As many of you wait for your A Level Results tomorrow let me blog as a pastor who was formerly a University Chaplain. In my fifteen years living with, and ministering to, students I spent the most pastoral time talking with people who were not doing the right subject.
Before I say anything else remember that you are not defined by your results, whether they are extraordinarily good... or whether you don't do as well as you would have liked or as your friends did. Our value is not found in academic results.
Pastoral experience with late teens and early twenties suggests to me that you guys discover the direction of your lives a little later than generations before. Retirement is almost fifty years away. There is no rush. Don't panic. A year out is rarely a bad thing and mostly a very good thing.
Whether you do well or not, if you are uncertain about the course you have chosen, do not worry. So many before you have changed direction and course after they begin University.
This is a time to think very hard about what you are doing and what you feel that you are born to do. That is not always what the culture, or even your parents, want to guide you towards. So, as you pray and ponder, and as results arrive that open doors or forces you to knock other doors, here are some theological thoughts to help you to hear God's answer to your prayers.
Theologian and Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote in his book Until Justice and Peace Embrace, “Gratitude, obedience and vocation – these are at the centre of Calvinist social piety: obedience motivated by gratitude and expressed in vocation.” So, I wonder how many of us sat in our sixth form careers advice interview and thought, “This is the most important meeting I have ever had about my obedience to Christ.” Of course vocation is much more than what we do in our job but the two are related and what this Calvinistic idea is suggesting is that our obedience is worked out in what we do with our lives.
Let us go back to the beginning and ask what humanity’s vocation is? God gave a clear cultural mandate to humanity when he told man and woman, “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” God takes humanity and puts us in the garden “to work it and take care of it.”
This was reiterated after the Flood when humanity got a brand new start. Noah and his sons are given the same task as Adam and Eve, to “fill the earth,” and God tells them that “just as I give you the green plants, I now give you everything.” After God had created the world he put in place a cultural structure with families, governments, Churches, businesses, craftsmen’s guilds and schools for the well being of society. Humanity has been given the vocation of looking after the earth and all the responsibility that comes with that.
Of course the Fall twisted and gnarled the outworking of this mandate. Jesus therefore calls us again into a new vocational relationship. Jesus life and death and resurrection energizes us in his redeeming power to redeem the entire cosmos. Nineteenth Century theologian, academic and ultimately Prime Minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper believed in his Calvinistic worldview that there was “not one square inch of the entire Cosmos which Christ does not say, “That is mine!”
As a result when Jesus calls us to the vocation of following him we are charged to reach into every nook and cranny of our world to redeem it with Kingdom of God, values. Our obedience fired by our gratitude for what Christ has done for us is worked out in our vocations taking us into education, industry, medicine, the arts, politics and science to redeem every part of it.
That is the Biblical umbrella under which we need to think a little more personally. Frederick Buechner is a Presbyterian minister who devoted his life to writing novels and other books of deep spiritual wisdom. Defining what vocation means, he writes, “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.”
This is a profound proverb to help guide us along our journey of following. God has made each of us different. Some of us will get a buzz from algebra and some of us from rhythm and rhymes. Using the gifts you have been given should lead you into a deep souled satisfaction when you are using it well.
That satisfaction is not to massage our own self indulgence but for the good of the world; that is why God has made you that way and redeemed you through Christ. Therefore, your gifts are for the common good of humanity and you need to find that place where your gladness meets the world’s need.
This is where your gratitude to Christ will be revealed through your obedience in the outworking out of your vocation. A foible of recent evangelicalism has been “conversionism” where we are going to hell and God calls us to a place in heaven. Our earthly discipleship, obedience and vocation get stunted as a result. If we look at the Old Testament patriarchs or prophets or the New Testament apostles, no one is called to heaven but to service on earth. Heaven is like a pension plan for years of vocational service for the Kingdom – well done my good and faithful servant.
So, if you did not consider that your Sixth Form careers advice interview was the most important meeting of your life then reconsider. What you do is where you will live out your discipleship and mission.