I am at that stage of life where, one-by-one, my children have been seeking God's will for their lives vocationally. Also, I am now part of a congregation that is on the edge of a Christian college campus. So I often converse with young people about their futures as they are seeking to answer the question, "What am I going to do with my life?" I see and hear the anxiety caused by trying to answer that question.
Recently in studying and taking a course on leadership by Terry Walling, I learned helpful principles about calling. Below are five that I want to pass on to you. If a young person sought to live these principles out faithfully, anxiety about the future could be transformed into excitement about the adventure of walking with the Lord who delights in showing you why he has placed you here on his earth.
Calling is the exciting discovery of watching for the predestined plan of the Lord to unfold. When we speak of predestination, often we narrow it down to only the idea that God chose us for salvation in Christ Jesus. Though we are to marvel over this precious truth, Ephesians 1 reminds us that our predestination is much more expansive and comprehensive. He has chosen us to be his children and to live out the entirety of our lives in holiness and blamelessness. Thus, he has a detailed plan for us that involves our life's work. God has it all figured out! So why worry? Instead, if you learn to look more closely at how the Potter's hand is shaping you as his clay vessel for particular purposes, you will begin to trust him to show you your calling. You can view life as a daily adventure of discovering more and more of his plan for you.
Calling is determined by setting your values and direction during this stage of your life. Rather than just simply trying to figure out that "I think I should be a nurse" or "I believe God wants me to be an engineer," calling should be viewed as more dynamic in nature. What young people should be passionately pursuing are the values their lives will be built upon and the direction of life those values will then take them. If you seek first the kingdom of God by determining such things as the moral principles by which you will live, the causes which you believe God wants you to address, the places where you have seen the Lord use you, and the types of people you are passionate about caring for, your heart will be set in a direction that will guide you into your calling. God has gifted you to use your abilities not for your own sake or pride, but for his kingdom. Developing the values that will guide your use of your talents goes a long way in understanding your calling.
Calling is settled during a persons 20's and 30's. Many high schools students and especially college ones believe they need to have their life vocation figured out by Graduation Day, which produces a great deal of angst. Here is some good news. "No you don't!" Studies show that many leaders did not discover their life's calling until they were in their 30's. Instead, these leaders pursued their interests during their young adult years and then the Lord revealed to them a more directed purpose through those interests. During this time, as Walling explains it, young people often have their own personal awakening that begins clarifying to them their life purpose and calling.
I, like so many, am a case in point. I wanted to be a math teacher and basketball coach, and pursued this into graduate school. But there the Lord called me to be a pastor, which I did not become until I was twenty-eight years old. Then over the next dozen years or so I figured out what type of pastor I would be as I settled into my calling more and more. I'm not sharing this to say calling means you have to go into ministry, as any type of work, be it a salesman, mom, writer, handyman, or executive, is a calling. Rather, what has been encouraging to look back upon is to see how the Lord was using my interest in coaching and teaching to shape me as a pastor. As your Potter, the Lord will use your interests and pursuits during this period of your life to mold you as his clay into the particular vessel of grace that he wants you to be.
Calling is worked out best in community. Take a moment and look at a piece of wooden furniture nearby. Regardless of its quality, consider how many people were involved in it being used by you now. The ones who owned the land the tree grew upon. The loggers who cut it down. The lumberyard that processed the wood. The furniture company or woodworker who purchased it. All the retailers, factory workers, salesmen, and clerks who produced and sold the sandpaper, glue, machinery, clamps, stain, varnish, etc. used to refine and shape the wood into a useful product. The retailer who sold it to you or the family member who handed it down to you. Hundreds of people were involved in shaping that piece of furniture. So it is with you.
If you want to discover your calling, you will need to recognize that the Lord is using dozens of people to shape and guide you into it. Parents, family members, teachers, spiritual leaders, coaches, bosses, workmates, friends - they are all being used by the skilled hands of the Lord. In particular, you should have several mature, close advisers whom you invite to speak into your life in a greater way. Regularly, I send young people off, especially my own children, to go talk to others as they wrestle with calling. The old Proverb still holds, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).
Calling will be focused by a heart that is focused. The whole idea behind the word calling is that there is One that is doing the calling. You should not expect to hear clearly from him if you are not listening to and for him. So cultivate your times in the Word and prayer, excitedly seeking God for guidance and humbling your heart in submission so you can listen to him. Yes, you can be assured that Christ will ask you to give up all other pursuits in order to follow him in the one he has designed for you (Luke 9:23-24). And, yes, the letting go of other loves and interests can be frightening at times. Yet as you grow in your enjoyment of learning to walk with Christ during this period of your life, you can be comforted knowing he wants you to cast all your anxieties upon him because he cares for you (I Peter 5:7). He is a tender Shepherd who will guide you carefully on paths of righteousness.
If you want to read a great book on this subject, get Os Guiness' book The Call. Not only will he give you much more by the way of practical advice on this subject written in his engaging style, but you will see this important admonition at the end of each chapter: "Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer his call.”