What could I learn about you from the top of your dresser? For many people, the top of the dresser is the unloading station of the house. Miscellaneous stuff is unpacked from lint-filled pockets and left in abstract piles until the next morning. So what’s on your dresser? A YMCA key card. A picture of your nephew. A wedding ring. A summer volleyball schedule. A sermon invite card. A coupon for a free Big Mac. The key to the office. Your Bible. From the top of your dresser I might be able to piece together an accurate picture of who you are. Now, which of those items (and the activities they represent) are meant for the glory of God? As you sift through the Bible and the keys and the coupons, which stuff do you use to bring praise to our God?
That question is what the doctrine of vocation is all about. For the next four weeks, we’re going “beyond the basics,” growing in faith and knowledge with doctrines that maybe you never even knew existed. And today we begin with the doctrine of Christian vocation. When understood rightly, this doctrine changes everything—the way your work and the way you work out, the way you walk and talk and babysit and shoot free throws and wait at stoplights. If you get vocation, life will never be the same.
So what is vocation? It’s hard to arrive at an accurate definition because we use the word differently today. In our culture we talk about “vocational” schools, institutions designed to teach you how to do one thing and do it well. Herzing College and ITT Tech are vocational schools. A graphic designer or a massage therapist might have studied at a vocational school whose goal isn’t to teach the liberal arts—literature, math, science, and history—but to teach one skill to do one job.
But that definition doesn’t work for Christian vocation. No, vocation has a broader definition. Here it is: Your vocation is the sum total of all the roles you fill. Everything you do. Officially or recreationally. Inside your church or outside of it. That’s your vocation. So what’s yours? Are you a parent? A center-fielder? A Monday morning mall walker? A carpool driver? A nurse? A patient? A consultant? A shopper? A Facebooker? A Tuesday afternoon elliptical trainer? A Starbucks frequenter? A beltline traffic jam participant? A sister? A homemaker? A son?
Add up all of those roles and you have your vocation. Pile on all the hats you wear throughout the week and you’re balancing your vocation. Gather around you all the people of your life, from closest friends to faintest acquaintances to perfect strangers and you’re staring at your vocation.
And as you add up and balance and look around, realize your vocation is where your faith is practiced. It’s where, as a child of God, loved and forgiven because of Jesus, you strive to visibly live for God and like God every day. Think back to your dresser. Your faith is at work in all those places. The booth at Starbucks. The back row of the volleyball court. The front seat in your science class. The treadmill. The couch. The pew. The soda aisle at the grocery store.
You might wonder, “What in the world does God have to do with all that? God and my free throws? Jesus and my 10-minute miles? The Holy Spirit and coupons for Pepsi products?” God might appear to have nothing to do with that part of your life. But listen to what God’s Word says in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Do it all for the glory of God. Everything is wrapped up in God’s glory. Your vocation, done well, glorifies God even in the mundane things of your life.
That’s because we constantly represent the one who has sent us. Take Koman Coulibaly, for example. Mr. Coulibaly is the referee from Mali who called back the goal that would have given the United States a victory over Slovenia in the World Cup. To be honest, I don’t know anything about the country of Mali…except that they have bad referees. I couldn’t find Mali on a map, but I could find the nearest Lens Crafters and encourage them to do more business in Mali because their referees have some vision issues. Now maybe I’m a little sensitive about the call. And maybe I need to forgive Mr. Coulibaly for the mistake. But here’s the point—we represent the one who sent us. And the decisions we make will bring great honor or great dishonor to the one who sent us.
Likewise, God will be honored or dishonored based on how we, his representatives, carry out our vocations. That’s because God has sent us into the world. As Christians, we represent the name of Christ! And as children of God, made clean by the sacrifice of Christ, we long to carry out our vocations well. We strive to live them SDG. SDG—Have you seen those letters before? When I first attended Christian conferences, I noticed those three letters typed at the conclusion of many papers—SDG. New York Yankee fans noticed them, too. Bernie Williams, who played centerfield for the Yankees for 15 years, often signed autographs with those same three letters—SDG. And J.S. Bach, the renowned 18th century composer, almost always scribbled those three letters on his musical masterpieces—SDG.
