The greatest threats to vocational thinking are three classical temptations, which essentially manifest themselves in some form of the temptations Jesus faced in the desert at the beginning of his public life and ministry (Luke 4:1-13): the desire for power, the desire for material security and comfort, and the desire for fame or prestige. It is all too easy for us to make vocational choices rooted in or motivated by these powerful and subtle temptations; it is easy to rationalize our choices around each of them. But they have an insidious effect on a vocation.
Many have rationalized ignoring God’s call because they could not bear the thought of a drop in their standard of living or the threat of financial insecurity. Many have chosen a line of work for the simple reason that it seemed to guarantee a healthy pension and thus a comfortable retirement. Many have fallen into debt or bear financial obligations that undermine their capacity to embrace what God is calling them to be. Money is not evil, but the desire for material well-being and security has driven many to adopt a life inconsistent with their vocation. I ache for people who absolutely hate their jobs, yet they continue to carry that stress, not because they lack financial means but they hope to stick with it long enough, meaning twenty or more years, to have a comfortable retirement.
Others are driven by different agendas. For many in my religious community, the focus of praise and prestige is on religious vocations. One cannot help but wonder how many become missionaries because this is what is affirmed; there is a great deal of praise and uncritical affirmation for those who choose to serve in this capacity. I remember a student in a course I taught on vocation who spoke of a missionary convention where at age thirteen he was praised and brought up to the front of the church to be “prayed for” when he indicated that he was willing to be a missionary. And this young man, now later in life thinking back on this event, suggested that it was too much praise and affirmation for a thirteen-year-old. Not only did it feed his ego at the time; worse, it profoundly undermined his capacity as he grew older to really think critically and with discernment about his call.
While some may respond to the above by suggesting that this young man needs to be faithful to the call he received at age thirteen, a better response might be to affirm that as Christian communities we need to trust the call of God on each one, and affirm and encourage individuals to accept whatever it is that God is calling them to do.
There are others whose vocations are set aside and sometimes even suppressed because of the temptation to power. It is sad to see people accept positions of supposed influence because they are drawn to the apparent power that accompanies certain roles (e.g., moving into administration or management when called to do something else). I had to repeatedly ask and confirm whether I am indeed called to academic administration. But even when I was a missionary I was impressed with the temptation, especially for men, reflected in a desire to be elected to the governing executive committee or to be elected field director. As young men we longed for this quite apart from whether it truly reflected our fundamental call and identity, and without reference, it would have seemed, to whether such an election would keep us from that call.
One of the most fruitful exercises in vocational thinking is to challenge motives and probe what is leading us to do what we think we must do.
Taken from Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential by Gordon T. Smith. Copyright(c) 2011 by Gordon T. Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com