What am I supposed to do with my life? This is a question that everyone must face at some point. We all have this sense that we are here for some reason – some purpose! Enter the Bible. God’s Word confronts us with our Creator who has called us into a relationship with Him and has given us a mission to engage in and a purpose to fulfill. The calling of God is a major area of discussion for those who want to understand how we should live in response to the calling God. Those who follow the Lord must think through two big questions. First, how do I respond to God’s call on my life to follow Him exclusively? Second to that, how do I fulfill that calling as an individual with a unique combination of gifts and abilities? Just the word “calling” needs to be unpacked before looking at the big questions. When we hear the term “calling” in our modern usage, what historical baggage do we bring to the table?
Once we get past defining the word “calling,” we can go deeper into questions regarding how calling affects the way we live in light of it. How does our sense of calling affect our heart – our moral center? Following inquiry into how calling affects our heart is inquiry into how it affects the work of our hands. How does calling shape the way that we behave? Ultimately, glorifying Christ must drive us as we fulfill God’s calling in our heads, hearts, and hands.
CALLING AND DEVOTION
Like the call of God to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, all following generations have been called to follow after God in faith. And further still, all have been called to follow God unto living according to His way of doing righteousness and justice much as God said in Genesis 18:19. Jesus Christ continued this call from God to follow Him alone in order to not die but instead to have eternal life in John 3:16. Jesus said one of the most controversial statements in the history of all world religions in John 14:6 when He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
These verses (and many more could be used!) help to serve as a backdrop to the first level calling that Os Guinness called the “primary calling” of God in his book on the subject, The Call. Our primary calling is to glorify God through Christ. This is the most basic level of the calling. This decision to answer the primary call of God is said clearly in the words of Joshua 24:15, “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” Jesus made it clear in Matthew 6:24 that you can’t serve Him and someone else when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” This primary calling affects everything in our lives. Guinness wrote:
“calling is the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”
What naturally follows from this more general concept of a primary calling then is the specificity of the secondary calling.
The secondary call then is unique for every person. It doesn’t take much reflection to see that the people around us have a wide variety of combinations of gifts and abilities. This means that every believer has something to offer the Kingdom of God. This is well within keeping with the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:6-8 where he wrote:
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
It logically follows then that any profession that serves to benefit those around us in light of God’s goodness is itself a worthy profession. This includes but is certainly not limited to vocational ministry.
So, all who answer the primary calling of God are secondarily called to use the gifts they have to further the Kingdom of God. Notice the second word of the last sentence. Which people are called to use their gifts to further the Kingdom of God? All people who answer the primary call. This touches an idea that is a point of debate between those holding the Catholic perspective on calling versus the Protestant perspective. In a Catholic understanding, the term calling is more or less reserved for those who are called into the vocational ministry of the priesthood. According to the Catholic understanding, the priesthood is a “higher calling.” What necessarily follows is that any calling other than the call to the priesthood is a lower calling. The vocation of ministry is elevated above the rest of the body of Christ. This makes about as much sense as saying in the terms of parts of a body, that an arm is more useful than a leg. On the contrary, the arm and the leg work in concert to move the body in the direction of giving God the glory. There is an inherent elitism in this kind of thinking and it is a product of worldliness versus a product of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic distortion of calling doesn’t appropriately apply 1 Peter 2:9 which says:
“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.”
Peter’s words apply to all of those who are in Christ. Never mind the opus of the value of the different parts of the body all working together in equal importance that Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:12-31 which is simply too long to restate here. Suffice it to say, no calling should be elevated above others.
There is a Protestant distortion that takes calling to the other extreme on the spectrum opposite the Catholic perspective. In the Protestant distortion, the primary calling is overshadowed and places a higher value on the secondary calling for all people. The problem lies in that there can be no true secondary calling without the primary being in place first. Our devotion to work should never eclipse our devotion to Jesus Christ. Our work should complement the work of Christ but should never be done in a manner that elevates it to a place were Christ’s work is pushed to the periphery and therefore idolizes our work. He is the chief cornerstone from which the whole construction is built. In summary, our calling affects every facet of our lives and it is equally significant to God’s Kingdom for clergy as it is for the stay at home mom and at no point can devotion to our work ever surpass our devotion to Christ because of what He has first done for us.
PROCEEDING FROM THE HEART
So once we know we accept the primary call of God, it follows that our heart should conform to the desires of God to conform to the image of Jesus. If we rightly understand and embrace God’s calling on our lives, we will accept that God has given us the particular combination of gifts and abilities that He has rather than the set He has given to another. We will not think that “what we are unable to achieve, we will bring low,” as Guinness summed it up. The heart that thinks this way is ungrateful to the Lord in the same way that the wandering Israelites with Moses were ungrateful to Him for the blessings that He had graciously given them.
