My General Thoughts on Vocation

In prior blog posts we have reviewed several facets about vocation from the January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

Vocation also has been discussed by Frederick Buechner, an author and an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He said the word ‘vocation’ “comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. . . . The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

All of these points have inspired reflections on my vocations that will be discussed in my next post.

Preliminarily, however, vocation, for me, implies a dedication to a certain kind of work or service over a period of time. A one-time effort probably does not count. On the other hand, in my opinion, vocation does not necessarily require a lifetime commitment to doing a certain thing. Indeed, an individual’s circumstances change over time, and what was a vocation for one period may not be appropriate for another period. Thus, an individual may have several vocations over time, some of which might be simultaneous. This at least has been true for me.

Some people may decide that they shall start engaging in a particular vocation. They know from the start that a certain course of action shall be their vocation, perhaps inspired by what they believe to be the word of God. Others discover after the fact that what they have been doing for a period of time has been and is their vocation. I am a member of the latter group. 

Moreover, some people discover a vocation when they respond affirmatively to an invitation or request to do something from someone else. Others embark on a vocation which they choose by themselves. I have experience with both of these.

Deciding on what shall be or is a vocation should be, in my opinion, a matter of reflection, meditation and prayer and in some cases discussion with others to assist in discerning a true vocation.

As the anthem “Forth in thy Name, O Lord, I Go” makes clear, even after we decide we have a vocation, we sometimes fail to fulfill the vocation. We get caught in the “snares” or traps of our callings and in the “gilded baits of worldly love.”

Yet, at least we Christians believe that as stated in the Lord’s Prayer God stands ready to forgive us our “debts” or “trespasses” and thereby enable us to go forward in life.

What, dear readers, do you think about these observations?


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service with the words to the anthem is available online along with the text and audio recording of the sermon as well as a video recording of the service. Prior posts have discussed this service’s (a) Prayer of Confession; (b) an anthem beginning with the words “God be in my head;” (c) passages from the Bible’s book of Acts and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments concerning the vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul; (d) a passage from Paul’s epistle from a Roman prison and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments about the preacher’s and her people’s vocations; (e) a hymn, “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord;”  (f) another hymn, “Give Thanks, O Christian People;” and (g) an anthem, “Forth in They Name, O Lord, I Go.” Clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

“Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go”

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster           Presbyterian Church

As discussed in other posts, vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

After the reading of the Scripture and sermon in the central part of the service—Listening for the Word—the last part was devoted to Responding to the Word. Two hymns and a choral anthem aided us in doing just that.

The anthem was “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go”[2] with these moving words of Charles Wesley:

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.”

The anthem clearly treasures the every-day vocations of the hymnist and everyone else.

It also recognizes the dark side of daily labor with these words, “Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.” In other words, being involved in the everyday world often leads to idolizing the rewards of the secular world (“the gilded baits of worldly love”), which are the seductions of my daily labor (“my calling’s snare” and the “thorns of choking care”). (Emphasis added.)

The same thoughts are found in the hymn “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord” that was sung earlier in the service. Its second verse says, “If worldly pressures fray the mind And love itself cannot unwind Its tangled skein of care: Our inward life repair.”

Another hymn is brought to mind by the first phrase of Charles Wesley’s line (“my calling’s snare“). It reminds us of the third verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…and Grace will lead us home.” (Emphasis added.)

The word “snare” is not much used today so I looked it up. Snares” originally were anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits. More generally the word means something by which an unwary person is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.

Thus, “my calling’s snare,” for me, means the traps that are commonly associated with my calling or profession. As a former lawyer who personally knew at least three lawyers who were convicted of crimes and served time in prison, I can say that “my calling’s snares” include embezzlement of funds entrusted to the attorney, being involved in promoting or concealing fraudulent activities of others, trading securities based on undisclosed inside information and lying or shading the truth of factual representations.

The Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to these snares or traps when it says, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” And the verse of “Amazing Grace” quoted above clearly acknowledges that God’s grace, rather than our own efforts, is the reason why so far we have survived the “dangers, toils and snares.”

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was an English Anglican clergyman and a leader of its Methodist movement that subsequently became the independent Methodist Church. He was the son of Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman and poet, and the younger brother of John Wesley, also an Anglican clergyman and a co-leader of the Methodist movement.

