The deep significance of the word vocation clicked with me when I took Latin in high school (yes, I was homeschooled). We came to the word “voco,” I learned it means “to call,” and my teenage self realized that vocation wasn’t merely a synonym for job.
Vocation is something greater than going to an office from 8-5. Vocation is about the calling we have from the good God to work on this earth for his glory and the restoration of all things. Farmers have taught me more about vocation than any other group of folks I know.
Martin Luther was a great advocate for vocation, contributing a body of work that shapes the current conversation on the topic. Luther lived in an era when it was largely believed that the best Christians were ones that devoted their lives to the work of the church– an idea still popular in some circles, especially on college campuses. As Luther studied the Scriptures, however, he came to the following conclusion:
“All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government-to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.”
Scripture, from Genesis to the Psalms to Revelation, teaches us that God works, we image him by working, and he chooses to work through us.
No group of people has taught me more about work and vocation than farmers. My experiences at Purdue and work with Indiana’s department of agriculture let me meet the men and women who work the land and produce our food. During my time with Indiana government, I organized a ceremony that honored Indiana families that have farmed for 100, 150 and 200 years (that’s longer than Indiana’s been a state!). I saw multi-generational families humbly stand together, taking beautiful pride in the work they have done for decades. I shook their hands. I heard their stories.
These men and women put flesh and bones to the Bible’s teaching on work and showed me four things about work that I think about on a daily basis.
Your Work = Passions + The World’s Need
You talk to almost any farmer for any length of time and you’ll notice one thing: they love what they do. Farming isn’t a pastime or a way to make money. It’s a job that makes them feel alive and gives them meaning. Farming is for a greater purpose. The world, from the kitchens of suburban America to the villages of Africa, needs food. Meeting that need is an integral part of a farmer’s work. Remove the need, and you’re left with self-indulgent hobby. Remove the passion, and you’re left with robotic labor. Farmers understand the joys and frustrations that come with living in your passion while addressing the difficult needs of the world.
Working the Physical Earth Matters
Farmers have shown me there can be as much beauty and worth in driving and filling a combine with soybeans as there is in penning a sermon. It’s easy to understand that the how behind our work is meaningful to God because of important verses where Christians are called to do all things for his glory. Coming to understand the inherent value of our work can be more challenging. I know God cares about my heart’s attitude, but does he care about my hands’ work? Yes, because “the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” Farmers’ care for the earth offers us an example, demonstrating how to care for the fullness of the world wherever God has called us.
Work is Hard
When that forbidden fruit was eaten in the garden, the whole of creation (including our work) was marred. Farmers know this well. Too much rain. Not enough rain. That’s the difference between a good year and a bad one. Although work isn’t cursed, it remains under the curse, my pastor at Purdue explained. We will continue to feel the far-reaching impacts of that curse until all things are made new. But, we can begin to break the effects of the curse by using our work for redemption and reconciliation. Listen to farmers talk about making it through a drought or caring for their animals in inclement weather. You quickly realize work is hard but it is a means of restoring creation “far as the curse is found.”
Our Work is Not About Us
In a world where the famous and flashy seemed blessed, it’s easy to think our work is about making a name for ourselves. Farmers know the goal of their work is to play one small part of a much larger story. Like Indiana farmer Scott Smith (featured in the video below) says:
“Sure, farming is hard work. There are good years and bad years and plenty of challenges in between. But you endure it. You remember farming is bigger than you. What you’re doing benefits so many people, including yourself. It’s a gift God has given us the ability to do.”
Tim Keller explains that “all work is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation for the purpose of human flourishing.” I think farmers may understand work so well because their job is to make new life burgeon from the building blocks of the earth, whether in the field or the barn. Their example challenges, inspires and reminds me to faithfully attend to my work and respond to the calling on my life for God’s glory and good of my fellow man.
Who has inspired you in your work? Why?