God is more present at your work than you know.
And I think he wants you to know that. God wants you to see that he is there and that his Spirit is moving in you, through you, and all around you as you do your job. God wants you to know him in all you do—including the third of your life you spend working.
Over the past five years, I have preached Sunday sermons on many different vocations: on astronauts, auto mechanics, emergency room doctors, hair stylists, investment bankers, Walmart greeters, the list goes on (no really, check out the full list at the end*).
As I have engaged all of these jobs, I have realized that each is a kind of parable—a lived-out story within which and through which God speaks in multiple ways. Parables were a key aspect of Jesus’ teachings—he pictured God’s Kingdom through stories about laborers, farmers, jewel merchants, kings, judges, managers, builders, general store keepers, landlords, and vineyard owners. He used these stories, the Bible tells us, as a kind of advanced class for his most responsive audiences: “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them” (Matthew 13:12, NLT).
For years my view of how Jesus’ parables worked was limited. I understood them to be narrative tools for the conveyance of moral and ethical truth, stories with a built-in spiritual lesson. I still believe this. But lately I’ve come to realize that the created elements of his stories—the down-to-earthness, the real-life content, ordinary people doing ordinary things—also carried revelatory weight. Jesus was telling stories filled with things he made (soil, seeds, agriculture, and farmers), things that revealed something about their maker. Parables, in many ways, pointed to God’s revelation via creation. When Jesus wrapped a parable around a particular vocation, he was affirming the creational goodness of that job.
I think Jesus is still doing the same today—through the parable that is your job.
That’s what this book is about: understanding how Jesus is speaking directly to you (via your personal experience of work), and how he is speaking through you (to the broader world). It’s about hearing God’s creational words through the things that he’s made: the rocks a geologist explores, the cars a mechanic fixes, the lights an electrician installs, the customers a retail worker serves. The “stuff” we work with interacts and commingles with the “stuff” of our work itself, leading to an enriched vocational experience of God.
As you read this book you’ll encounter God’s revelation through various vocational parables, as shared with me by the people I interviewed. You’ll learn how a firefighter’s passion is like God’s, how the nature of automotive restoration uniquely reflects the renewing mind of God, how the cultural product of the culinary arts reveals something of the hospitable heart of God, and how a geophysicist’s search for subterranean truth informs humanity’s collective search for God’s truth.
And you’ll start to see how these present-day job-based parables are a lot like the New Testament parables Jesus told.
Throughout the Bible, in fact, God accomplished his will and made himself known through real people doing real work: creating, building, tending, leading, managing, restoring, and filling the world with good things.
This is how God worked in the past. This is how God works today!
Jesus is speaking the parable that is your vocational life right now—a word from God that is meant to be read by others and experienced by you. Imagine your job charged with this kind of mystical, God-revealing potential.
God intended work to be a means through which we can know him, experience him, and relate to him- all in the context of his providential unfolding of history.
After all, we are made in the image of a God who works. God has made everything out of nothing. Now he is taking what he had made and making more out of it. Once crucial means by which he is accomplishing this is through work. His work and ours.
You’ve been reading Every Job a Parable by John Van Sloten. John is a pastor in Calgary and is at the forefront of the conversation on faith and vocation. His first book was The Day Metallica Came to Church. Watch his sermons or start reading Every Job a Parable now!
*where were we? Ah yes… engineers, firefighters, accountants, electricians, forensic psychologists, city mayors, painters, musicians, parents, carpenters, composers, glass blowers, Olympic swimmers, hockey players, major league pitchers, emergency response helicopter pilots, geophysicists, nephrologists, geologists, audiologists, optometrists, florists, epigenetics researchers, neuroscientists, residential landlords, real estate developers, software developers, oil industry executives, molecular biologists, radiation physicists, police officers, photographers, journalists, bakers, nurses, restaurant servers, teachers, human resources managers, development workers, sanitation workers, custom automobile restorers, and farmers.