The 200 year anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Great Britain gave rise to the making of the film Amazing Grace which documents much of the life of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce is portrayed in Amazing Grace as wrestling with whether to become a clergyman because he felt a strong call from God to live a life devoted to him. The movie isn’t entirely accurate about the process but Wilberforce was persuaded that a calling from God doesn’t just need to be limited to church life. Wilberforce saw his calling from God was to bring social justice to the British people. This debunked the myth that our lives can be lived in two domain’s God’s domain of the church and the secular domain of our employment. To bring our lives into harmony with God we do not need to live all our days within the walls of God’s church. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Wilberforce realized this and sought to bring the nation of Great Britain into harmony with God.
So what is calling? Is it a church thing? If you search the web you will find a lot of sites that relate calling with a life in ministry. How does the Bible address calling? How can I learn from other people who have known their calling? A cursory survey of the calling of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Nehemiah, and Esther will give us some principles that define calling in the Old Testament.
Abraham was once called Abram and lived in the city of Ur of the Chaldees. Ur was a technologically advanced society in modern Iraq. Ur-Nammu, one of its kings, is credited for a code of laws. It is in this setting that we read of Abram’s calling in Genesis 12.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the country I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
So Abram left as the LORD had told him.
God spoke audibly to Abram. Some people in the Bible do hear God speak to them directly and tell them what to do. Of course this fits neatly with the term ‘calling’. Calling seems to imply something audible.
Abram is given a purpose through the calling. God breaks into his existence in Ur and says that if he will travel to a different country his life will be the source of a nation which will be a blessing to the many. This is spoken to a man who is suffering the pain of infertility. It could seem like a wicked joke but Abram does not respond with proud spite or defiance. Abram’s response is one of prompt obedience rooted in faith. Abram has exemplary faith and he exercises each time God calls him to act.
There are some similarities to Abram and some differences with Moses’ calling. We read of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the Mountain of God. There the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father , the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt … So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Like Abram, Moses is going about his life unaware of God having any special use for him. Abram was in a cosmopolitan city with riches in trade and technology. Moses was in the wilderness looking for fresh pastures for his sheep. God used unusual circumstances to get Moses’ attention. Many of us learned in Sunday School that bushes might catch on fire in the deserts of Sinai but they would not keep burning without being consumed. After something unusual draws Moses near and he sees that he has his attention, God speaks to him audibly. God gives Moses a mission. Once more God gives a directionless life purpose. This is essential to our study of a calling. Moses has been given a gift of leadership that lies dormant within him. He is racked with feelings of inadequacy. Moses is a poor speaker. How could God call him to use administrative skills when he can’t communicate? When God calls us to a purpose he also equips. God gets angry with Moses because Moses doesn’t think God can use him in his inadequacy. Eventually Moses responds to his calling as a team with his brother Aaron and utilizing the signs that God has given him.
Samuel is called as a boy in Samuel 3. We remember the story of how he is asleep in bad and God calls him audibly. Samuel keeps running into Esau to ask what he wants. Samuel could not tell the difference between God’s calling and a man’s. He has to learn from someone who has heard God before how to distinguish God’s voice and respond appropriately. When he knows that it is God talking to him, Samuel responds with humility and says to God to speak because His servant is listening. This is the first step in Samuel’s calling. In verse 19 we read, “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up and he let none of his words fall on the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD.” Samuel was a prophet and he spoke the truth of God into the life of Eli his master and then into the lives of all those in Israel including Kings Saul and David.
We may not have heard God talk to us audibly in the night, we probably haven’t had a strangely behaving shrub in our yard give us instructions on how to change Washington, and I doubt God has launched into audible poetry to tell us how we are to procreate and fill Lake County with our offspring. There are experiences of God’s calling in the Old Testament that don’t involve God speaking audibly. Nehemiah and Esther for example respond to circumstances to live out God’s calling in their lives.
Nehemiah, in Nehemiah 1, asks his brother Hanani how things are in Jerusalem. On hearing that the people of Jerusalem are troubled, disgraced and defenseless because they have no wall Nehemiah goes all to pieces. He pours out his heart in prayer to God and somehow realizes that he is the solution to his own problem. In humility Nehemiah comes before the king with no regard for his own life. In spite of death for misery in the king’s presence, Nehemiah dares to wear his heart on his sleeve. God uses Nehemiah’s gift of administration to get him back to Jerusalem and get the wall built.
Esther faces an ancient grudge between Israel and Agag coming to fruition in Haman the Agagite. He will have his revenge on all of God’s people by killing them. It is Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, who realizes that the circumstances reveal God’s calling on Esther’s life. He speaks the famous lines in Esther 4:14, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther responds with a prayerful humility. She trusts that Mordecai is right about God’s calling on her life and she moves forward with no regard for her own life.
Through these biblical heroes we see how a calling is worked out. Someone is called by God for some special purpose. They put their own reservations to one side, sometimes with some reluctance, and they pursue the destiny that God has designed them for.
