Is There Such a Thing as Calling?

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A friend asked me this question several months ago.  In context, I knew she wasn’t referring to a “general” or “primary” calling to live for Christ.  She was asking me if I believe there is such a thing as a “specific” or “secondary” calling, like the calling to become a doctor or a missionary.

I understood the question because people talk about this sort of “calling” all the time.  They say things like, “I just felt called to do it.”  Called to marry him.  Called to plant a church.  Called to adopt.  Called to give.  Some people love to talk about calling…so much so that you wonder if they go to the grocery store and feel “called” to buy Crest toothpaste instead of Colgate.  These sort of people used to frustrate me.  It felt like they had a private line with God, and He just told them everything to do, say, think, eat, and moisturize with.  To be honest, I was jealous.  Many times it felt like I begged God for discernment and heard crickets in the background.  I always wanted to exclaim, But how do you know you’re called?  

Suffice to say, I’ve pondered my friend’s question long before she asked it.  I usually find myself thinking about calling in one of two life scenarios–either before making a major decision, or in a season of difficulty and discouragement.  In the former scenario, I’m hoping not to make a mistake.  In the latter, I’m wondering if I already did.

The funny thing about “calling” is it’s deeply tied to our view of God.  The person who is wondering about calling is the person who is secretly hoping God actually has a plan for her life.  Secretly hoping she hasn’t somehow fallen out of His hands.  Secretly hoping He loves her enough to be intimately involved in the details of her life.  I should know, I am that person.  So instead of rambling on inconclusively with my friend, this is how I wish I would’ve answered her question:

Yes.  I believe God has a specific calling for every single person, including you and your husband.  I believe this because the God of the Bible is vastly personal, with the power to bestow wisdom (James 1:5), to direct your steps (Pro 16:9), and to equip you to do His will (Heb 13:21).  The God of the Bible is so completely sovereign that even the sparrows don’t fall to the ground apart from His will (Matt 10:29).  He most surely has a sovereign will for you and your husband–people created in His image, whom He rescued at tremendous cost.

BUT, the tricky thing is, He may not reveal it to you right now.  If there is one thing I have learned from this year’s BSF study on Genesis, it’s that callings from God are revealed and fulfilled in His timing.  Abraham waited twenty-five years for God to give him Isaac.  Joseph was seventeen years old when He had a vision of his brothers bowing before him, and he was thirty-nine years old when the vision came to pass.  Clearly the presence of waiting is not the absence of calling.  In fact, it might be the hallmark of it!  I cannot think of a single instance in the Bible where God revealed a calling in its entirety, and then fulfilled it immediately.  Which brings me to the second thing I’ve learned from our Genesis study: Callings from God are not free of suffering.  Look back at Joseph again.  It amazes me to think that while he sat in prison, he was in the very center of God’s will for his life.  I would’ve been begging, “Surely there is a plan B!  This cannot be Your plan for my life!”  But it was.  It just wasn’t the plan in its entirety–it was a piece of the plan.  It was a dark and painful season that transformed a cocky 17 year-old boy into the God-fearing governor of Egypt.  In other words, there is a purpose for the suffering!  There is a purpose for all the waiting, and all the painful growth.  It’s not a deviation from the plan; it’s part of it.  In the meantime, you can plant your hope firmly in the fact that callings from God are for His glory and our good.  All along, God loved Joseph.  All along, the plan was intended to glorify God and to bless Joseph, something Joseph himself understood when he told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).

Dear sister (or brother), if you belong to God, you will never fall out of His hand.  You will never be big enough to thwart His will, or ruin His ability to use your life for His glory.  There is always a plan.  Even in the silence.

While you wait for God’s specific calling for your life to come together, the Bible overflows with His clearly revealed general calling for all people.  He has called us to holiness (I Thess 4:7), to share the gospel of Christ (Matt 28:18-20), to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to love and forgive like Christ (Jn 13:34, Eph 4:32) to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (I Thess 5:15-18).  God has called us to Himself.  To a relationship with Him, in which we become like Him by His own power and grace.  He has called us to surrender, to be at peace with the things we do not know because we are at peace with the One who controls them.

Lest you think I am writing this from a position of great comfort and security, I am not.  I am writing it from Joseph’s cell–from that place of quiet and painful patience.  But the more I do what Joseph did–embracing the season, serving the cupbearer and the baker and working with all my heart as unto the Lord–the more I see that this is a place of great freedom.  This is the place where fear runs and hides, because it is the place where you finally believe that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.  It is the place where character deepens, faith blossoms, and hope overcomes.  It is the very center of God’s will.

