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Pursuing Your "Higher Calling"

Regardless of where you work, each person's vocation is a job with a "higher calling."
This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Sunday through Saturday Connection". See series.


Imagine a stunningly beautiful church building: a limestone exterior, stained glass, and a slate roof. For 90 years, many people simply drove by this church building paying it little if any attention, but recently this magnificent work of art was displayed in a large colored picture in the Kansas City Star, our city's largest newspaper. The renovation had begun and the scaffolding surrounding the steeple filled the newspaper page. Above the picture was this caption: "A Job with a Higher Calling!"

This caption reminds us that journalists not only have an affection for double entendre, but that many embrace a story of work where the work of the Church is seen as a higher calling than other work.

Growing up in a Christian home and sensing God's vocational calling to be a pastor, this story of work guided my thinking as well. Deep inside I believed that my calling as a pastor was a higher calling than others who were lawyers, teachers, administrators, or business persons. Perhaps my distorted thinking was driven by spiritual pride, but it was also fueled by a theological vision that diminished the value of God's good world and anything other than "what lasted forever." What was "all important" was God's Word and people's souls. Devotion to anything else was futile and misguided. This distorted story of work guided my life through college, in a parachurch campus missionary, and church planter. But with a little help from the Reformers, I started to see that Scripture paints a different story.

Regardless of where you work, each person's vocation is a job with a "higher calling."

Further, the Holy Spirit empowers our accomplishment of our vocational calling. Today we're going to focus on how the Spirit enables our work.

Genesis 1-2 shows that humans would work with God in propagating and preserving creation. Tragically, Adam and Eve's rebellion corrupted the original design of God's created order (Gen. 3). Both work and the workplace were and still are stained. When we work, we still feel the effects of the Fall.

By the time we get to Exodus, God's people are enslaved in Egypt, making bricks. But God miraculously rescued and sustained his people in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. In Exodus 19, God gives Moses his law, and during those forty days, God spends a great deal of his time instructing Moses on a building project; a tabernacle, or we might say a sanctuary. This tabernacle is a created material space where God's manifest presence will dwell, but also a built space for God to enter and redeem our world of work. For six chapters (Exod. 25-30), God gives Moses a detailed work order. As we now enter Exodus chapter 31 verses one to six, we see God's supernatural provision to accomplish this work order.

The Lord said to Moses, See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you …

I would like us to briefly consider three truths that emerge from this text.

God designs and calls you for your work.

In verse 2, God tells Moses that he has called, by name, a particular person to a particular work. As an image-bearer of a working God, Bezalel was created with work in mind. Bezalel has a job to do.

My friend David Greusel, an architect, is a modern day Bezalel. David is one of the leading architects in the world of sports stadiums. One of David's most impressive jobs centered on his work as the project manager for the PNC Park, home of Major League Baseball's Pittsburg Pirates. According to a recent article in WORLD magazine,

The talk [about PNC Park] soon gets around to "that view!" It deserves at least one exclamation mark. From prime seating behind home plate, a double deck of stadium seats embraces all three bases. The grassy outfield leads the eye on a running leap to the swoop of the Clemente Bridge, gateway to the Pittsburgh skyline and surrounding hills …. Few ball parks seem so at home in their surroundings. According to ESPN, which rates PNC as the top major-league ballpark in the nation, it's "the perfect blend of art, architecture, and environment.

The article went on to say,

To the casual observer, ballparks and church may seem miles apart, but Greusel sees one obvious connection: "Christianity is a program for human flourishing," he says, and architecture is a means for creating places to flourish.
Christianity also sanctifies community and relationship. Greusel's first step for both projects was to visit Houston and Pittsburgh and get acquainted with each city's history and culture. He took special note of the neighborhood as well as the terrain, not merely for logistics, but also to create a design that would be aesthetically pleasing while location-friendly. That view from PNC Park is no accident. [Greusel said], "I wanted to use both ballparks as a showcase for the city." Any way that surrounding structures could contribute to the design, so much the better.

David says, "Bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design." But David's view of work has not always been so thoughtful. He'd tell you that at a turning point, God used this text (Exod. 31) to show he had created David, redeemed David, and called David to a specific work to do in God's good, but broken, world.

