I, like many people in January, find that there is much work to be done and I become quite busy. It is certainly a fitting time to consider what we are accomplishing as we work at our jobs, volunteer with non-profit organizations, and serve at our churches. In the midst of my busyness I will consider my vocation. At least three authors have influenced my perspective on work and service to others. Martin Luther spoke very clearly about how our vocation will influence our day-to-day living when he said,
The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow
him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that
belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I
might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his
neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and
shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If
he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden
me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor.
When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.1
He is suggesting that every person has a place, either of their own choosing or by virtue of having that role thrust upon them, and we seek to fulfill that role to the best of our abilities. In this way we praise God with our vocation. But you might ask, “What of the mundane interruptions of life and the things which seem so unrelated to my vocation?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer had this to say about helpfulness and interruptions.
God’s perspective is that we must enter into the ministry of helpfulness, which is
simple assistance in trifling, external matters. . . One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly. . . . We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that not our way, but God’s way must be done.2
I often think of this quote when someone asks me to help them move or paint their house. It is in these interruptions of life that we have some of our greatest opportunities to praise God with our time. Finally, Henri J. Nouwen brings the two concepts together in this brief statement. “My whole life I’ve been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work.”3
1 Martin Luther, “Sermon in the Castle Church at Weimar” (25 October 1522, Saturday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity), in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 60 vols. (Weimar: Herman Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1883–1980) 10/3:382.
2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together, Harper, New York: 1954.
3 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Toronto: Doubleday, 1975), 52, 53.