Calling has always been a topic of conversation for followers of Jesus who deeply desire to know God’s will for their lives. This inclination aligns with our desire to see that we matter and that we can make a difference — that we have a unique contribution to make for the kingdom of God. Often we crave certainty. God will provide clarity.
To best understand calling, you must orient around the true story of the whole world. Realizing that God’s grand narrative is purposeful and has a declared destination will help you take your place in that storyline. His purpose is to connect your story to His story.
The verb form “to call” is often used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. While it does carry the sense of vocalization — to call, cry out or utter a loud sound — it more poignantly means “to invite.” A calling is an invitation to someone to come, go or do something. A better question for the follower of Jesus is not “What is God’s will for my life?” but “What is God inviting me into?” The invitational nature of this meaning implies that one pursues it with divine zeal and continual interest. It also suggests continual steps of faith. The certainty you crave requires little to no faith. But clarity surrounding God’s invitations requires your growing sense of His goodness and love for you. And you can be certain that faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).
Let’s walk through three ideas that will help you discover your calling.
- Five General Callings for Every Follower of Jesus
- Personal Calling Comes in Many Different Ways
- The Path to Discerning Your Calling
Five General Callings for Every Follower of Jesus
There are five general callings for every follower of Jesus. As we embrace these general callings, we will better posture ourselves to understand our unique calling. Every one of these callings is a faith invitation to step into something related to the will of God.
1. Accept his invitation to salvation (1 Timothy 1:8-14)
The first and most important invitation we receive from the God of the universe is to draw near to Him and accept his free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We see this invitation throughout the Bible. The very name of Jesus carries this invitation as it means “Jehovah is salvation.”
2. Accept his invitation to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)
The Apostle Paul uses Old Testament imagery as he invites followers of Jesus in Rome “to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (English Standard Version). Paul begins this verse with the word “appeal,” which means to invite strongly; it is another form of the verb “to call.” The language of sacrifice references the old sacrificial system where priests would make sacrifices on behalf of the people of God for the forgiveness of sin. But here, Paul is speaking to Christians and using the imagery to call them to total surrender. A living sacrifice is laying everything on the altar but fully alive. Completely yielded and ready to serve. This is the invitation of a fully surrendered life to Jesus.
3. Accept his invitation to sanctification (Ephesians 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7)
Sanctification is the continual process of becoming more like Christ. It is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit to make you more holy. But it also comes through our humble cooperation in line with his leading and power. Therefore, your very life is a letter of distinction and influence to those around you, which communicates that you are a follower of Jesus.
4. Accept his invitation to suffering (1 Peter 2:20-25; 5:10)
Suffering is likely the least appealing of the common invitations. Yet the Bible does call us as followers of Jesus to suffer. To be clear, Peter states that this invitation is only for when we suffer for doing good. We may suffer consequences when we sin or make poor decisions. That is a natural part of the fallen order and does not match the criteria for being called to suffer. We are called to suffer and endure due to doing good as God defines good. The supreme example that Peter provides is Jesus himself. Because Jesus suffered for us upon the cross, he is our example, and we are called to follow in his footsteps. We are to live exemplary lives as Jesus did as a testimony to the world and endure the consequences that may come as a result. Throughout history, many have accepted this invitation and have suffered in small and significant ways because of the name of Jesus.
5. Accept his invitation to service (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 1:1; 6,7; 8:29-30)
Finally, there are multiple invitations in the Bible for followers of Jesus to serve. Service is the aspect of calling that carries the most weight for Christians, the one in which you want a clear answer. Service can relate to your employment, community or a strategic audience where you seek to have influence for Christ.
Personal Calling Comes in Many Different Ways
Never place God in a box or approach calling like an exact formula. God works in mysterious ways, and his invitations come through various means. You see this most significantly displayed through the individual stories of the Bible.