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7 thoughts on “Is There Such a Thing as Calling?

  1. Nance Kauffman

    Powerful! Loved the conclusion:
    “Clearly the presence of waiting is not the absence of calling…… I see that this is a place of great freedom. This is the place where fear runs and hides, because it is the place where you finally believe that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. It is the place where character deepens, faith blossoms, and hope overcomes. It is the very center of God’s will.”

    Reply
  2. Jo

    Dear Jeanne,
    I read all the articles you’ve written when your lovely mom posts them on FB. You are incredibly gifted. I so love your exquisite writing, your worthy insights and advices, your contagious faith, and your extraordinarily divine and beautiful heart.
    Here are some of my favorite lines and excerpts from your article:

    *In the former scenario, I’m hoping not to make a mistake. In the latter, I’m wondering if I already did.
    *You will never be big enough to thwart His will, or ruin His ability to use your life for His glory
    *The funny thing about “calling” is it’s deeply tied to our view of God. The person who is wondering about calling is the person who is secretly hoping God actually has a plan for her life. Secretly hoping she hasn’t somehow fallen out of His hands. Secretly hoping He loves her enough to be intimately involved in the details of her life.
    *It amazes me to think that while he sat in prison, he was in the very center of God’s will for his life. I would’ve been begging, “Surely there is a plan B! This cannot be Your plan for my life!” But it was. It just wasn’t the plan in its entirety–it was a piece of the plan. It was a dark and painful season that transformed a cocky 17 year-old boy into the God-fearing governor of Egypt. In other words, there is a purpose for the suffering!
    *This is the place where fear runs and hides, because it is the place where you finally believe that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. It is the place where character deepens, faith blossoms, and hope overcomes. It is the very center of God’s will.

