“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10)
Weber takes the reader on a journey to understanding the strength of the connection between the drive of religious asceticism (within Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism and Baptist denominations), labour, and the rise of the spirit of capitalism over the last four centuries in the West, with special focus on Europe. Of this relationship, he writes, “[T]he valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume… The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling.” [i]
‘Calling’, according to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work (such as religious work); the work that a person does or should be doing.” [ii] As Weber traces, this understanding of one’s calling for the Protestant Christian was indeed a strong influence in the rise of capitalism. However, as he elucidates, this drive towards hard work and the accumulation of wealth was not for its own sake: “[T]he religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling, as the highest means to asceticism, and at the same time the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith, must have been the most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of that attitude toward life which we have here called the spirit of capitalism.” [iii]
I love how Weber expounds on the strong belief these Christians had in their sense of calling to the work in life God called them to, as it’s not something one hears much of today. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Throughout Scripture, we read wonderful stories of men and women who had a sense of divine calling from God to a particular task or role in life. People such as David, of whom the Apostle Paul wrote, “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep…” (Acts 13: 36) We can also make mention of Moses, Esther, Nehemiah, and Gideon to name but a few, men and women who were evidently ‘called’ by God to a specific purpose, all towards the fulfilment of His purposes and glory, just as these religious Protestants lived for.
Even Jesus Christ understood the importance of calling and purpose in life. He Himself knew his mission for being here on earth. It resonated to his deepest being and influenced everything he did and said: “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness”(John 10: 10, NLT). Whether he healed the sick, caught fish for exhausted fishermen, taught the people, blessed little children, cursed fruitless fig trees, or raised the dead, it was all the result of his conscious drive towards fulfilling the calling and purpose God the Father had entrusted to Him as John 10:10 reveals.
As our Protestant forebears believed, God is a God of purpose who calls us to participate in His good works, an adventure in partnership with Him. Of course, when we think of the importance of fulfilling our God-given calling or purpose in life, we often mentally refer to the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that it will bring us. As important as that is, it is not ultimately the most important element, for as these Protestants believed, fulfilling the calling we believe God has given us will make a difference in our communities. In other words, being responsible and fulfilling our God-given duty to work will make a positive difference and be a blessing to many lives.
I can’t even imagine what our world would be like today if Steve Jobs hadn’t fulfilled the purpose and passion in his heart, or if Humphry Davy hadn’t invented that first light bulb, or if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t passionately pursued his convictions on African-American civil rights. The beauty is, God has made each one of us unique, with distinctive passions and frustrations, desires and dreams, giftings and strengths, all of which equip us to fulfil our calling, our duty in life. How God has made us is no mistake and he desires we discover our unique purpose and find our niche in this world. Whether or not we agree with the dogma of Calvinism or the lifestyle of the Puritans or of Wesley’s Methodism, without a doubt we can be inspired by their sense of calling. And although, as Weber concludes with, a need of economic compulsion may no longer drive us, there still exist deeper needs of fulfilment: a hunger to discover and know God’s purpose for our lives. We need to know. Not just that. The world needs us to know. God longs for you and I to live out our purpose. As Judy Peterson writes, “God made no mistakes when He gave you the gifts and abilities He did. They are within you for a reason. They will be a critical part of any lifework you pursue…God places dreams in our hearts for a reason. Our dreams can promote His purposes for our lives and urge us to help others.” [iv]
May God help us live up to the calling He has placed on each of our lives.
[i] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (USA: Renaissance Classics, 2012), 37-8
[iii] Max Weber, 108
[iv]Judy Peterson, Follow Your Heart And Discover God’s Dream For You, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2001), 17, 43