This attitude is poisonous to the one who holds it. It is a rot in the heart. An attitude of ungratefulness threatens to undercut any sense of calling. I realized as I was confronted with this particular aspect of internalizing our calling as Christians, that I had become jealous of some who had gifts and abilities that I wanted more than my own or they had the same or similar gifts as me but had them in greater measure! I continue to confront this unhealthy attitude whenever the Holy Spirit convicts me of doing it yet again. Glory be to God that the Gospel shows us that as poisonous as this attitude is, it isn’t able to overcome the power of God to save His people. The Spirit reminded me that Jesus died for my envy too. Restored again by the grace of Christ, my sense of calling was only stronger than it was before I had rebelled in my envy. A heart changed by God’s grace will embrace the gifts that He gave to it.
JESUS, CALLING, AND THE WORLD
God’s salvation isn’t limited to the individual believer. God’s restorative purpose stretches to the whole of creation. This means that once we have affirmed our primary calling, taken stock of the combination of gifts and abilities that God has given us, we must turn those gifts loose upon the world in a way that glorifies Jesus Christ. Once the calling is embraced, it benefits the world to the glory of God and it combats sin within the believer!
In Guinness’ chapter called “Combating the Noonday Demon,” he illustrated specifically how the calling of God serves to overcome the sin of sloth. Sloth of course stands in direct opposition to God’s call for His people to go forth and be His image bearers to the world. Laziness and lack of concern for the world outside of one’s self are simply incompatible with His calling to live out the Gospel.
This idea of the sedentary man who neglects the world hits a little too close to home. In ways great and small, from not watering my plants to not engaging in healthy relationships with those I should, my own slothfulness is confronted. My problem isn’t unique to me. I live in a generation that at times can place a higher value on playing video games alone for a weekend over spending quality time with loved ones. The words of Proverbs 6:10 and 24:33 warn us all: “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest, Then your poverty will come as a robber And your want like an armed man.” The poverty in this psalm is likely literal poverty of lack of material provision but I don’t think it a stretch to see this poverty in light of the other needs of man. Man can be impoverished of relationships. God said it Himself: it isn’t good for a man to be alone! I too am guilty of thinking that I don’t need relationships from time to time. I’m a free, strong and independent, American man! At least, that it the mindset I operate too often in. This cultural air we breathe in America of freedom and independence can come around to bite us.
On a long enough time line of living this way, we risk waking up one morning to face problems that seem insurmountable and the worst part will be…that we have to face it alone…without a loved one to walk through it with us. The thought of it makes me go cold. I have experienced enough hardship in my years to know that when the going gets tough, the people who love you are invaluable. When we choose not to engage the world around us because we are too lazy or slothful to do so, we don’t know whom we are denying the opportunity to have someone to cry out to when their life is coming apart at the seams. How will people know that which is coming apart can be mended by the One who sustains all things – who holds all things together unless we get up off our chair and tell them about Him?
Os Guinness’ book, The Call, has been very helpful with his insights into the importance of calling in a Christian’s life. The Christian should have a much easier time answering the question: “what am I supposed to do with my life?” The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums up the purpose of man well. It says:
“Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
This neatly points the believer to the general aim that their life should take. This question and answer points back to the primary call. The answering the primary call means that our whole life – our chief end – is in giving Him all the glory.
The secondary call is fulfilled in each individual’s particular employment of their God given talents and abilities. Those called to pastor a church should pastor unto the glory of God! Those who are called to run a business should do it unto the glory of God! Those who are called to be craftsmen should craft unto the glory of God! As members of the body of Christ, they all compliment each other in service to the Kingdom of God in their own unique functions. This does show God’s glory! The pastor shouldn’t look down on the craftsman because the craftsman doesn’t focus on shepherding God’s people. The craftsman shouldn’t look down on the pastor because he has not physical object to show for his labors. Neither the pastor nor the craftsman should be envious of the businessman because of his prestige or money, if he has them. Each of these vocational individuals should instead embrace the gifts that God gave them and seek to employ them in concert with his neighbor.
Humor me as I use a musical illustration to conclude this discussion of what primary and secondary callings working together. When the body of Christ functions as it should with its secondary callings all working in harmony, it is as if God is conducting a spiritual symphony. Each member adds their own unique tone and timbre to the glorious production that is Kingdom building, not for their individual moment in the spotlight, but so the Composer, our Father in heaven, can receive all the glory yet we still share in that glory by virtue of the fact that we were invited to participate in that which is so much greater than us. Once the members perform in this function, they might even be able to glorify God even more just by enjoying the “performance” of the other members as they fulfill their secondary callings along side them. Like a cellist who while playing his part, closes his eyes to drink in the sound of the others that surround him as they all play their individual parts, but are yet still unified under the direction of their common Conductor. If we function like all different members of a symphony, would we as believers unified in Christ see Him as our Composer and Conductor. Would we play our part with excellence and in harmony with the symphony around us in a way that we revel first in the Conductor and Composer but not only that, revel in the simultaneous performances of the fellow players that surround us as we all perform the symphony together. Would the individuals be so moved by this performance in its beauty, complexity, and yet in its unity be so moved that they too would be moved to answer the primary and secondary calling on their life…and join in the harmonious playing of the symphony to the glory of God through Christ.*
*This post is an adaptation of a paper that I wrote for a course at Covenant Theological Seminary.
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