it did not destroy our nation. It did not destroy the city. It just made us angry as a nation. One of the things weakening our nation today is a seemingly little thing, the casual acceptance of things that ought not to be. People are ignoring laws, for example, that they do not like simply because they do not like them, or because those laws are somewhat inconvenient. This behavior engenders a sense of lawlessness. No society can stand long without a sense of right and wrong and justice. But note how we feel free to ignore laws, like speed laws or tax laws (as long as we do not get caught), while being offended by others who disregard laws and do not face what we would call "justice." It is unfair. But the lack of justice arises from the overwhelming sense that there is too much law-breaking to punish. The result is that as law-breaking increases, the expectation of legal consequences fades, and legal consequences diminish as law-breaking increases. It is a vicious circle, and the whole society suffers.
The end result is that the trust necessary to hold a society together evaporates. You cannot trust the law. You cannot trust justice. You cannot trust your neighbor, and so the co-operation of citizens fundamental to a free society fades, and then regulations take their place, changing or destroying a culture and the society in which it was once enshrined. These are not good things to happen.
This is all a long way to say that serving God, and contributing to the mission which God has laid on us is not necessarily "church work". It is living your life faithfully in the light of what you believe and confess. It is doing the non-church stuff, while not forgetting the family of the congregation either. God has called you, and not just to Sunday services, but to life with Him, here and now, and then, at last, in eternity.
When you do not know what to do, and there seems to be no clear challenge - or no clear direction to go - the way to go is to follow your vocation. Be the good father or mother faithfully. Do the things that God sets before you to do, and do them as the faithful and holy child of God. Don't let the spirit of the age turn you from faithfulness and doing what is right. Give every task your best, doing it to the glory of God. Be the good neighbor. Look out for their well-being as carefully as you look out for your own.
When the battle between God and the devil doesn't seem to be pressing on you too hard, rejoice that you have a moment of peace, and look for something that needs doing in your vocation of parent, child, neighbor, worker, member of the Church, friend, citizen, husband, wife, or whatever. Apply yourself to life, or to enjoying the life God has given you. Take a moment to pray for those who are not enjoying the peace you have. Thank God for His goodness toward you.
In other words, if you do not know what to do, pray about it, and do something. If you determine your course with prayer and a little thought, then trust God will take your good deeds and use them, somewhere, somehow. The Christian life is not a pre-set path you are to walk. The Christian life is the life a Christian lives. When we are faithful, whatever we do serves God. And when the battle is not raging and your life doesn't seem to be part of the cosmic struggle against evil, be patient. This too shall pass, and trouble and wrestling with pain and sorrow and all sorts of other evils will find you again. Then, Proverbs 3:5-6 should hold you in good stead: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Yours in the Lord,
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