This is echoed in the New Testament. God has called you to do work for him in the home, the church and the market place. This is apparent in the book of Ephesians. The word ‘calling’ in the book of Ephesians refers to a purpose driven life that each person has been called to live out. In Ephesians 2:10 we are reminded that “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Greek for the term workmanship has the connotation of a work of art. Your life is not a chaotic, cosmic accident. God fashioned you in such a way that you have a role to fulfill.
If there hasn’t been a time in your life when you have given the steering wheel of your life to God, you may still be driving in the wrong direction. There may be a nagging thought in your mind that you were meant to live for so much more. If you don’t know God and how to listen to God you may not have found your calling. This means that the right job, the right relationships and the right attitude about life that he has designed you for may be out of reach. Is it possible that you are a Christian and God has equipped you to work in a different career than the one you’re in? There are many people who are afraid of letting go of a pension fund, an annual bonus and a high salary to follow the fulfilling adventure God designed them for. Are you sure that you are working the job and dedicating the time to things that God has called you to?
The fact that the calling of God affects all of our life is emphasized later in Ephesians. Ephesians 4:1 says, “ I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” The calling here is synonymous with salvation. You have a life to live that should be in harmony with being saved. This may seem basic – saved people are people who should be living their whole lives differently. In this case calling could be the same as harmony. In other words, “live a life in harmony with what it means to be a Christian.” Everyone has a gift from God, but chapter 4 in Ephesians tells us that a life of humility, gentleness and patience in the church is in harmony with being a Christian. We are called to be interconnected and serving one another. No-one in the church is called to a wild-frontier rugged individualism. No-one is called to live a life attached to a computer and empty of human relationships. God designed us to get out of the basement and be innovators and leaders in our homes, churches and workplaces.
Hebrews 3:1 tells us of an invitation that comes from heaven and leads to heaven. “Therefore holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest, whom we confess.” The outworking of our calling is that we live a life that is completely focused on Christ. God calls us to live a life where Jesus is all that our mind is fixed on. As an educator I see this as a huge problem in our society. The children that are growing up in our schools are learning to see God in fewer and fewer places. It is hard to see God’s calling in our lives as a car mechanic if we have learned that mechanics has nothing to do with God. It’s hard to see God’s hand in the workings of the body if our biology teacher doesn’t teach us to see God in the biology curriculum. Since God has been emptied from our education it naturally follows that God has been emptied from our thinking. We see God in the Bible in private, but we do not see God in mathematics in public.
A Christian who is living in accordance with their calling needs to have a Christian mind. A Christian mind is synonymous with a Christian worldview. A harmonious Christian life naturally references God in our values, our logic, our knowledge, our understanding of reality, and our view of people. For example, many today think that people are basically good when the Bible clearly teaches that people are corrupt and evil. It is hard to feel God’s calling on your life to evangelize if people do not need to be saved from their evil natures.
We find the harmony of the Christian life with God’s call again in 2 Peter 1:10. The people that Peter was writing to had got into some dreadful thought patterns and this had resulted in some dreadful living. If you want to be sure that you have heard God clearly you should look at your life. Where is your mind? What do you do with your time? The way of life that is harmonious with God’s calling is laid out in 2 Peter 1:5-7.
“For this very reason make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge self control; and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.”
Verse 10, “Therefore my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things you will never fall,” refers to the list above.
When we become a Christian we are a new creation. We are a new person. This new person is called to be at odds with much of the culture and to examine themselves to see if how they live is in harmony with scripture. We can see clearly that the educational and societal foundations that we are building on lead us to live in a God coma, a way of living that is mindless of God. If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength this is also our greatest calling. I would argue that we often have a Christianity that is overly emotional to the detriment of our minds. We have had our calling relegated to the private life of church and the home, but the clear calling that we are to live all of our life before God is prevalent.
If we analyze all that we do and critique it from a biblical standpoint we are going to have to make some changes. There is much in church that is empty of God and it needs to go, there is much in our work that is empty of God and that needs to change. Our marriages should be loving and self-sacrificial because of our calling. Our parenting should be structured and free from antagonism because of our calling. The verses that we have looked at touch on every aspect of what it means to be alive. If our Christian worldview does permeate every aspect and the whole of our lives is in harmony with God then we can be sure of the rewards of 2 Peter 1:11. In this verse we are told that those who live a life in accordance with their calling will not fall, but will receiver a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A calling from God is rooted in humility. Humility is a hard place to start, but we need to understand that we are not needed by God. The technical term for this is that we are not necessary. Many of us like to feel useful; we like the idea that an event couldn’t have taken place if we weren’t there. God has never run into any real difficulty when doing his work. He didn’t come to day five of creation and think, “Ah! Peter’s not here! I won’t be able to make the fish and the birds.” God has done his work throughout history without needing a single person to help him out.
God wants us to do his work with him. It is like a father who is working on a new set of shelves in the basement for his wife. When his five-year-old son comes to help him out, the father doesn’t need him. Because the father loves him he has him hold tools; the father holds the son’s hands and helps him turn the screws. Although the father doesn’t need his boy to get the job done, the father lavishes love on his boy by giving him a job to do.
