What’s your Calling?

For the past several years, the theme of Calling has been very dear to me. I have increasingly come to see that it is a crucial truth for escaping the humdrum of modern life. As such, I am always on the lookout for books which help to clarify what it’s all about and provide much-needed guidance to all who are seeking to uncover the mystery. And, lately, I read Os Guinness’s masterpiece on the subject. It is at once thorough and lively, learned and interesting, with a continual focus on the Saviour who obediently surrendered to his Father’s call. His book is a delight to read and a feast to relish. I can do little more than offer his points on calling which he carefully develops throughout the book and hope they stimulate you to get the book for yourself and devour its nutrients.


  • Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.
  • When something more than human seeking is needed if seeking is to be satisfied, then calling means that seekers themselves are sought.
  • The notion of calling, or vocation, is vital to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis for individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.
  • Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.the call
  • God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.
  • A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.
  • God’s calling is the key to igniting a passion for the deepest growth and highest heroism in life.
  • The notion of calling is vital to the modern search for a basis for moral responsibility and to an understanding of ethics itself.
  • The call of Jesus is personal but not purely individual; Jesus summons his followers not only to an individual calling but also to a corporate calling.
  • Calling reminds Christians ceaselessly that, far from having arrived, a Christian is someone who in this life is always on the road as “a follower of Christ” and a follower of “the Way”.
  • The reverse side of calling is the temptation of conceit.
  • The truth of calling touches closely on the link between giftedness and desire and the almost inescapable temptation of envy.
  • Calling, which played a key role in the rise of modern capitalism, is one of the few truths capable of guiding and restraining it now.
  • Calling is the best antidote to the deadly sin of sloth.
  • Calling directly counters the great modern pressure towards secularization because the call of Jesus includes a summons to the exercise of the spiritual disciplines and the experience of supernatural realities.
  • Calling directly counters the great modern pressure toward privatization because of its insistence that Jesus Christ is Lord of every sphere of life.

Marriage and Service

couple holding hands

“And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.  So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.  Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

 And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:18-24)


 

This passage of the bible looks at the social relationship between Adam and Eve as husband and wife. And the truths derived from this ordinance of God can help us understand other social relationships, particularly business.

God created the world, planted a garden, and placed the first man in it. Then He saw that it was not ideal for man to be alone – he needed a companion.  This expresses an important fact. Man is a social being. He needs others – he needs society. Solomon also spoke of this in Eccl. 4:9-10. And this was a need which the animals, created before man, could not meet. In his comment on this passage, Matthew Henry, the seventeenth-century English commentator and pastor, wrote:

“Though there was an upper world of angels and a lower world of brutes (animals), and he between them, yet there being none of the same nature and rank of beings with himself, none that he could converse familiarly with, he might be truly said to be alone. Now he that made him knew both him and what was good for him, better than he did himself, and he said, “It is not good that he should continue thus alone.” (1.) It is not for his comfort; for man is a sociable creature. It is a pleasure to him to exchange knowledge and affection with those of his own kind, to inform and to be informed, to love and to be beloved… If there were but one man in the world, what a melancholy man must he needs be! Perfect solitude would turn a paradise into a desert, and a palace into a dungeon. Those, therefore, are foolish who are selfish and would be placed alone in the earth.”

God himself established society because he realized it was indispensable for the well-being of the human race. And he created it upon the foundation of marriage and the family. This basic social relationship thus teaches important principles for all social relationships. These are Companionship and Service. Just as the husband and the wife were formed to complement each other, so all relationships have this basic purpose. No man is an island, John Donne said. Each individual is gifted by God differently from all others, and it is through his individuality that he has something to offer his neighbour.  We interact with others, whether in family, club, or business, to meet the needs of one another.

And from this the second principle emerges. We must serve others out of love. This is God’s expectation for the home and, by implication, it is his requirement for every social relationship. When he came into the world, he came not in the flowery robe and gilded crown of a king, but in the humble garb of a servant. He was among us as one who served (Luke 22:27), and eventually humbled himself to death for the ones he loved (Phil. 2: 5-8).

None of the other creatures could supply this need. Obviously, God brought these animals to Adam to see if there could be any that would be adequate as a companion for him. However, none proved adequate.

They were to be companions. The woman was given to man not because she was inferior, but because he was inadequate. He needed her. What he lacked she supplied, and what she lacked he would supply. The key was loving service. This is the rule in marriage and, by extension, is the rule for all social relationships.

Your Work matters

Here is a short poem I shared with colleagues at work to help us remember that all the little and routine tasks we carry out are quite significant. Nothing is insignificant. God is pleased with every work well done. Therefore, we should give it our best.

It’s another day.

You call the client,

You ensure he’s OK.

You confirm her prescription,

You notify Chronic Care.

