When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to consider the question: If I follow Jesus should I quit my job? I noted that many Christian testimonies seem to imply that real discipleship means leaving behind “secular” employment in order to go into “full-time ministry.” These stories appear to be consistent with what we see in Mark 1. When Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, then James and John, he calls them away from their work (fishing for fish) and into a new line of work (fishing for people). If we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, should we leave our jobs and take on new employment?
If we follow Jesus faithfully, then how we live and how we work will be radically altered, even if we remain in the same jobs we had before saying, “Yes” to Jesus.
Sometimes, the answer to this question is “Yes.” Even today, the Lord sometimes calls people for whom obedience means leaving their jobs so they might serve the Lord in new ways. Yet, often, indeed, most of the time, the call of Jesus does not require the leaving of our jobs. Rather, it invites us to see our work in a whole new light and to do our work for a whole new purpose. Following Jesus fills our work with new meaning and energy.
The Theology of Work commentary on Mark 1:16-20 wisely observes, “This section needs to be treated cautiously: while the disciples are paradigms of the Christian life, they also occupy a unique position in the story of salvation. Their summons to a distinctive kind of service, and to the forsaking of their current employment, does not establish a universal pattern for Christian life and vocation. Many, indeed most, of those who follow Jesus do not quit their jobs to do so (see Vocation Overview at www.theologyofwork.org). Nevertheless, the way in which the demands of the kingdom cut across and override the usual principles of society are transferable and enlightening to our work.”
If you’re looking for a biblical example of someone who maintained his occupation while following Jesus radically, remember the Apostle Paul. Perhaps the most influential disciple of Jesus in the first-century A.D. was not a “full-time minister” in the common sense of the phrase. He was not paid for his apostolic efforts and rarely received financial support from his churches. Rather, Paul was a “full-time craftsman,” a leather worker who often used his skills to make tents. Usually, therefore, we refer to Paul as a tentmaker. During most of his apostolic efforts, Paul worked long hours in his craft, using his work to support himself and as a platform for sharing the gospel.
The example of Paul helps us to realize that following Jesus does not necessarily mean we give up our careers, our occupations. In fact, as we’ll see later, the first disciples didn’t exactly give up their careers, either. But, if we follow Jesus faithfully, then how we live and how we work will be radically altered, even if we remain in the same jobs we had before saying, “Yes” to Jesus.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How might we know if Jesus is calling us to quit our jobs and enter a new line of work?
In what ways has your faith made a difference in your work?
How could you follow Jesus in the context of your work today?
Lord Jesus, we want to respond to you with full faith and full obedience. We don’t want to hold back out of fear or convenience. If you want us to leave our jobs, then we are prepared to leave them. But we need wisdom, your wisdom, to know how best to think about our work and how best to do it. Help us, Lord. Teach us what it means to follow you in every part of life, including our work. Amen.