    I too found myself writing an article on this same topic. Bear with me, as it is long. The issue of specific calling has always been an interesting topic for me. Never without ready opinions on any issue, I have a lot of thoughts about it.
    I’ve known people who wait for God to show them His will regarding specific things before they take steps of faith. So to anyone waiting for that revelation, I ask: “How will God do it that makes it very clear for you, that there is no way you can miss it? What will need to happen so you can have God’s assurance?” I actually heard someone say, something like: “If he brings me white (not red, not yellow) roses, then I will see it as God’s way of telling me, he’s the one I should marry.”
    When friends and disciples ask me about specific calling when they’re faced with major decisions, I often respond to their questions with questions.
    How do I know God is calling me to marry him? Even if the Bible doesn’t call us to do so, it makes complete sense to marry a fellow believer. For both Christians and others with different worldviews, it makes sense to spend the rest of our lives with someone who also treasures the most significant parts of who we are, shares our values, understands our deepest desires and enjoys life as we see it. You want someone to care for things that matter most to you.
    So when someone asks me that question, I ask: “Where does this person stand with regards to his relationship with the Lord? What kind of believer is he? Does he love the Lord? Has he dedicated his life to help advance His redemptive ministry? How do you imagine your life together if he is not walking with the Lord, if he will not become your and your children’s spiritual leader?
    Then: “How do I know he is my God’s best?” I often say: “Remember, it won’t be the Lord who will be married to this person. You will be the one who will spend every day of the rest of your life with him. He will be the one with whom you hold hands, go out on dates, share meals, enjoy adventures, face challenges, resolve differences, clean the house, exchange ideas, serve the Lord and everything that makes up life.” Do you want this person to be this man? Do you love this man? Do you celebrate who he is and who he is not? Can you trust his love, kindness, affection and respect for you? Does your heart feel relaxed with him? Are you attracted to him? Do you enjoy being with him, even if you’re not doing exciting things together? Do you enjoy talking to him? And I can go on and on.
    So in a sense, I believe who to marry is not up to God, it’s up to you. It is you who needs to decide who will be the one you will treat as your God’s best and who you will choose to have as your soul mate. Once you say “I do” to a person, the question of whether he’s God’s will for you shouldn’t even come into consideration anymore. You chose him above others and you embrace him with all your heart. And the Lord will honor that and bless you and your husband, and the two of you as one.
    How about what we invest our life in, with regards to fulltime missions or career? How do I know if the Lord wants me to take this job? How do I know what school course to take?
    I don’t believe God ever says: “This is where I want you. If you miss it, there is no way I am blessing you where you are.” That there is no room for error only creates panic in someone’s heart, as he decides what to do the rest of his life. Instead of asking intelligent questions and looking at options from different angles and seeking godly counsel, his energies are expended being afraid he’ll miss his calling. And sometimes he just waits forever for God to tell him in a very clear way, that this is the way he should follow, or else he’s in trouble.
    How do I know He is calling me to become a missionary? I think becoming a fulltime missionary is a unique calling. And this is one thing that I believe the Lord will always lead us back to, if we take detours. Look at how He didn’t give up on Jonah. There just are people made and meant to become fulltime missionaries. There just are people who know this is exactly what God wants them to do. And they can’t be happy apart from it. And we can craft countless messages dealing with this special calling.
    What about those outside fulltime missions? Here it is important for a person to possess a full understanding of his or her spiritual gifts, natural skills and desires. What makes you feel alive? What are you passionate about? When we live out the unique way the Lord made us, we please and glorify Him. As Eric Liddell said: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” God did not make me fast. And when I run, I feel no pleasure, God’s or mine.
    One time my supervisor in the Philippines asked, actually required, me to organize a directors’ retreat. Even after telling her I didn’t believe I was the best person to do it, and that I was afraid I would mess up, she insisted on it, reminding me I had trained to become a fulltime staff member and organizing events was part of that training. She sounded like it was the easiest thing to do in the world. With much stress and headache, I gave it my best, but I still missed a lot of important details. My frustrated supervisor asked: “How on earth could you have missed such simple details?” This really made me angry and told her: “If someone were to require you and me to write a speech on the same topic, and you were to work on yours for two weeks, and I write mine in a couple of hours, with due respect, mine will still come out way well-written than yours.” God did not grace me with organizational abilities. Except when I’m writing, details escape my mind.
    If you have severe, paralyzing stage fright, God does not expect you to follow a path that mostly requires you to speak in public. If you suffer from claustrophobia, it will be ridiculous to become a coal miner. But can we not do all things in Christ? I am not sure if this applies to this issue.
    A young man asked Steinar and me how he can know what school course God desires for him to pursue. He said he has two choices: Dentistry and Immigration Law. I asked him: “All things being equal, what do YOU want to pursue?” Without missing a beat, he said Immigration Law. His mom went through a years-long, emotionally and financially draining process to become a legal immigrant. His heart goes out to people with the same experiences and he wants to help them. I doubt if he’ll find life in becoming a dentist.
    How do I know God’s will? If money was not an issue, if you can do something for free and not have to worry about earning an income, what would you be doing the rest of your life? What gives you a kick? That should suggest to them which career path to take. Wherever we are, our skills, our spiritual gifts, our passions follow us. And the Lord who created us with such, always finds ways to sovereignly use our lives for the glory of His name.
    Go Jeanne, continue to put pleasure in the heart of the lover of your soul, keep on writing.

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      Thanks for sharing such great insights. I especially appreciated your thoughts on using our wisdom and passions to help us discover our calling. It is exciting and encouraging to know that when we walk with God He graciously aligns our desires to match His calling. I appreciate you reading!

      Reply
  3. Susie

    Well said, and beautifully explained, in a way that answers the ubiquitous questions, and honors the sovereignty of God.

    Reply
  4. Dana Hemminger

    I love this one! When I saw that you posted it on May 22, I had to comment. My first child Benjamin was born on May 22, 2009 with Down syndrome and numerous health complications. The last four years have been an incredible journey with the Lord–at times incredibly beautiful and at times incredibly painful. He has shown me again and again that there is joy in the pain when we surrender our trials to Him with trust in His goodness and confidence in His love. I keep a blog about this journey at http://www.reflectionsfromholland.blogspot.com. You are an extremely gifted writer, and your heart is beautiful. I’m so happy I found your blog!

    Reply
  5. Monica Kareem

    Love you Blogs. A guy at work sent me the link about Mommy Wars and I’ve read several other since then. Clearly writing is a calling of yours! You write what I think and it will help me share my thoughts with others who look to me for advice and accountability. Everything really goes back to the simplest form “Jesus Loves You”. The Good, Bad and Ugly. And just knowing that and allowing it to marinate throughout your spirit is what helps bring you back to a place of righteousness with God. Thank you for sharing your life.

    Reply

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