Our lack of necessity is reassuring because we do not have to bring any amazing skill set to God in order for him to use us. God equips us as he sees fit in order to do his work. Some people bring useful skills and talents to their life of faith, but those gifts and talents are enhanced by the God who gave them to the individual in the first place. Most people are not sure whether they are going to be of any use in God’s kingdom, but this is where 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 gives us encouragement:
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
The church in Corinth was having some intense internal struggles. People in the congregation were becoming divided over who was of more use to the church. There were those who thought that their ability to speak in the languages of different countries and of heaven set them apart. There were those who thought that if they did great acts of service for the church, they were more important. The people of the church started acting as if there was something special about them because they had different abilities that they brought to the church. These verses in 1 Corinthians 1 call us back to the fact that all the gifts and abilities that I have are from God. God has a work for us to do and he will equip us to do the tasks that he has for us. Being designed and equipped for a task in life is our ‘calling’.
The unified idea that this is God’s world affects calling. God has called us to our job in the church, our job in the home, and our job in the marketplace. The gifts and abilities that people use inside and outside the church originate in God. Before someone is a Christian, though, there is no guarantee that they will be using their gifts in accordance with God’s plan for their lives. On becoming a Christian we should see that all the resources that are at our disposal are God’s and we are called to use those resources to make things on earth heavenly. We are to be active in “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” For example, someone may be a car salesman. Selling cars is not an occupation frequently associated with godliness. But think, if you have been given sales skills and God wants you to sell cars how would a ‘heavenly’ car salesman be different? I suggest that the heavenly car salesman would be honest, encouraging, and would sell you a car based on your needs rather than their need to sell. Think of a heavenly banker who sees that they have been called to banking by God and a banker who has no sense of God. I know that I would prefer to have my money resting with someone who believes that God has called them to banking. We must see that God is the God of all life and he calls us to live for him in every aspect of our lives. We tend to see quite easily that pastors, missionaries, and Sunday School teachers are called. We should see ourselves as called by God to whatever job we are doing.
God called me into his service when I was 8 years old. I didn’t know what I would be, but I was outspoken. Early on my teacher was putting together a passion play in school. When he got the facts wrong I told him. He checked the facts, told me I was right and then cast me as Jesus. I do find myself in front of people quite a lot. God has called me into somewhat of a prophetic role, but perhaps my main gifting is in teaching. God has called me into a teaching adventure where I have taught in England, Japan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States. In England the faith is not popular. God has had to give me words to speak in an environment that is quite hostile to the gospel. In Japan I had to learn to appreciate new foods and a unique culture. In Pakistan and Afghanistan I had to be a Christian in the face of Islam. In the United States God has called me to be a champion of Christian education. In each arena I have found God’s calling to teach and the sense of peace, harmony, and excitement I feel when I act in accordance with my calling is confirmation that I am living the life that God has chosen.
In the United States I have developed my calling in the three areas of church, home and work. In the church I am a Junior High Ministry leader at The Chapel of Grayslake. I teach in a way that engages the kids in my care and they feel valued. I like to take them into the text of scripture and explain its meaning to them. It rocks my world when I see a child who didn’t understand God’s truth begin to apply it to their life. At home I am a husband to my wife and a son-in-law to my disabled mother and father-in-law. I am committed to deal with the circumstances that Kelli and I have. Kelli’s parents have Cerebral Palsy and find it harder each year to take care of themselves. It is a fitting way to honor Kelli’s parents to have them live with us. I try to lead the home in regular devotions and inspire spiritual growth. I know that it is my calling to lead my wife through active inspiration and example. I try to be her biggest fan with her writing and teaching careers. I have also tried to be a man of God through infertility. I am in my dream job. God has called me to educate educators in how to teach with God in the centre of their curriculum. In a class called Faith and Learning I frequently have students come back telling me that everyone should take the course because they see the world differently.
Are the three domains of church, home and work in harmony with God’s calling in your life? Think of your church life. Is there a sense of active purpose? Is your gifting being used to build up the body? There is a unity of purpose in the church that will be enhanced if you move into the community and engage with others. It takes some humility and self-denial. However, there is a job in the church that God saved you to do.
Are you active in the home? Are you a couch potato who flips through the T.V. channels in passive boredom? Your spouse, kids and folks need you to act to unify the family. You were called to inspire your household. It will require the humility not to be easily offended if your wife acts with suspicion at your engagement or the kids blow you off with indifference.
Do you know that God has called you to work where you are? If he has are you engaged in such a way that the boss can count on you to put in the time and effort that shows you are a man of God? It requires humility to serve others at work. You may be afraid of others taking advantage. However, if everyone in your workplace acted as if they were called by God to be there wouldn’t it be transformed?
Remember who has called you. You have been bought at a price. The joy of our calling cost Jesus Christ His life. He laid it down in agony so you can live in harmony with God.
Live a life worthy of your calling.