“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy,
and it shall go well with you.” (Psalm 128:2)
A young man was at work in the desert, just beyond the middle of nowhere, when, as the old story goes, God called out to him from a bush. A burning bush, not all that uncommon a sight to see in the desert, except that this bush kept on burning and was not consumed. Lucky this young man paid attention (or perhaps it was known that he would), for it wasn’t until he turned aside to investigate this thing that God called him by name: “Moses, Moses…come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 3:1-6).
Without any further introductions or friendly chit-chat, God quickly changes subject and declares: “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…I know their sufferings…and I have come down to deliver them.” Then (no pause for questions), God says, “I am sending you” (3:7-10). No wonder the young man immediately protests! After all, what is wrong with this picture? How about a job application, some interview questions, a background check at least? What kind of relevant experience or education does a shepherd have for this new line of work? The God who calls him doesn’t even seem to take into account his past sins or spiritual fitness, just throws him right into on-the-job training: Deliverance from Slavery 101.
In hindsight, I don’t think God didn’t know or care about Moses. On the contrary, I suppose God knew exactly what Moses needed in life: to do something great and become the leader he was born to be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt is also the story of Moses’ salvation. The young man, Moses, would not be saved apart from the work God had given him to do, even though it was God, of course, doing all the saving. Likewise, I don’t suppose any of us are just “working out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12) all alone in a prayer closet. To be called is to be blessed with the gift of good and meaningful work to do in the world.
As I look around at my community and think about my friends, young and old, I sense not only a common search for meaning, but also a search for meaningful work to do. It’s not just about finding a job that pays the bills. The Bible speaks of “finding enjoyment in toil” (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and in “the labor of your hands” (Psalm 128). Meanwhile, we find much more reason to complain at work while we watch others enjoy the fruits or end-product of our labor. Like most of the ranch “hands” in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men many end up feeling like they’ve spent the best years of their lives working on someone else’s ranch with too little to show for it. This, as the scripture says, “is vanity,” not the way it’s supposed to be. Rather than working because the work is good, or because we enjoy the result, we work for money to compensate for doing what we don’t believe in. And thus, at work, we feel more and more estranged from who we really are.
If God called the first people to eat and till the garden, and Abraham was blessed by God in order to bless others–if Moses was delivered in delivering God’s people, and Jesus was raised up to do God’s greatest work of all, then I think it’s safe to say God can provide us all with good and meaningful work, if not “greater works” (John 14:12) to do. Work that will not leave us finally feeling empty or distant from ourselves.
There’s lots of talk about jobs in America, but I think our need runs deeper. We don’t just work to eat; we hunger for good work to do. It’s one thing to be employed, and another to find your life’s calling. Discerning God’s call is not just for clergy, and not just for a few. What kind of work do you profoundly enjoy or, in the end, feel good about doing? What are your gifts? What could be your life’s work, your Magnum Opus, with God’s help? There’s nothing wrong, of course, with fair compensation, but I understand many of history’s finest didn’t do their greatest works for money. And yet, how much richer were they, and are we as a result!
You may not be gifted like Beethoven, the great musician and composer. But, did you know he lost his hearing in the middle of his prime? Still, he went on to compose some of his greatest works: including Symphony no. 9 and Missa Solemnis. So, where does that leave us with our gifts and list of excuses? You don’t even have to quit your day job to listen for your calling, to be on the lookout for your burning bush.