What is this doctrine of vocation? I remember early in my Christian walk being taught that there some Christians have Christian callings to "vocational ministry" and some don't. There was this big distinction between people who had missions which seriously honored God and those who didn't. Basically, if you were serious about honoring God with all your life, you would pursue biblical training in order to serve God as a pastor or, better yet, a missionary. For everyone else, the day's employment was simply a way of paying the bills and managing to afford to engage in real ministry, which was carried on during time off from work or, for a few adventurous people, through bearing witness for Christ in the workplace, sometimes at the expense of doing the job for which you were hired. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I expect so.
Veith explains vocation in a quite different way. Each person, he says, has multiple vocations all the time. They are the callings of God to serve our neighbor, whoever that neighbor might be. I might have a job which lets me serve my neighbor who is my employer by helping to keep the company in business. I'll imagine that I am really desperate for paid employment so I go to a telemarketing firm to get a job, not what I would do of my own accord, but it will serve as an example. Whom do I serve there? I serve the employer by making the calls I am contracted to make. I serve the person I'm trying to call by accurately displaying the service we are trying to sell, helping that person make an actual reasoned decision about whether or not it is a service he needs. I serve my immediate supervisor by being pleasant in the workplace. I serve my fellow employees in the same way and by encouraging them in their work. I serve my family by bringing home a paycheck. I serve the people who are employed by companies that sell me utilities, groceries, garden rakes, and sandwich bags by using some of the paycheck to purchase the things that keep my household running. This allows them in turn to pay for their utilities, groceries, garden rakes, and sandwich bags. This sounds more complicated than our earlier scenario. But that is not the whole of a doctrine of vocation.
In the final analysis, Veith says, vocation is not only about our serving. It is about God working in this world through us. In fact, when we pray that the Lord will give us our daily bread, we give him thanks because he has used countless people, working in their vocations, to put that sandwich in our sandwich bag. When I go to work, God is providing through me for many other people as well. All the work I do is a service originating in God's love and expressed to this world. That applies to my employment, to my volunteer work, to the fact that I took out the trash on the morning of the weekly trash pickup, and to the fact that I made a pot of coffee this morning. For that matter, even the things I don't necessarily do express God's love to the world. How about the person I hire to come complete a homeowner project which I didn't do? Is that a way the Lord provides that other person's daily bread? It most certainly is.
I highly recommend Veith's book to all. His clear expression of the way our Lord is working in this world is striking. Shall we be academic here and provide a nice bibliographic reference? Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. (2002). God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. ISBN 1-58134-403-1. My technical writing is a little rough, but way back when I knew how to do APA citations, that's how we did it. Maybe I'd better look up a more modern format sometime.