Three Questions About Calling
What is it that I’m supposed to do? What am I meant for? What is my calling?
We ask more questions to figure out the answer to this question. I think some of the questions we’re asking aren’t the right questions. Let me explain.
The answer to this question is profoundly influenced by what we believe about the purpose of life. This post in particular is meant to give some direction to those who claim to follow Jesus. For those who are followers of Jesus, there is a definitive answer to the purpose of life. We are part of a larger story that begins at the beginning and carries on into eternity. Our calling is deeply rooted in playing our part in this story rather than letting our calling grow out of writing our own story. No doubt our own stories will still be diverse and exciting, but they are situated in the larger story of what God is doing in the world.
In this story God created all things perfect, complete, whole. As humanity sought life outside connection with God and his purposes sin and death flooded the world, bringing brokenness, hurt, and distortion. In Jesus, God acted to cover this sin and death and birth the new reality–the kingdom of God. One day Jesus will return to consummate his kingdom of perfect peace, and until that time we have the holy calling to work with him to turn back sin and death and see his kingdom come.
With this as a backdrop, here are three questions to help us think about calling.
Have I fully accepted my primary calling?
All who are followers of Jesus must start not with wondering “what is my calling,” but by accepting a shared calling. One way of expressing this is to say that we are called to bear the image of God faithfully by living with God for others and the world. Or as Jesus said, “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
For followers of Jesus this is the primary calling. This calling is in force no matter where we go. In one sense the answer to “what is my calling,” is just this–to bear the image of God faithfully in every place we inhabit. Your calling is not something etherial you must discern with trepidation. Your calling is to bear the image of God faithfully in all of life.
This is something we must let sink in. It is so easy to say, “oh yes, I live for Jesus in all of life,” and then move on living for ourselves. We need to let the desire of God for humanity and the world sink into our bones–to let it form our desires and hopes. Until this happens we will tend to keep this shared calling compartmentalized. It cannot stay that way. It must flow through everything we are and everything we do.
With this context, we can and should find calling no matter the details of our lives. No matter our occupation, living situation, relationships, or aspirations we are living out a calling every minute of every day. It’s not something we wait for, it’s something we already have.
Within this shared calling there is still the question of our individual calling. Two more questions to help us think about this.
How can I offer myself as a gift to the world?
This question presupposes a desire to make an impact beyond ourselves. If our desire is only for ourselves then this question might be “how can I use my abilities to be happy?” There is a wide gap between those two questions because they have vastly different ramifications.
In asking how we can offer ourselves as a gift to the world we are not beginning with self-fulfillment. We are still beginning with the self, but asking how our unique self can be given to the good of the world.
I have a friend who is both very entrepreneurial and great at construction. He’s in his early 30s and has already built and sold a sizable business. In his current business he has intentionally stayed smaller, affording him more flexibility. But recently he’s been asking how he can offer his abilities and skills to the world as a gift. Because of this he is moving forward with a plan to apprentice people who have struggled to find work for a year and then partner with other companies to supply them with employees.
He could make more money if he didn’t do this. It will require patience. It will mean doing less work because the work will go slower. It entails hiring a project manager who will also invest in the lives of people beyond construction skills.
My friend isn’t starting a non-profit. He plans to profit. But he’s letting different questions shape how he approaches his work. He loves what he does and wants to offer himself and his abilities as a gift to the world. That leads to different outcomes.
In every situation we can become increasingly aware of our abilities and offer ourselves as a gift to the world in the name of Jesus.
Am I open to God’s specific calling?
Much of the time God does not give us specific callings within our shared calling. He calls us to faithfulness to his purposes–something that can be done in nearly any situation. However there are times when God calls people directly and specifically. Abraham was called to leave his people and move to a new land. God called to Moses from a burning bush and told him to be the instrument of deliverance for the Israelites. Jesus confronted Saul on the road and called him to become Paul–an apostle of the good news of Jesus Christ. Direct calls from God to specific things do happen.
For a number of years now my wife and I have believed that God has specifically called us to take Denver as our home. There have been choices within this where we have not felt a specific calling, but we are convinced we are to invest ourselves in this place as our home.
I’m convinced that if we remain intentionally open to specific callings from God we won’t miss them. Our part it to make a point of staying connected to God, cultivating a spirit that is willingly obedient to him, and submitting our plans to him. “If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” We can miss a specific call from God. We will miss it when we close our ears to him through disobedience or neglect. If we remain open to him he will let us know when he has specific things for us to do within our shared calling.