Biblical Foundations for Formation and Vocation

Biblical foundations and spiritual formation are interconnected.  They are intended to work together, to complement each other.  Like a contractor hired to erect a house, one must have a firm foundation on which to build.  For spiritual formation and growth, that foundation must be an understanding of who God is and what His plan for humanity entails.  That includes knowing what his original intent was when He created the world, as well as His full plan of redemption.  Richter tells us that the Bible is “the epic tale of God’s ongoing quest to ransom His creation.”[1]  We are part of that story.  Understanding our place in that story is both foundational and part of our own spiritual formation.

Our story is intrinsically connected to that of Biblical characters – both good and flawed.  These individuals lived real lives, occupied a real place on the timeline of history.  In addition to understanding the story, Richter states that ‘we want to hear the words of the biblical writers as they were intended and claim their epic saga as our own.” [2]  Our foundation must be built on true knowledge – knowing what the writers intended to say, not simply what we think they said.

One thing that both my life experience and our study in this class has taught me is that spiritual formation and growth is disordered.  Averbeck calls it “messy because people’s lives are messy.”[3]  However, that does not give us leeway to stay in our messiness.  Romans tells us that we are “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).  Spiritual formation and transformation means dealing with one’s ‘will, emotions, attitudes, memories, perspectives on life, and so forth.”  No true spiritual growth and change can take place without work on all stages.  Yet, we cannot do this work on our own.  Averbeck also tells us that the essence of spiritual formation is our joining in the work of the Holy Spirit in our spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit working in us and through us that brings spiritual formation.[4]

As we read this epic story and build our foundation, over and over we see that God used flawed, dysfunctional people with messy lives to fulfill his redemptive plan and to spread his message to the world. One lesson that we can learn from this is that even our shortcomings, misguided intentions, and poor choices can be woven into God’s ongoing and unfolding plan.  Our failings, our weaknesses can be part of our story, part of the testimony that shows God’s grace and glory as others can see that God can use even us – broken, weak, unfaithful.  This is because God is always faithful to us even when we are not faithful in return.  We truly begin to see that there is nothing that “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39b).

One of the most foundational points to understand from our study of Scripture as it relates to vocation is that work is God’s idea.  As Wright shows us God himself is a worker.  He thought out, planned, and designed the world and then executed that plan.  We have been created in His image, to bear His likeness.  Therefore, it follows that we too are meant to work.[5]  Adam had a job.  He was made the steward of the perfect world God had created.  He was to tend and cultivate the garden.  Understanding that Adam was meant to cultivate a land that was designed to bring forth abundance in response to his care – that his work was meant to be joyful and prosperous at creation – gives a whole new perspective on work and vocation.  Relevant magazine stated, “Scripture says God “rejoices over us with singing.” This is not some uptight, stern judge who waits for us to mess up. This is a person who adores us, and whose very being is inclined toward happiness.”[6]  God wants us to find true happiness – in our relationships and in our vocation, but His happiness isn’t what the world often thinks of as happiness – it’s peace, contentment, joy, rejoicing. In other words, it’s good and safe and pure – everything that Eden was meant to be and everything that Adam and Eve’s vocation was meant to be in the garden. While nothing in our current state can ever be completely what is was meant to be, we should still strive for that. Our vocation is meant to be one that gives us joy while also using the gifts and talents he has given us.

A common misconception is that work is a result of the fall and the curse.  This is simply not true.  While our vocation, like everything else, has been affected by sin entering the world, the Genesis account shows clearly that work was given to man before the fall.  Genesis tell us “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”’ and “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 1:28, 2:15).  The downfall of the curse upon our vocation is that we can become self-centered about our work rather than God-centered, allowing our pride in our own abilities to surpass the reason we are called to work in the first place.  Work itself often becomes challenging as we find ourselves working hard simply to earn a paycheck in a job that we no longer, or never did, enjoy.

Often Christians tend to think of vocation or calling in terms of ministry, but that should not be the case. Not everyone is going to serve in a formal ministry but every human is meant to have a unique vocation in which he or she uses their gifts and talents to God’s glory. In that way, we will all be sharing God’s light, whether in formal ministry or not.  All work, according to Wright, has its own intrinsic value as well as eternal significance, that “the work of the Lord does not mean just ‘religious’ work, but any work done for as unto the Lord.”  Therefore, each of us should dedicate our work to God whether in formal ministry or in the marketplace as Wright calls it.[7]

For me personally, this is a concept I embraced when I started my tax business.  I created a list of core values for my business:  God First, Service, Excellence, Teamwork, Quality and Integrity.  When interviewing lawyers to help with a business matter, one lawyer told me that I had ‘too much God stuff’ on my website and I should take it down.  He said that faith is personal and private and should be kept that way.  I have not taken those core values off my website and I choose to hire a Christian attorney.   My tax business is meant to serve those who need my experience and knowledge, but cannot afford to pay what many tax firms are currently charging.  I enjoy helping others by navigating the complex tax codes for them.  Work is intended to be something we enjoy as we use the talents God has given us.

Additionally, ministry is part of my calling and vocation.  Again, it is an area in which I can use my talents and gifts that I also enjoy.  Nothing ignites my passion more than connecting with teenagers and helping them to grow in their relationship with Christ.  In each of these vocations, I truly follow the Apostle Paul’s urging to: Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

 


[1] Richter, 15.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Averbeck, “Spirit”, 33.

[4] Ibid., 33-34

[5] Wright, “Marketplace”, 321.

[6] Mazarin, “Happy”.

[7] Wright, “Marketplace”, 325.

Bibliography

Averbeck, Richard E. "Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation." Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 1, no. 1 (2008): 27-53. Accessed November 6, 2016. http://moodle.evangelical.edu/pluginfile.php/23827/mod_resource/content/3/Averbeck on Spiritual Fomation.pdf.

Mazarin, Jade. "Actually, God Does Want You to Be Happy." RELEVANT Magazine. November 04, 2015. Accessed November 7, 2016. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/actually-god-does-want-you-be-happy.

Richter, Sandra L. The Epic of Eden: a Christian Entry into the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

Wright, Christopher J.H. "Following Jesus in the Globalized Marketplace." Evangelical Review of Theology 31, no. 4 (2007): 320-30. Accessed November 6, 2016. http://moodle.evangelical.edu/pluginfile.php/23826/mod_resource/content/2/Chris Wright_ on the Marketplace.pdf.

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