Our purpose on this earth must be more than simply to make a living. I’m not trying to denigrate the importance of vocation– what one does to earn money. But vocation and purpose are in no way synonymous. Yes, they overlap at times, but we minimize the importance of both when we mistake them for the same thing.
If we are going to understand our individual purposes, we must first understand the purpose of all humanity.
Purpose of humanity
In 1647, a group of godly men wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith, and subsequently the Westminster Catechism. In it, the first question deals with purpose. “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
A great deal of truth is packed into that simple answer. First, we must understand that our lives are not for our glory. We have a King who has the right to make certain claims on our lives. One of those claims is that we live for His glory – which we do either by submitting to Him and being vessels of mercy, or rejecting Him and being vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22).
When we understand that the purpose of our lives is to glorify God, we can then see the purpose of our work.
Purpose of work
We tend to look at work as a curse, one of the results of sin. But it is our attitude that is the result of sin, not work.
Before sin entered the world, God gave Adam work. He was to cultivate the earth. It was good for Adam and glorifying to God. Not only did work exist before sin entered the world, but work will also exist in eternity after sin has been finally defeated. Isaiah, in describing heaven, tells us that we will “build houses and dwell in them...plant vineyards and eat their fruit (Isaiah 65:21). Work is woven into the very fabric of God’s creation.
Some would say this is so we have a sense of purpose. This argument puts humanity at the center of the purpose of work. But having a sense of purpose is a byproduct of work. The glory of God is its true central purpose.
Look at any type of work and you will see a dependence on God, whether it is realized or not. Jesus says as much through a parable in Mark 4:26-28. He paints the picture of a farmer sowing a field. What does the farmer do to make the crop grow? He plants and waters, but it is God who brings the harvest.
If you are creative and make things, God gives ideas and skill. If you work in a factory, God gives strength and tools. All work, no matter how great or small, is dependent on God and is for His glory.
Purpose of a man’s work
All of this sounds great and spiritual. But how does this help you choose a major in college or a career path to pursue?
Remember the story of Joseph from Genesis 37-50. Have you ever considered how many jobs he had? No matter where he was, work was given to him. He excelled at every task given to his hands. But none of them defined his life. Each one was a means by which he brought glory to God.
Having that perspective of our work gives us indescribable freedom. We are no longer forced to fret over discovering a job and career we will enjoy for the next thirty years. We can rest in the fact that God will guide our steps, our studies, and our careers for the sake of His glory. No matter what we choose, we will lose interest in our vocation. But we will never be tired, bored, or unfulfilled in pursuing our purpose, the glorification of God in our lives.