What is my calling? This is something I have struggled with my entire life. And I still struggle with it today. If anything, I have struggled with it more since I graduated college than any other time in life. Though, there have been two verses in particular that have profoundly shaped the way that I think about a life ‘calling’ as of recent.
Here they are:
The first verse is 2 Timothy 4:5, which reads, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (emphasis mine). Upon my emphasis of the last phrase, there exists a cross-reference to Colossians 4:17, which says, “see that you fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord.” These two verses work together to say something very important about the nature of what it means be ‘called.’
Paul told Timothy to fulfill your ministry. This is pretty significant. Note that Paul did not say, fulfill my or even fulfill the ministry. Paul said, “fulfill your ministry, [Timothy].” The sentiment behind this statement seems to communicate that God has given each of us a special type of ministry to perform based on the giftings, passions, and opportunities that he has uniquely given us, and no one else can really do this type of ministry quite like we can. Thus, this ‘calling’ is something that God has created us to do all along; it’s something that is found in our spiritual gifts, our heart of hearts, our open doors, and even our DNA.
But before we get too introspective, I think it is important for us to realize that God gives us two different callings, yet the callings fundamentally exists together much like two concentric circles (one smaller circle that is situated inside one bigger circle).
Initially, the ‘bigger, outside circle of calling’ represents that God’s call is first objective, broad, and general for every Christian: you have been commissioned to live for the glory and mission of God. This is all about the Great Commission. Every Christian is called to go and make disciples, expanding the quality and quantity of kingdom across the globe.
Next, the ‘smaller, inside circle of calling’ represents that God’s call is secondarily subjective, personal, and specific for every Christian: you have been wired to fulfill a certain angle of ministry for the glory and mission of God. This is all about your spiritual gifts, desires, passions, and abilities. Every Christian is called to make disciples, but there is no such clear-cut formulaic way that the Bible commands us to do so. It essentially gives us freedom with how we are to be on mission and to go about making disciples, beckoning us to be as creative as possible.
Thus, in other words, every Christian is called to join God in his ultimate mission to bring the gospel to all peoples, yet we are called to participate in this mission in differing ways. Indeed, at the end of the day, it’s not a matter of if you have been called; it’s a matter of where and how you will fulfill that calling.
You could even think of the mission of God like a big corporation. The goal of a corporation remains the same from top to bottom, yet each department of the corporation accomplishes the goal through their different, yet, complementary work. The marketing and administrative and human resources and product design and customer service each perform different roles, but there exists a fundamental, laser-beam focus of one goal at the forefront of each separate department. And indeed, different departments accomplish the goal better by working together, each with their own strengths and focuses. Similarly, the Christian ‘calling’ remains the same whoever you are, but you are to work towards its accomplishment in different ways based on who you are.
Ok, well. What is my ‘role’ or ‘office’ per se for how I am to specifically participate in this grand mission of God?
Many of us just wish God that would write it out in the sky for us, plain and clear in terms of what he wants us to do. But that’s the thing—this ‘calling’ doesn’t ever seem so plain and clear. So we lean especially upon dependence and prayer in this grueling time of uncertainty.
Dependence is great, but what about answers? Ok, yes, dependency is a great answer, in and of itself. But questions like these constantly raid us nevertheless: What else do I have to do to get certainty about God’s will for my life? Lay a fleece? Ask for the sun to stand still? Eh. Yeah, I feel the same way. So, now what?
While looking upwards to God in prayer and dependence is absolutely crucial in this gaining a sense of spiritual or vocational direction, I think the question of vocation is one of those rare times when Scripture actually permits us to look ‘inwards’ in ourselves as much as we are reminded to look ‘upwards’ to God. What do I mean?
Meaning, when trying to figure out our calling, don’t wait for a voice to tell you ‘here or there’ or ‘this or that.’ Let’s be honest and confess that it may never come. Instead, look in yourself and see how God has wired you, designed you, and created you. When God created you, he pre-packaged your life-purpose inside of you. Therefore, what you are looking for is not so much a question of ‘calling’ so much as it is a question of ‘wiring.’
What makes you burn? What makes you passionate? What makes you angry or excited or burdened? The answers to these questions likely indicate what God created you to do.
To be honest, working with and caring for children does not exactly cross my mind or make me passionate or make me burdened. Being a 3rd grade teacher is something that I have never before considered. But thank God for those of you who are deeply affected by this. This is a need. Personally, things like reading, writing, connecting, media, creating, and church ministry is what gets me hyped. It constantly heats me up. Reaching people is what gets my gears spinning. I don’t try to be impassioned by those things. No, those things impassion me because its what God has wired me to do.
So in a way, God has already answered this question of ‘calling’ for you—he’s placed it in your wiring. He’s given you those passions and abilities and skills for a reason. He’s calling you to be a steward of them, too.
Like in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), don’t sit on these gifts and passions. Use them in a responsible and shrewd way, banking on God to see your efforts through. Use them to bless others and to expand the kingdom. Take risks with them. See what happens. Trial and error is good.
But fearful paralysis to use and risk these gifts of God is the same as to bury money in a hole instead of to invest it in a future. Money and your calling functionally work in the same way: they can only multiply in a climate of risk, not in a cave of regret. If there is no risk, then there will be no reward. Sure, you could lose them, but then again, God is not calling us to be safe and inactive with our talents; he is calling us to be shrewd and active with our talents, banking on his sovereignty and love in the process of anticipation.
And God totally delights in our taking risks upon his sovereignty and grace. Our risks for him prove that we actually trust in him.
And in response to us making risks for the kingdom, I think God just kicks back and cracks a wide, fatherly smile, saying, “Try me. Your risks won’t be anything less than totally exhilarating for you, and nothing short of utterly glorifying to me.”
His glory and our joy are not separate. Just like his calling on us and his wiring of us are not separate. Indeed, they are one. Who you are—and what your calling is—is a unique, irreplaceable piece that fits into the grand, glorious panorama of redemptive history.
Look upwards to God for grand purpose. Look inwards to self for specific purpose. And then look outwards to see how your wiring fulfills a need for the overarching purpose of the Great Commission.
Upwards. Inwards. Outwards.
That’s your calling.
Now do it.