The Bible shows us examples of how job and calling work together…
Here are three examples of men from Scripture who had callings. The examples come from Stephen’s recounting of Biblical history, just before he was martyred:
Before he was Abraham, he was Abram who lived in Ur of the Chaldees. There, he was rich. He had amassed a great deal of wealth. Abraham is an example of a person who moved from job to calling:
Then, after his father died, they moved to the promised land of Canaan. He owned no land there. It was there that God promised him that his offspring would multiply greatly. Yet he had no children at the time, and he was 75 years old when he left his original home (Genesis 12:4). With respect to a job, he had a great economic career in Ur of the Chaldees. He had no land in Haran, but he had sheep and portable capital: silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). In Canaan, he was given a promise by God, but he was not given any land. “He gave none of it as an inheritance to him, no, not even enough to set a foot on. But he promised—even though Abraham had no child yet—that he would give the land as a possession to him and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5). It was there that Abraham fulfilled his calling. He had no calling back home, and he had no calling in Haran. There was a sequence: from job to calling.
Abraham’s wealth made his calling possible.
Joseph had multiple jobs and callings:
We know the story from the Genesis account. He was the designated heir of his father, Jacob. Jacob gave him the famous coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3). This enraged his older brothers (v. 4). They sold him to a traveling caravan (v. 28), which in turn sold him to Potiphar (v. 36). It appeared that his calling was to serve as an heir in Canaan, but then he was forcibly removed from that inheritance. He had a good job initially in Egypt. He ran the business owned by Potiphar. Then Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, and he fled (Genesis 39:18). She blamed him. Potiphar put him in prison (v. 20). In prison, he took over the management of the prison (vv. 22–23). He had another job. He also occasionally interpreted dreams. That led him to his calling (Genesis 40). Pharaoh brought him out of prison. He asked him to interpret a dream, which Joseph did. Pharaoh then placed him second in command in Egypt to begin to prepare the nation for the seven years of famine that Joseph derived from the dream (Genesis 41). He later fed his father and his brothers, bringing them into Egypt (Genesis 42–45). He gained back the inheritance that his brothers had attempted to steal from him. He had a high calling in Egypt as an Egyptian ruler, and he also had back his original calling. He had two jobs in between.
Finally is Moses. Moses spent 40 years as a shepherd after escaping Egypt. This prepared him for his calling of shepherding the Israelites through the wilderness:
Moses was removed from his family as an infant. He lost temporarily his calling as an Israelite. He was adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh. He was raised in her household, and he was trained to rule as an officer in Egypt. “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and works” (Acts 7: 22). He fled Egypt when he was 40 years old (v. 23). He fled to Midian. There, he was a sheepherder for 40 years (v. 30). That was his job. More important, it was preparation for his calling, which was to herd the rebellious sheep of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. He could not have gained this experience in Egypt. The Egyptians resented sheepherders: “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34b). That is why the Hebrews resided separately in Goshen. When a successor Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, this ended their callings and their jobs as sheepherders. Moses did get training as a leader in Egypt, which prepared him for leadership in the wilderness. But in terms of the years spent in training, his job as a shepherd was far more important.
A person’s job should prepare them for their calling if possible. The job should be congruous with a person’s calling. They should not be at odds. Just as with husbands and wives, job and calling should not be unequally yoked such they work at cross purposes to each other.
Moses is a clear example of how job and calling can work best together. The skills he gained herding sheep gave him a strong foundation for leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Both periods were 40 years each (Numbers 14:33; Acts 7:30).
But our job can also help support our calling without being so directly related. Paul’s life is an example of this.
Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 21:3). This was his job. But his calling was as an apostle. He was one of the most influential apostles. His letters form the majority of the New Testament canon. His tentmaking job served his calling. Several times he writes that he does not need to take a church’s money. He wasn’t dependent on contributions from congregations. He recognized freedom in this. He was able to preach the Gospel without watering it down. If he offended anyone, he did not have to be concerned. His income did not depend on how much of the Word he held back.
Jesus is the ultimate example of a life filled with a job and a calling equally matched.
Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). He learned carpentry from His father, most likely (Matthew 13:54-55). Then, he started His ministry and left his job of carpentry behind. His ministry was His calling. But His job prepared Him for His ministry work. As a carpenter, He designed and built useful objects from raw materials. Similarly, He built His church upon a rock, metaphorically speaking (Matthew 16:18).
To learn more about the calling, click here to read Chapter 6 from Christian Economics: Activist’s Edition, on the calling.