Both Wesley brothers were graduates of Oxford University’s Christ Church College, where in the early 1960’s I attended lectures and saw their portraits in the College’s beautiful dining hall.

Many years later I was walking near St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London and saw the Aldersgate Flame sculpture marking the spot where John Wesley on May 24, 1738, “felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The music for the anthem was a Scottish melody arranged by Howard Helvey. Born in 1968, he is a composer, arranger and pianist and also serves as the organist and choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service with the words to the anthem is available online along with the text and audio recording of the sermon as well as a video recording of the service. Prior posts have discussed this service’s (a) Prayer of Confession; (b) an anthem beginning with the words “God be in my head;” (c) passages from the Bible’s book of Acts and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments concerning the vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul; (d) a passage from Paul’s epistle from a Roman prison and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments about the preacher’s and her people’s vocations; (e) a hymn, “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord;” and  (f) another hymn, “Give Thanks, O Christian People.” Clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

[2] This same anthem was sung by the Westminster Choir in April 2013, and a prior post reviewed that performance.

Reflections on the New Testament’s John 21:1-14

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Prompted by sermons from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen and former Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, I have been pondering John 21: 1-14 and offer these reflections on this passage of the New Testament.

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Simon Peter and six other disciples return to their livelihood of fishing. They go fishing with their nets, not to do recreational fishing with rods and lures. After all, they have to live and support their families. Presumably they go out in the early morning and continue into the night without any success. They are exhausted, frustrated and famished. [1]

Jesus arrives on the scene unsolicited and unannounced.  His arrival shows He recognizes and understands that even his most devoted followers have an ongoing need for inspiration, reminders and encouragement from, and companionship with, Jesus. His appearance could be seen as a test marketing of the Holy Spirit or doing market research on the Holy Spirit with a focus group.

Jesus’ appearance also shows, I believe, that he too desired companionship with his followers. There was a mutuality of interest and desire.

Jesus had good cause to rebuke his disciples that night for their failures after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but Jesus did not do so. Instead, Jesus is the hospitable host. He tells them where they can catch fish [2] and then prepares the camp fire and cooks some of the fish, which he gives with bread to the hungry fishermen-disciples for breakfast. This undoubtedly reminded the disciples of His Last Supper with them when He gave them wine and bread.

The need for the followers of Jesus to be in the every-day world with all of its temptations was emphasized in the anthem “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go,” by Charles Wesley. Its very first line says, “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue.” The rest of the anthem prays for guidance in that daily labor in the real world. It says, “The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.” (Emphasis added; full text below.)

The Wesley anthem also recognizes the dark side of that daily labor with these words, “Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.” In other words, being involved in the everyday world often leads to idolizing the rewards of the secular world (“the gilded baits of worldly love”), which are the seductions of my daily labor (“my calling’s snare” and the “thorns of choking care”). (Emphasis added.)

The first phrase of this line (“my calling’s snare“) reminded me of the third verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…and Grace will lead us home.” (Emphasis added.)

The word “snare” is not much used today so I looked it up. Snare” originally were anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits. More generally the word means something by which an unwary person is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.

Thus, “my calling’s snare,” for me, means the traps that are commonly associated with my calling or profession. As a former lawyer who personally knew at least three lawyers who were convicted of crimes and served time in prison, I can say that “my calling’s snares” include embezzlement of funds entrusted to the attorney, being involved in promoting or concealing fraudulent activities of others, trading securities based on undisclosed inside information and lying or shading the truth of factual representations.

The Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to these snares or traps when it says, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” And the verse of “Amazing Grace” quoted above clearly acknowledges that God’s grace, rather than our own efforts, is the reason why so far we have survived the “dangers, toils and snares.”

Amen.

———————————————–

[1] Some commentators see the disciples’ fishing trip as a sign of their complete apostasy and aimlessness. 9 The New Interpreter’s Bible–Luke and John at 857 (Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1995).

[2] Immediately after following Jesus’ direction of where to fish, the disciples miraculously caught a large number of fish (153 large ones, to be precise).

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John 21: 1-14 (New Revised Standard):

  • “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of [Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.  Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
  • Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
  • When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

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Charles Wesley , “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go:”

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.