You receive the forms,

You submit to CIM.

Evening comes, the day is gone.

Another day, the same routine.

 

Where does it all lead?

Meaningless routine?

 

From above the answer comes:

No, no, Your work matters!

 

When you serve, when you care.

When you help, when you check.

You live for something greater than you;

You add to the world,

You build the nation.

 

Through the effort, your company grows;

Through your task, the goal is won.

Further still –

Through your work, your God is served;

For to Him all work is done.

And every work truly done is a pleasant sacrifice.

What sort of offering do you then present?

Beyond Premium Health, beyond CS*,

Your work matters, for it matters to God.

*‘CS’ refers to the Client Service unit of the company

Serving through Giving

Here is today’s reading from the classic devotional ‘Morning and Evening’ by CH Spurgeon:

He that watereth shall be watered also himself. – Prov 11:25

We are here taught the great lesson, that to get—we must give; that to accumulate—we must scatter; that to make ourselves happy—we must make others happy; and that in order to become spiritually vigorous—we must seek the spiritual good of others. In watering others—we are ourselves watered. How?

Our efforts to be useful—bring out our powers for usefulness. We have latent talents and dormant faculties, which are brought to light by exercise. Our strength for labor is hidden even from ourselves—until we venture forth to fight the Lord’s battles, or to climb the mountains of difficulty. We do not know what tender sympathies we possess—until we try to dry the widow’s tears, and soothe the orphan’s grief.

We often find in attempting to teach others—that we gain instruction for ourselves. Oh, what gracious lessons some of us have learned at sick beds! We went to teach the Scriptures, we came away blushing that we knew so little of them. In our converse with poor saints, we are taught the way of God more perfectly for ourselves and get a deeper insight into divine truth. So that watering others makes us humble. We discover how much grace there is where we had not looked for it; and how much the poor saint may outstrip us in knowledge.

Our own comfort is also increased—by our working for others. We endeavor to cheer them—and the consolation gladdens our own heart. Like the two men in the snow; one chafed the other’s limbs to keep him from dying, and in so doing kept his own blood in circulation, and saved his own life. The poor widow of Sarepta gave from her scanty store, a supply for the prophet’s needs, and from that day she never again knew what poverty was. Give then, and it shall be given unto you—good measure, pressed down, and running over!

How Faith impacts Work

Does one’s Christian belief have any impact on one’s work? Tim Keller discusses this at a recent Faith at Work conference. You can find the video here. Below are the five ways he kellersuggests:

  • Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work can destroy you.
  • It gives you a sense of the dignity of all work, even menial  labour, without which work could bore you.
  • It gives you a moral compass, without which work could corrupt you.
  • It gives you a world and life view that shapes the character of your work without which work could master and use you.
  • Faith gives us hope in the midst of the inadequacies of our society.

Providence and our Work

The works of God are broadly divided into 2 categories: Creation and Providence. The second category refers to how God preserves, directs, and governs all he has created. And the Scriptures clearly testify to this important truth – Ps. 103:19, Eph. 1:11, Job 37: 5,10, Matt.6:26, Acts 17: 26, Phil. 4:19, Ps. 75: 6,7.

They teach that God is in touch with every detail of our lives. His all-seeing eye and providential care extends to our day-to- day work. And He preserves, directs, and governs us through our various callings.  The Puritan pastor John Flavel (1627-1691) sheds more light on this.


flavel*An excellent performance of providence, respecting the good of both your bodies and souls, concerns that employment and calling it has ordered for you in this world. It has not only an eye upon your well-being in the world to come, but upon your well-being in this world also, and that very much depends upon the station and vocation to which it calls you.

Now the providence of God with respect to our civil callings may be displayed very takingly in the following particulars.

In directing you to a calling in your youth, and not permitting you to live an idle, useless and sinful life, as many do who are but burdens to the earth, the wens of the body politic, serving only to disfigure and drain it, to eat what others earn. Sin brought in sweat (Genesis 3:19), but now, not to sweat increases sin. He that lives idly cannot live honestly, as is plainly enough intimated (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12). But when God puts men into a lawful calling, in which the labour of their hands or heads is sufficient for them, it is a very valuable mercy; for in so doing they ‘eat their own bread’ (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Many a sad temptation is happily prevented and they are ordinarily funished by it for works of mercy to others, and surely ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

In ordering you to such callings and employments in the world as are not only lawful in themselves but most suitable to you. There are many persons employed in sinful trades and arts, merely to furnish other men’s lusts. They do not only sin in their employments, but their very employments are sinful. They trade for hell, and are factors for the devil. Demetrius and the craftsmen at Ephesus got their estates by making shrines for Diana (Acts 19:24, 25), i.e., little cases or boxes with folding leaves, within which the image of that idol sat enshrined. These were carried about by the people in procession in honour of their idol. And at this day, how many wicked arts and employments are there invented, and multitudes of persons maintained by them, merely to gratify the pride and wantonness of a debauched age!

