3 Things Your Calling Is Not

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“I’m called to _________.”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone use this statement to explain why they do what they do. It’s a mystical-sounding line that throws a divine aura over one’s life.

But I’ve always felt unsure whether or not—apart from my call to salvation in Christ—I had a more specific call that would explain what career path I should take. I’ve never been one of those people with a master plan for his life—a mental trajectory with a desired destination at the end of it. More often than not, I’ve felt my way around, stumbling into one thing, then the next.

So amid my confusion and filled with questions, I sought out God’s Word and the collective wisdom of others to help me make sense of calling and vocation. Here are at least three things your calling is not.

1. Your Calling Is Not for You

No doubt each person is called and gifted individually, but a true understanding of calling recognizes that we’re called not for mere personal gratification but for the good of others (Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 12:12–31; 1 Pet. 4:10–11). This others-focus flies against the individualistic and self-interested spirit of our age. As Tim Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor:

We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor. (67)

Rather than asking, “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” Keller encourages us to ask, “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to others, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?”

We don’t choose our callings; by definition, we’re called to them. Repeat: God calls us; we don’t call ourselves.

But we must be careful to not confuse our job with our calling. While for some the two are intertwined (think of a pastor), callings often encompass broader realms like society, family, and church. According to Gene Veith,

Someone may no longer be in the workplace, but he may still pursue callings as a grandfather, a concerned citizen, and perhaps as an elder in his church. Some people find their callings in spheres other than the workplace—a woman who refuses a job so she can devote herself to her children; the independently wealthy man who does not need to work, so he devotes himself as a citizen to philanthropy; the elderly shut-in who devotes her energy, as a Christian, to prayer. (48)

Young or old, weak or strong, successful or unemployed, we’re each able to fulfill callings to care for others. So one simple way to discover your calling is to figure out how you can best minister to others with the gifts and abilities the Lord has given you. For some that might be through their employment, while for others through their nearest relationships—in their home, in their neighborhood, or in their church. 

2. Your Calling Is Not from You

We don’t choose our callings; by definition, we’re called to them. Repeat: God calls us; we don’t call ourselves.

This might sound like an obvious point, but part of my low-grade angst has been due to the assumption I had to grab hold of my calling or else it would slip away. I’d be lost, I feared, wasting my life because I hadn’t been decisive or clear-eyed enough to know what God had called me to.

Of course there is human agency in all we do. But fundamentally we’re under God’s sovereign guidance and care. Whether we’re talking about the church we’ll join, the city we’ll live in, or the vocational path we’ll pursue, we plan our ways, but he establishes our steps (Prov. 16:9). In our doing God makes his calling clear.

We find our callings with, by, and in serving others. And we fulfill our callings as others fulfill theirs.

And, related, he uses others to confirm us in our callings. Again, Veith observes:

Vocation comes from the outside, having to do with opportunities and circumstances, doors opening and slamming in our face. Since God works through means, he often extends his call through other people, by means of their vocations. (54–55)

As you serve others and receive input, correction, affirmation, and opportunities, trust that you have a faithful Father who “created [you] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And these “good works” are done in the various callings, through the various seasons, that God entrusts to us.

We’re not called to everything, which means we can joyfully lean on and work with the callings of others. We find our callings with, by, and in serving others. And we fulfill our callings as others fulfill theirs.

3. Your Calling Is Not Future Tense

Look at your life. Apart from sin, your calling is whatever your life consists of right now.

In God’s good design, he has likely placed you in a family, in a neighborhood, in a church, in a job. Rather than worry about what’s next, anxious about tomorrow, Jesus summons us to seek God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:25–34). I’d argue part of that means we’re to bloom where we’re planted—to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [our] own affairs, and to work with [our] hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). It could also be flavored with Wendell Berry’s pleasingly unoriginal formula for the good life: “Slow down. Pay attention. Do good work. Love your neighbors. Love your place. Stay in your place. Settle for less, enjoy it more.”

There’s nothing wrong with godly ambition or planning for the future. But in all that, make sure the emphasis is on faithfully serving the Lord where he’s placed you until he makes it clear—whether through a shift in desires, input from others, or a change in circumstances (usually a combination of these three)—that he is calling you to something else.

Look at your life. Apart from sin, your calling is whatever your life consists of right now.

I don’t mean to imply callings never change. They can and often do. Calling is a process rather than a destination, since life is ever-changing as we likewise change. But as friend of mine said, “Be grateful for what is rather than strategizing for what ought to be.” In a discontented and restless age, I suspect we need more of this humble, rooted faith. More faithful plodders—those free of self who “make it [their] aim to please [Christ]” (2 Cor. 5:9). 

As you look up from this screen at the grass that needs mowing, the diaper that needs changing, the church member who needs care, or the stranger who needs befriending, go with a glad heart and meet those needs and fulfill your callings.

Beware of calling envy and never despise the monotony of every day faithfulness. God has called you today to serve him. And even amid difficult situations—perhaps with suffering, disappointment, and failure—we can find our joy in the Lord, knowing he has promised to never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).

Faithful Servants

Maybe you’re not like me and have never experienced dark nights of the soul because of calling confusion. But I know if you’re a child of God and trusting in Christ, he has called you to himself and to others. So serve people and God by pressing into the ordinary fullness of life.

May we be good and faithful servants. Starting today.


Author’s note: Here are five books on calling and vocation that I found particularly helpful:

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