By Leland Ryken, excerpted from J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life.
The idea of calling or vocation is important to [J. I.] Packer.
It could hardly be otherwise for a latter-day Puritan, inasmuch as no subject occupied the Puritans more than the idea of vocation. Having written extensively on Puritan attitudes toward work myself, I will take the prerogative of summarizing what they said so voluminously about vocation: (1) God calls people to their tasks in the world; (2) the goals toward which work must be directed are the glory of God and service to humanity; (3) all honest work is a calling as pleasing to God as the work of a minister preaching in the pulpit; and (4) all work offered to God is a form of worship.
In 2007, Packer was interviewed on the subject of vocation at Laity Lodge in Texas. If the following statements by Packer were presented anonymously as part of a list of Puritan quotations on work, it would be impossible to differentiate the two sources:
- “The heart of vocation is . . . the sense that God has called one to do what one is doing.”
- “All honest work is worth doing for the glory of God, and we may find ourselves called to do any honest work that we’re fitted for.”
- “God made us for honest work. And we glorify him by doing honest work.”
- “Worship is honoring God in every appropriate way. When one’s labor is labor that one feels called to, then one is fulfilling one’s vocation as one pursues it.”
- “All work . . . is oriented to the welfare of other people—directly or indirectly. The answer to the question [of how Christians can view their daily work as ministry] is to be conscious of your work as service to people.”
As the interview unfolded, it wound its way to the subject of Packer’s writing as an important part of his vocation.
Packer has lived out his convictions about calling. The vocabulary of calling comes up naturally when he speaks of his life. During his undergraduate days in Oxford, Packer reached a deliberate and prayerful decision to seek ordination in the Church of England. He has never wavered from that calling. But the sense of calling extends to other spheres of his life as well. When I asked him whether he ever regretted leaving the parish ministry, he replied, “No, because I have had such a strong sense of calling in regard to my academic life.” When Packer faced the need to chart his course at the end of his Latimer House decade, he said that “I really am called . . . to make ministers and establish consciences.”
One of the great gifts that this Puritan-style sense of vocation confers is that it allows one to focus on one’s calling and ward off distractions from it. The doctrine of vocation produces a great sense of purpose and self-confidence in what one is doing. Such a sense of vocation tends to generate a strong work ethic, and I note that the Puritans found it natural to speak of vocation and work at the same time. One need only to look at his quantity of publications and lecture trips to see that Packer has possessed an unusual aptitude for work.
This post is excerpted from J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken, free this month from Faithlife Ebooks.
The headings and title of this post are the additions of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.