Now to have an honest and lawful employment, in which you do not dishonour God in benefiting yourselves, is no small mercy. But if it is not only lawful in itself, but suited to your genius and strength, there is a double mercy in it. Some poor creatures are engaged in callings that eat up their time and strength, and make their lives very uncomfortable to them. They have not only consuming and wasting employments in the world, but such as allow them little or no time for their general calling, and yet all this does but keep them and theirs alive. Therefore, if God has fitted you with an honest employment in which you have less toil than others, and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of Providence for you.

In settling you in such an employment and calling in the world, as possibly neither yourselves nor parents could ever expect you should attain to. There are among us such persons as, on this account, are signally obliged to divine Providence. God has put them into such a way as neither they nor their parents ever planned. For look how the needle in the compass turns now this way, then that way, and never ceases moving till it settles to the north point; just so it is in our settlement in the world. A child is now designed for this, then for that, but at last settles in that way of employment to which Providence designed him. How strangely are things wheeled about by Providence! Not what we or our parents, but what God designed shall take place. Amos was very meanly employed at first, but God designed him for a more honourable and comfortable calling (Amos 7:14, 15). David followed the ewes, and probably never raised his thoughts to higher things in the days of his youth; but God made him the royal shepherd of a better flock (Psalm 78:70, 71). Peter and Andrew were employed as fishermen, but Christ calls them from that to a higher calling, to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:18, 19). Pareus, when he was fourteen years old, was by the instigation of his stepmother placed with an apothecary; but Providence so wrought that he was taken off from that and fitted for the ministry, in which he became a fruitful and eminent instrument to the Church. James Andreas was, by reason of his father’s inability to keep him at school, designed for a carpenter, but was afterwards, by the persuasion of friends and assistance of the church- flock, sent to Stuttgart, and thence to the University, and so attained to a very eminent station of service to the Church. A master builder Oecolampadius was by his father designed for a merchant; but his mother, by urgent entreaties, prevailed to keep him at school, and this man was a blessed instrument in the reformation of religion. I might easily cite multitudes of such, but a taste may suffice.

In securing your estates from ruin. ‘Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and all that he hath?’ (Job 1:10). This is the enclosure of Providence, which secures to us what by its favour we acquire in the way of honest industry.

In making your calling sufficient for you. It was the prayer of Moses for the tribe of Judah: ‘Let his hands be sufficient for him’ (Deuteronomy 33:7), and it is no small mercy if yours be so to you. Some there are that have work, but not strength to go through with it; others have strength, but no employment for it. Some have hands, and work for them; but it is not sufficient for them and theirs. If God bless your labours, so as to give you and yours necessary supports and comfort in the world by it, it is a choice providence, and with all thankfulness to be acknowledged.

If any that fear God shall complain that, although they have a calling, yet it is a hard and laborious one, which takes up too much of their time which they would gladly employ in other and better work, I answer that it is likely that the wisdom of Providence foresaw this to be the most suitable and proper employment for you; and if you had more ease and rest, you might have more temptations than now you have. The strength and time which is now taken up in your daily labours, in which you serve God, might otherwise have been spent upon such lusts in which you might have served the devil.

Moreover, hereby it may be your health is the better preserved, and natural refreshments made the sweeter to you. ‘The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep’ (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

And as to the service of God, if your hearts are spiritual, you may enjoy much communion with God in your very employments, and you have some intervals and respites for that purpose. Have you not more spare hours than you employ to that end?

‘But all my labours will scarcely suffice to procure me and mine the necessaries of life. I am kept short and low to what others are, and this is a sad affliction.’

Though the wisdom of Providence has ordered you a lower and poorer condition than others, yet consider how many there are that are lower than you in the world. You have but little of the world, yet others have less. Read the description of those persons (Job 30:4, etc.). If God has given you but a small portion of the world, yet if you are godly He has promised never to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Providence has ordered that condition for you which is really best for your eternal good. If you had more of the world than you have, your heads and hearts might not be able to manage it to your advantage. A small boat must have but a narrow sail. You have not lacked hitherto the necessities of life, and are commanded ‘having food and raiment (though none of the finest) to be therewith content.’ ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked’ (Psalm 37:16): better in the acquisition, sweeter in the fruition, and more comfortable in the account.

Well then, if Providence has so disposed of you all, that you can eat your own bread, and so advantageously directed some of you to employments that afford, not only necessities for yourselves and families, but a surplus for works of mercy to others, and all this brought about for you in a way you did not plan; let God be owned and honoured in this providence. Will you not henceforth call Him: ‘My Father, the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)? Surely it was the Lord that guided you to settle as you did in those days of your youth; you reap at this day, and may to your last day, the fruits of those early providences in your youth.