In verse 3, God says he filled Bezalel with "the Spirit of God." Each time this phrase of being filled with the Spirit is used in the Old Testament, it brings the idea of God fitting a person for a task. The New Testament uses similar language (e.g., Luke 1:15-41; Acts 2:4; Eph. 5:18), but many times we do not understand its biblical backdrop, theological development, or comprehensive outworking. Paul implies in Ephesians 5 that being filled with the Spirit applies to the local church, the home, and then the workplace. When Jesus sent us out into the world and sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, one of the reasons for that was to empower us for vocational faithfulness to do the work he would call each one of us to do. The filling of the Spirit not only conforms us to Christ-likeness, in our relationships and in the local church, but also empowers us for a job we are to do.

We not only often have a Sunday-to-Monday gap, disconnecting worship and work; we also have a walking in the Spirit, working in the Spirit gap as well. If we do not understand the Spirit-filled life as it relates to Spirit-filled work, may I suggest we have an impoverished understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons for the sizable Sunday-to-Monday gap in many of our individual lives and our churches is that we have not teased-out the important implications of the filling of the Holy Spirit and our empowerment in vocational faithfulness. The theologian Miroslav Volf says, "There is a sense in which all human work is done in the power of the Spirit."

God's Spirit empowers you for your work.

God highlights Bezalel's seasoned competence. Bezalel's skill had grown daily through disciplined work. Holy Spirit empowered competence isn't like a "genie in a bottle," but rather like a coach who assists a disciplined athlete. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the parakletos, our helper—not our replacer. The filling of the Holy Spirit does not nullify or diminish human responsibility; the Holy Spirit complements it. We have been given a role in developing the skills and talents that God has given to us.

It didn't take us long to observe our son Schaeffer's verbal and creative bent and our daughter Sarah's athletic bent. One of the unforgettable moments in our house was when Schaeffer had dutifully tried a stint at gymnastics, and then informed Liz, my wife, in no uncertain terms that gymnastics was not for him. He looked at Liz and said, "Mom, it's like an old shoe, it doesn't fit me anymore!"

I like the way The message Bible paraphrases Exodus 31:3: "I've filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him skill and know-how and expertise!"

Like Bezalel, God has created each of us with work in mind. God has designed, called, and empowered you to specific work.

So how do we connect our faith to our work? How do we bring a more robust theology of vocation to the Church? How do we close the Sunday-to-Monday gap we all struggle with? Three encouragements will suffice.

The gospel connects Sunday with weekly work.

Let's teach a more robust theology of vocation that better reflects what the Holy Scriptures reveal. A theology that understands how vocation is integral to both the image of God and the mission of God is the key for teachers and preachers. Remember, for Jesus' first 30 years on earth, he worked in a carpenter's shop. Jesus was more than a carpenter, but he was not less.

Let's rethink the pastoral vocation to better connect Sunday-to-Monday. Part of the pastor's role is to inform the flock of God's good design as revealed in the Bible. This means connecting Sunday worship with Monday-Saturday work and labor. That means living and ministering as a pastor who, out of theological conviction and Gospel mission, faithfully equips his congregation for the world they inhabit a majority of their time. This is a pastor who designs liturgy with his people's vocations in mind and whose pastoral prayers, hymnody choices, and sermon illustrations are informed by a robust theology of vocation and a compelling vision of his own vocation. Let's imagine a pastor who not only makes regular hospital calls, but regular visits to the workplace of his people. This pastor sees that a primary work of the church is the church at work.

Let's better grasp the Holy Spirit's role in empowering us to do good work well done. Dorothy Sayers said, "The only Christian work is good work well done." If Dorothy Sayers is right, and I believe she is, then to do the good work we are all called to do requires the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

The Gospel changes everything: how you see your work, how you do your work, the power to do your work, and who you do your work for. Jesus said he would build his church. We must take vocation seriously, for the primary work of the church is the church at work.

Tom Nelson is the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, and the author of Work Matters.

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Sermon Outline:


I. God designs and calls you for your work.

II. God's Spirit empowers you for your work.

III. The gospel connects Sunday with weekly work.