But what do they mean? SDG stands for Soli Deo Gloria, a Latin phrase that means, “To God alone be the glory!” A three letter reminder of the goal of our vocation. To God alone be the glory for this paper. To God alone be the glory for these nine innings. To God alone be the glory for this concerto. To God alone be the glory in everything I do. SDG! It’s the opposite of SMeG, “To Me alone be the glory.” SDG is the God-focused inner drive that wants all the attention, all the praise, and all the glory to belong to God.
A good vocation is one that lives SDG in everything. Our Scripture tells us to live SDG even while we eat and drink. How is that possible? By arranging our French fries in the shape of a cross before we eat them? No, we eat to God’s glory when we thank God for daily bread, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. And when we share our food with those who need it. And when we eat in moderation and thus care for the bodies God has given us. And we drink to God’s glory when we thank him for water and for wine and for milk and for Miller Lite and cappuccinos and frappuccinos and plain old cups of joe. And when we drink alcohol in moderation. As author G.K. Chesterton said, “We should thank God for beer and brandy by not drinking too much of them.” Eat and drink every day SDG, to the glory of God alone. That’s vocation well done.
And this verse takes us beyond the basics of the dinner table. It says, “Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.” Whatever you do. Facebook SDG by posting encouraging words instead of complaints. Drive your car SDG by obeying the speed limit, being courteous to other drivers, and refusing to rage on the road. Talk with friends SDG by listening with compassion and showing kindness. Check out at the grocery store SDG by waiting patiently, paying for the groceries of the single mom behind you, and caring enough to call the cashier by her name. Battle cancer SDG by trusting in God, by not worrying about the future, and by bearing that cross without bitterness towards the Lord. Sell insurance SDG. Play shortstop SDG. Run on the treadmill SDG. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
And remember that on every side of your SDG vocation is Christ. Inside and out, around, under, above, and below. Christ with his cleansing forgiveness for moments selfishly lived. Christ graciously picking you up and assuring your repentant heart, “Neither do I condemn you.” Christ taking in a lifetime’s worth of worldly moments and declaring, “Take heart. I have overcome the world!” Christ separating the ambitions that were all about me as far from me as the east is from the west. Christ turning an obligation into a privilege, a burdensome command into the deepest desire of our hearts.
Christ is the 8-cylinder engine driving this SDG vocation. And he compels us to live to God’s glory in both obvious and subtle ways. Some moments of your life will be obviously to God’s glory—The sermon invite card you pass on to a friend. The volunteering you do for our school. Other occasions will be equally SDG, but not so outwardly obvious. Dave Paustian is a brother in Christ who works in internal sales at Johnson Wax. Recently, he was at a conference that brought him face-to-face with many of the clients who he had only dealt with over the phone. When they saw Paustian, these clients spontaneously rose to their feet and applauded him, expressing their appreciation for the way he had dealt with them on the phone. Was God not delighted? Dave didn’t witness to every client. He didn’t play hymns for them when they were on hold. And yet he worked to the glory of God—SDG.
Much of your vocation will be the same. There may not be hymns sung or Bible passages read. There may simply be Christian love. As you look around the place where you eat or wait or run or sit or study and ask, “What does Christian love look like right here and right now? With this person? In this moment?” Oh, how God would be glorified in that Christian vocation!
I’ll leave you today with the compelling words of Seminary Professor Ken Cherney— “What if we made it our business to send out into the world an army of laypeople who were equipped to share the Good News, but were also determined to serve their neighbor by their occupations, to be scrupulously honest and considerate in business, to give their employer a day’s work for a day’s pay and their customer full value for every dollar spent, and to show real, non-judgmental concern to the disadvantaged? What if, furthermore, they spoke the truth, stuck with their spouses no matter what, took responsibility for their children, bore their troubles without complaining, and stopped eating and drinking when they’d had enough? I submit that the shock and disbelief on the faces of the people of this world, as they witnessed this behavior from our members, would result in opportunities for evangelism like nothing we have seen so far. Even if it didn’t, it would be awfully fun to watch.” May God bless our vocations, lives lived SDG. Amen.