The word “vocation” comes from the same root that give us the word “vocal.” The simplest way to understand vocation is to realize that someone else is speaking. This puts us into an immediate listening mode.
One of the biblical phrases I’ve come to appreciate is “incline your heart to the Lord.” A similar phrase is “incline your ear to the Lord.” Either way, it means that the fundamental movement in the spiritual life is the disposition of our heart to hear what God wants to say to us.
Years ago, I was talking to an older pastor. He gave me some sage advice. He told me his ministry changed when he shifted from waiting for the denominational catalog to arrive, so he could see what to do next, to waiting on the Lord for guidance in what to do next. I’m sure it was an exaggeration, but he did say this shifted his ministry from a resource-base to a relational base. He went on to say how he moved from waiting by the mailbox to kneeling at the altar.
It’s an image that’s stuck with me all these years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with finding out what next quarter’s denominational resources (or the latest video series from a well-known leader) is going to be. But to live vocationally means that this information is not the starting point for our discernment.
As Eugene Peterson says, it’s God, God, God from start to finish. The primary element in our calling is belonging to Jesus. Everything else—everything else—is secondary.