Pursue God: How God Pulls Us to HimselfBlog / Produced by The High Calling
What are the rituals that start your day? Many of us have adopted daily habits without much reflection. Our morning rituals probably include a cycle of “checking in”—with email, with Facebook, with Twitter, with the Wall Street Journal. If Martian anthropologists landed in our offices or at our breakfast tables, they might read our hunched postures over our phones as a kind of religious devotion to some electronic talisman.
And what if those rituals aren’t just something that you do? What if they are also doing something to you? What if those rituals are veritable “liturgies” of a sort? What if pursuing God in our vocations requires immersion in rituals that direct our passions?
Cultivating a Calling
I can still remember the day I discovered my vocation: I was in the basement of the library at college when I came across copies of a journal called Faith & Philosophy, published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. In the first issue, philosopher Alvin Plantinga published a veritable manifesto called “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” first given as his inaugural address at the University of Notre Dame. He powerfully articulated why Christians can and should pursue philosophy. He wrote,
We who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.
Plantinga’s vision is relevant to all vocations and professions; he paints a picture in which God is invested in every square inch of his creation—not just the church and theology, but also philosophy and physics, law and economics, agriculture and the arts. We ought not settle for simply being Christians who happen to be artists or lawyers who are simply also Christians. We should see our vocations as ways to pursue God himself—and, as Plantinga puts it, to do so with “integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.”
I received Plantinga’s word as nothing less than a clarion call to follow the inklings I’d been having. But whenever I considered philosophy as a possible vocation, my teachers would caution me with the words of Colossians 2:8: “Do not be taken captive by vain philosophy!” When I read Plantinga, though, I was a captivated by a vision for Christian philosophy; that philosophy could be a way that I could pursue God.
Lessons on Pursuing God from Aristotle
Philosophy has helped me think about the very notion of “pursuing” God. While Aristotle is a Greek philosopher who lived several centuries before Christ, he offered one of the first philosophical arguments for the existence of God—what he called “the First Mover.” But for Aristotle, to say that God is the “cause” of everything is not just a claim about our beginning; it’s also a point about our end.
You could say God is not just the One who pushes us into existence; he is also the One who pulls us toward himself. Aristotle said that this “produces motion as being loved.” In other words, God doesn’t simply propel us, he also attracts us. We pursue what we love.
Aristotle is onto something that is important for a Christian understanding of vocation. It’s not just a matter of loving our work; it’s loving our work for God. It’s pursuing God in our work. God provides us the vision that pulls our labor toward his kingdom.
And then in his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle offers another important insight. He emphasizes that virtues are actually habits. Habits are acquired “dispositions” that get woven into our character as we practice and repeat them. The way we acquire virtues is through repetition—through rituals, you might say.
Here’s the interesting chemical reaction you get when you put these two ideas together: according to Paul in passages like Col. 3:12-17, love is the ultimate virtue. We are to intentionally “clothe ourselves” with love. So if we want to love God more, to pursue our relationship with Him, we need to make it a habit through practice and repetition.
Love Takes Practice
If we want to pursue God in our vocations, we need to immerse ourselves in rituals and rhythms and practices whereby the love of God seeps into our very character—is woven into, not just how we think, but who we are.
This is one of the reasons why worship is not some escape from “the work week.” To the contrary, our worship rituals train our hearts and aim our desires toward God and his kingdom so that when we are sent from worship to take up our work, we do so with a habituated orientation toward the Lover of our souls.
This is also why we need to think about habit-shaping practices—“vocational liturgies,” we might call them—that can sustain this love throughout the week. This was John Calvin’s vision for the city of Geneva: he wanted to see the entire city governed by the rhythms of morning and evening prayer and psalms-singing, not just for monks and “religious” folk but for all of the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers whose work was equally holy.
Let’s think creatively about rhythms and rituals and routines that would let the good news sink into us throughout the week. I’m reminded of an investment banker in Manhattan who spearheaded the practice of listening to the public reading of Scripture with his colleagues on Wall Street. Or teachers who have committed to the practice of morning prayer as a way to frame their daily work. There are all kinds of ways to contextualize vocational liturgies that train us to love the God who pulls us and calls us. We must remember that anything we do repeatedly, all of our daily rituals—from habitually checking emails and Facebook, to intentionally praying and reading Scripture—shapes the kind of people we are.
And like the father of the prodigal son, God is already out ahead of us. He runs to the end of the lane to meet us where we are. He gives us the gifts of good rituals so we can practice loving him with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thankfully, we pursue God with God.
What does it mean to pursue God in all aspects of life? How do we live in such a way that every area of our lives and every facet of ourselves is available to the pursuit of God? Are we living fragmented, viewing parts of our lives as sacred and other parts as secular? What would happen if we let the different parts of our lives exist together in an integrated life, pursuing God in every aspect of who we are at work, at home, and at church? Dictionary.com offers a few definitions of the word pursue, one of which includes the idea of following in order to overtake or capture, but who can capture God? Instead, let's consider an alternate definition that lifts up the idea of following close upon or going with. In this series, Pursue God, we'll consider how to go with God in every aspect of our lives—inviting him to integrate each part of our lives and to be Lord over all.