When I first read through many of Luther’s sermons, I was delighted and refreshed to hear the Reformer explain how a person can be a good Christian in and through one’s ordinary life stations (parenting, working, being a student, etc.). It was good for me to learn that a Christian doesn’t need to retreat away from others to better follow Christ: he or she can do it while flipping burgers, writing computer software, or changing diapers. Gene Veith explains this concept of vocation well in his helpful book, God at Work. Here’s one excerpt.
“…Luther said that faith serves God, but works serve our neighbor. We often speak of ‘serving God,’ and this is a worthy goal, but strictly speaking, in the spiritual realm, it is God who serves us. ‘The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:28). In our vocations, we are not serving God – we are serving other people. Luther excoriated the monastic hermits who claimed that they were doing such good works in spending all of their time in prayer and devotion. These are not good works at all, he said; who are they helping? To offer religious exercises as good works before God while hiding yourself away from other people who might need your help is to miss the point. Genuine good works have to actually help someone. In vocation, we are not doing good works for God – we are doing good works for our neighbor. This locates moral action in the real, messy world of everyday life, in the conflicts and responsibilities of the world – not in inner attitudes or abstract ideals, but in concrete interactions with other people” (p.39).
That’s refreshing: God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. God serves us each Lord’s Day in the “divine service” (as we note at the top of our liturgy) and we serve our neighbor in our jobs/vocations during the week. This is freeing because it keeps the law and gospel from being all mixed up and it means we can be solid Christians in and through our ordinary weekday labor. We don’t have to become hyper-spiritual mystics who retreat into forest cabins or join a monastery on a solitary hilltop. In other words, as Veith later says, “Vocation is played out…in the realm of the ordinary” (p.59).
Here’s the full title/info: God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002/2011).