I know people who are lawyers and who drive big machines and who are school teachers and who are coaches and who are selling insurance and who are accountants and who are science research professors and who are dentists and who are pastors and who are missionaries. What each of these people does matters. I kept thinking about this word—matters. I’m unconvinced that some jobs —the so-called “spiritual” ones—are valuable while others are “secular” and therefore not as valuable.
Many are struggling to discover a career that matters. Perhaps the reason so many today flounder from one job to another is because instead of examining what they do in light of the Kingdom, they fail to realize that what they are doing really does matter. (Unless they are paid to be professional spammers, which can’t be Kingdom work.) It is time to reconsider what we do in light of the Kingdom dream of Jesus, and I believe His Kingdom vision can turn what we do into something that matters and can give our life purpose.
See Your Vocation through the Kingdom Dream
Your vocation, which in so many ways is unique to you, can genuinely matter if you keep your eyes on the Kingdom of God as your guiding North Star. Teaching matters when you treat your students as humans whom you love and whom you are helping. Coaching soccer matters when you connect kids to the Kingdom. Growing vegetables becomes Kingdom work when we enjoy God’s green world as a gift from Him. Collecting taxes becomes Kingdom work when you treat each person as someone who is made in the image (the Eikon in Greek) of God and as a citizen instead of as a suspect. Jobs become vocations and begin to matter when we connect what we do to God’s Kingdom vision for this world. Sure, there’s scout work involved—like learning English grammar well enough to write clean sentences and reading great writers who can show you how good prose works. Like hours with small children when we are challenged to make some mind-numbing routines into habits of the heart and Kingdom.
It is easy to see missional work in the slums of India as something that matters. Perhaps the desire to do something that matters is why so many of us get involved in missional work like that. But most of us don’t have a vocation like that, and that means most of us do lots of scout work as a matter of routine. We have to believe that the mundane matters to God, and the way to make the mundane matter is to baptize what we do in the Kingdom vision of Jesus.
It’s Not about Money (Completely)
Only 15 percent of American households have a six-figure income, and only about 5 percent of American individuals have a six-figure income. Instead of focusing our lives on a six-figure dream, followers of Jesus need to focus on the Kingdom life, which turns the six-figure dream inside out. Jesus’ dream involved a radical detachment from possessions:
But seek first his kingdom
and his righteousness,
and all these things [clothing, food, shelter]
will be given to you as well.
It involved a willingness to contribute to the needs of others and virtually to renounce a life soaked in making money:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
While many in the history of the Church have given up everything they owned in order to serve others, and I think of St. Basil the Great and St. Francis of Assisi, the rest of us are challenged to cut back and to tone it down so we can take from our abundance and provide for those who are in need.
When the Lord of the Christian is a poor man, the wealth of His followers is brought into embarrassing clarity. When the Kingdom dream of Jesus shapes our vocations, it turns us from folks who strive for wealth into folks whose vocations are used for others.
Do What You Do Well
I grew up with the idea that I could only be happy if I found “God’s will.” People do weird things because they think they are doing God’s will.
There is a reason why so many people quote Frederick Buechner’s famous line about God’s will: because it tells a deep truth. Buechner said God’s will is this: “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.” This beautifully combines the Kingdom dream of Jesus and your own personal dream—find that place and do that.
If you keep your eye on the Kingdom of God, if you keep in mind that deeply personal nature of all you do, then you can pursue that place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest needs meet, and in that place your life will speak. You are asked merely to discern the intersection of what God is doing—Kingdom of God—and what you are asked to do in what God’s doing.
Just Say No
There are too many places where we find the world’s deepest hunger, and many of them appeal to us as the place where we might find our deepest gladness. When we try to do too many good things, we burn out or we tune out or we leave out someone we love. Ten years of chasing all of the world’s deepest hungers can almost ruin a life.
Jesus said this so well when He told some would-be disciples that Kingdom dreams take priority. One man, distracted by his family, asked Jesus if he could stop following Him and do something else. Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Those are strong words; they are also true words. The focus, Jesus teaches all of us, must be to do the thing we are called to do as something swallowed up in Kingdom work.
In order to “do that” one thing well, one must guard from trying to do too many other things. Saying no to other things is what keeps life balanced. Andy Crouch, a well-known and very smart Christian thinker, said we shouldn’t try to “save the world” but we should play our part in the redemptive work of this world with a small group of friends. I completely agree with Andy on this. I’d put it this way: the way to “save” the world is for everyone to do the one thing God calls them to do. When we start trying to do everything in an enthusiastic dash to save the world, we neither save the world nor do what we are called to do.
Purpose in the “ordinary”
The further we get into the ordinary realities of our work, the harder it is to keep the Kingdom of God in focus. So we return to our opening point but this time with a slightly different focus: Let God’s Kingdom work swallow up what you do. It’s easier to be theoretical about the Kingdom of God than it is to let the Kingdom swallow up what you do. If the Kingdom of God is about justice, love, peace, wisdom and moral commitment, then you are summoned by God to let your life speak justice, love, peace, wisdom and moral goodness—wherever you are and whatever you do.
But does this “do something that matters” really matter? Does it matter ultimately or to God whether or not we follow Jesus? Does it matter whether or not we take seriously His words about Kingdom—justice, love, peace, wisdom, Pentecost and give Him our total life? Does it really matter?
In one word: yes. For Jesus, what you do with your life matters—both now and forever.
Scot McKnight (PhD, Nottingham) is Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at North Park University, Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including The Blue Parakeet, Galatians and 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary series, and the award-winning The Jesus Creed. Taken from One.Life by Scot Mcknight. Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.