Now see that you walk answerably to the obligations of Providence in this particular; and see to it in the fear of God that you do not abuse any of those things to His dishonour which He has wrought for your comfort. To prevent this, I will here drop a few needful cautions, and conclude this particular point.

  • Do not be slothful and idle in your vocations. It is said that Augustus built an Apragapolis, a city void of business; but I am sure God never erected any city, town or family to that end. The command to Adam (Genesis 3:19) no doubt reaches all his posterity, and Gospel-commands bind it upon Christians (Romans 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). If you are negligent, you cannot be innocent.
  • And yet do not be so intent upon your particular callings as to make them interfere with your general calling. Beware you do not lose your God in the crowd and hurry of earthly business. Mind that solemn warning: ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition’ (1 Timothy 6:9). The inhabitants of Oenoe, a dry island near Athens, bestowed much labour to draw in a river to water it and make it fruitful. But when the sluices were opened, the waters flowed so abundantly that it overflowed the island and drowned the inhabitants. The application is obvious. It was an excellent saying of Seneca: ‘I do not give, but lend myself to business.’
  • Remember always the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing, not human diligence alone. ‘But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:18). The devil himself was so far orthodox as to acknowledge it: ‘Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands’ (Job 1:10). Recommend therefore your affairs to God in prayer. ‘Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass’ (Psalm 37:4-5). And do not meddle with that which you cannot recommend to God in prayer for a blessing.
  • Be well satisfied in that station and employment in which Providence has placed you, and do not so much as wish yourself in another. ‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called’ (1 Corinthians 7:20). Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.

*This is an excerpted chapter from the book The Mystery of Providence. You can read the entire book here.

Book Review: Courage and Calling, by Gordon T. Smith

courageThis is an impressive volume that addresses an important topic. The subject of Calling is one that interests me and, I believe, so many others. And I find this book to be a helpful guide. The author, a Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Canada, provides a scriptural and reasoned look at this important but complicated matter.

He begins by identifying the three types of calling:

  • Everyone has a calling to repent of sin and embrace Jesus as Saviour
  • There is a particular assignment to a specific role in the world. This is one’s ‘defining purpose or mission, a reason for being’.
  • We also have  a responsibility to meet the demands and tasks that arise daily in the several spheres of our lives, whether as parents, colleagues, neighbours, etc.

The focus of the book is on the second type of calling which is commonly designated by the term Vocation. Our vocation is built on our calling as christians. For in our work, as well as in all other aspects of our life, we serve Jesus who is now our Lord and master (1 Cor.10:31). It is a specific way of service in the world, given the skills and gifts we have been endowed with. However, it takes more than skills and talents to identify one’s calling. Other factors come into play such as:

  • Personality and temperament
  • Identifying what gives one the greatest joy
  • Identifying what one feels is the world’s greatest need.

It thus requires that we are brutally honest with our own hearts. We must be disciplined enough to reject a line of activity that is out of harmony with who we truly are, and be courageous enough to patiently pursue what we see to be God’s design for us. The result of this is freedom:

 Freedom from ambition, freedom from the pressures and expectations of others, freedom to be who we are before God. It is a freedom to embrace the call of God upon our lives with joy and hope (p.76).

Our sense of what we are called to be and do evolves as we move through the various stages or chapters  of our life. The individual makes her first move from adolescence into adulthood and at this stage learns to be truly independent of her parents in her understanding of her life purpose. She learns to discover herself and and identify the role she has been designed to play. In moving into midlife, she becomes more aware of her limitations as well as her abilities. As her understanding of life matures, so also will her approach to her vocation. Finally, there is a transition to the final years of life – the senior years. In this phase, her task is to increasingly let go of the roles, titles, and offices that are perceived to be so essential to living out vocation, and to continually bless and offer wisdom to the coming generation. This does not change her vocation, but only modifies how it is lived out. These are the different phases through which one must pass in the pursuit of one’s calling. Nevertheless, through all these stages, our vocations are practised as unto the Lord with a consistent focus on Excellence, Truth, Diligence, and Generosity.

He looks at four areas of calling (Business, Art, Education, and Religious leadership) and shows how we can demonstrate vocational integrity in each. Throughout our vocational journeys, we must remain humble learners. We must be willing to change and ready to adjust to the situations around us.

I find him wordy in some sections, and there is an abundance of very long sentences which can make reading challenging in some places. However, the treasure to be mined from its pages more than compensates for the effort. It is a remarkable book, full of wisdom and insight, and is certain to be a guide to resort to time and again.