David, the youthful shepherd (1 Samuel 16)
King David was the second king of Israel. Yet his being chosen defied almost every convention of his culture. He was the youngest of his family. In the Ancient Near East, the oldest son always held the position of preeminence for leadership and was the one to receive double the inheritance of his other siblings. David was also a shepherd. Against most common current understanding, to be a vocational shepherd was not a glamorous or honored job. It almost always went to the youngest or the most aged member of the family. While the work could be lonely and somewhat dangerous, it was typically given to the oldest or youngest in the family. Yet God invited David to be the next king of Israel and to be part of the heritage of Jesus. And the invitation came through the prophet and priest named Samuel while David was still a boy. It would be years before David would assume the throne. Nevertheless, David’s character and real-life experiences served as a pretense for his calling as the second and ultimately most revered king of Israel.
Deborah, a leader in desperate times (Judges 4)
The Period of the Judges, which preceded the Period of the Kings, was a tumultuous time in the national life of Israel. Israel as a nation was in an endless cycle of rebellious sin, judgment, oppression, desperation and rescue. God raised twelve different judges to rescue and restore Israel from its self-imposed catastrophes within this long season. Deborah was one such judge. She is an unexpected heroic leader for the nation of Israel at this time because she was a woman in a very male-dominant world. Yet she is called a prophetess and a judge and was greatly used by God to help deliver her people from oppression. It seems that what the nation needed at that moment Deborah was ideally qualified to accomplish — even against convention. The times, circumstances and godly character served as a backdrop to the calling of Deborah’s unique leadership role.
Mary, a willing teenager (Luke 1-2)
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a teenager betrothed to Joseph when she received her invitation to serve. She became the only virgin mother in history, which defied all biological convictions, to bring the incarnate Jesus into the world. Culturally, this was scandalous and ostracizing. Yet Mary’s response to the divine invitation was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV). Mary’s willingness and humility served as the foundation for her calling by an encounter with an angel to be the chosen vessel for the birth of Messiah.
Paul, an enemy of the cause (Acts 9)
Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a highly educated religious leader of Israel and a known enemy of the fledgling Christian church. His sole goal was to persecute this new spiritual uprising and make sure it spread no further. Anyone associated with the Christian movement in those days would have considered Paul the most unlikely convert. However, Paul encounters the audible voice of Jesus miraculously as he is traveling to carry out more persecution. This manifestation of the resurrected Jesus leads to Paul’s conversion and commissioning as a missionary to the Gentiles. In one unique encounter, Paul received his invitation to salvation and his invitation to service. While Paul’s pedigree served him well during his various ministry activities, his transformed life was most prominent in his calling to be the world’s great 1st-century missionary.
The Path to Discerning Your Calling
How does one discern and receive this divine calling? What is the pathway to clarity towards this significant step of faith?
Pursue intimacy with God
The most critical aspect of determining God’s unique calling in your life is cultivating your intimacy with him continually. Utilize a variety of spiritual disciplines to draw close to God. Spend time in regular Bible reading. Take prayer walks or cultivate moments of silent prayer throughout your day to express your praise, gratitude or requests to him. Journal. Writing out your thoughts about God or prayers to God can be a great way to hear from God as he guides you.
Pay close attention to the other four C’s
We have already discussed some ways to discover your unique calling in previous posts. What does your unique history tell you? What are your gifts and abilities that he might uniquely use in service for his kingdom? What are your passions that might relate to an aspect of service for his kingdom? As you look out upon society, are there any pain points that you are uniquely drawn to that you might help remedy for the cause of Christ? In what ways is God inviting you to take your place in his great storyline? Remember that God’s calling is not always linear and predictable. However, it is usually not static either, meaning that it may change, and you will be confronted with fresh invitations throughout your life.
Profit from the counsel of your community
The Bible encourages seeking counsel from others. There are often doses of wisdom that will bring clarity from those who walk with God and know us well. Consult your community and share with them how you believe that God might be leading you. Allow them to speak into your life. Your community can certainly provide you support and reassurance when it comes time to take steps of faith in pursuing God’s divine invitation for your life.
Purposefully take the next step of faith
Remember, God rarely provides certainty, but he often provides enough clarity to take the next step in faith. Faith depends on knowing that God loves you, is for you and has your best interest at heart. He made you, uniquely formed you, saved you and continually calls you to various service works throughout your lifetime. As you step out, you will find him faithful.
What is God inviting you into today?