For a variety of reasons, most notably of which is a class that I am taking on leadership, I have been reflecting on calling. God calls his people to special areas of service, and he has impressed five lessons on me lately about calling.
Every believer has a calling. Clearly Luther made this point in the Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers, but it is one that often gets lost in the church. The temptation is to believe that only “special” people, be it a wildly successful entrepreneur, a highly talented entertainer, or a self-sacrificing missionary, are called. Yet clearly every person whom God has created, redeemed, and gifted to one degree or another has a calling. The church is to be a place where the members of the body of Christ help identify, encourage, and celebrate the unique calling of each of its members, however insignificant any person may appear to the world.
We are called along the lines of our giftedness. One wonderful book on this subject is The Call. Written by the prolific author Os Guiness, he offers vital insight for discovering one’s God-ordained purpose for being placed upon the earth. One chief way Guiness directs his readers, punctuating the lesson with his own life experience of turning from a life in ministry to his work as an philosophical author and worldview thinker, is to consider how we are called along the lines of the giftedness God bestows upon us. Just as an apple has features about it that identify its purpose, such as color, aroma, taste, juiciness, vitamins, etc., so each person has qualities that indicate, within God’s revealed will, what his calling is to be. When one is considering what the Lord’s plan is for his life, he should consider the talents he has been given in answering that question.
Our calling is to serve Christ and others, not our own interests. One could recognize he has certain gifts and talents, then use them solely for his own benefit and promotion. Humbly recognizing that our calling and its accompanying gifts come from the Lord is crucial in giving God the glory in our lives. Guiness warns in his book about avoiding the darker side of calling by resisting conceitedness, envy, and laziness in our lives that a sense of calling could bring. Understanding this also helps one to see that mundane chores, done in service to the Lord and others, are not to be despised but have a glory all their own.
A heart-felt calling will orient us and guide us through struggles and transitions we face. We live in such a distracted age, with the constant beeps, blinks, and buzzes of our hyper-connected world constantly pulling our attention away from the ultimate to the immediate. A strong sense of God’s calling helps one keep his compass set to successfully navigate through these temptations to diversion, as well as overcome the many obstacles and trials we will face in our faith journey. Additionally, following your calling will inevitably lead to periods of transitions which “often represent a shift in one’s paradigms,” as Terry Walling brings out in his book Stuck! Yet maintaining your calling will help you adapt to these changes.
Finally, wholehearted commitment is the key to fulfilling one’s calling. Following Christ requires a complete surrender of your will to his. As Jesus said, “He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). In offering ourselves to him, we are to be a living and holy sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). We are to see that, in the words of Guiness, our commitment to our calling is an absolute demand of choosing to give up choices for the one choice of following Christ.
John Calvin in The Institutes makes this abundantly clear. I end with his words.
For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. By service, I mean not only that which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the mind, divested of its own carnal feelings, implicitly obeys the call of the Spirit of God. This transformation (which Paul calls the renewing of the mind, Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23), though it is the first entrance of life, was unknown to all the philosophers. They gave the government of man to reason alone…But Christian philosophy bids her give place, and yield complete submission to, the Holy Spirit, so that the man himself no longer lives, but Christ lives and reigns in him (Galatians 2:20).