When I was young, I avoided the term “calling.” I wasn’t sure I had one, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to correctly discern it if I did. I couldn’t relate to people who had a clear, concrete vision for their lives, who felt “called” to do something. To me, life was simply an open book waiting to be lived. The possibilities were endless.
Later in life, however, I found myself longing for guidance, unsure what I wanted to do with my life and hoping against hope that God had something in mind. Whatever God called me to, I would do it. Desperate for my life to have meaning, convinced I did not know what was best, I boldly offered myself to Him.
Destiny: A Journey
Some posit that God does not have a specific will for each person. He calls us to delight in Him, love our neighbors, and live righteously, but the specifics of how, where, and with whom we do that are up to us.
I do believe we have freedom to choose, but I also believe God has a specific assignment in mind for each person. (For a great sermon about this complex reality, check out Tim Keller’s Your Plans; God’s Plans.) Actually, I don’t believe God has one specific assignment for each of us, but many specific assignments. Our role in His intricate plan is complex, vital, and unique.
The mistake many of us make is in thinking of calling too narrowly. We think of it as a mere job description—Am I called to be a nurse or a missionary or a singer? We think of it as a place—Am I called to live in this city or that country? We think of it as a black-and-white status—Am I called to be single or married?
I find it much more helpful to think of calling as a journey. Parts of the journey we will see coming and much of it will take us completely by surprise. But throughout, Jesus holds out his hand to us and asks: Will you come and follow Me?
Surrendered to Empowered
We never graduate from the place of surrender. Our relationship with God will always be one of Him leading and us following. And the most important part of the journey will always be Him, our Guide.
That’s one of the reasons the path won’t always seem logical or efficient. There will be valleys, storms, detours, and delays. We will get a sudden clarity about something we were made to do only to have every door close in our face.
God’s priority is not a particular destination, it’s relationship.
However, God does want to empower us.
As a naturally indecisive person, I have often asked God to make my decisions for me. Whether it’s what college to attend, what job opportunity to pursue, or even what people to spend time with, I’ve asked Him to tell me what to do.
But again and again, God has refused to give me clear directives. Instead He has told me to choose.
Follow your heart, He has said. Doing so has taken me on a journey I never expected, one that has been both harder and better than I ever dared hope.
How to Discern Your Calling
God’s goal isn’t to order around slaves, but to raise up mature sons and daughters who have His heart. So He doesn’t hand us life callings like a cards drawn from a lottery. Instead, He invites us into a process of discovery. That sounds all well and good, you may be thinking, but how exactly does that happen? So now, for some practical advice.
We all have many different, contradicting desires, dreams, and ideas floating around in our heads. How do you know which ones are from God and which are distractions?
I have to start here. Basic but essential. We all know we should ask God for guidance. But knowing the right thing and actually doing it are not the same.
Yes, it can be scary, because we don’t know what He will say. Yes, it can be scary because we may not hear a clear answer. But as I said above, relationship is the endgame for God. So rest assured: He wants to hear from you. He loves when you turn toward Him, He loves hearing your voice calling His name. The faith that is required to engage Him in this process pleases Him.
Once you have asked, don’t forget to listen. And to keep listening. He may not answer right away, He may not answer how you want or through the means you expect, but He will answer. Even if His answer is simply, You choose. (If what you hear contradicts the Bible or your common sense, that’s not Him.)
[For an example from my own journey, you can read this post.]
2. Trial and error.
This might sound foolhardy or imprecise, but it’s actually not a bad method. Because guess what? We actually have freedom to make mistakes! We are God’s children, and He will still love us.
Not sure what you like to do? Not sure what you are good at? Not sure which job to take or which city to live in? Asked God and He was silent? Or He told you to choose?
Why not just try something and see how it turns out?
Sometimes we take these things too seriously, more seriously than God himself. God enjoys watching us discover things for ourselves. Like a parent joyfully watching as their toddler learns to walk, so God delights in our process. We fall down, we are awkward, we are not experts, but He delights in us just the same because we are His. Your worth and value does not come from what you do. Don’t forget that.
3. Take fear out of the equation. Look for joy.
As children, we are unafraid to dream. We think anything is possible. We see ourselves as unstoppable. As adults, we become weighed down by a lot of practical concerns: money, reputation, obligation. We are jaded by the disappointments and failures of our past.
Is it any wonder Jesus said we needed to be like children to inherit the Kingdom?
If you took fear out of the equation, what would you want to do with your life? How would you love to impact the world? What wrongs would you right? What impossible things would you attempt?
The callings God gives us are always God-sized, meaning they aren’t just about us. But, counterintuitively, the best way to figure out what that calling is, is usually by looking inside yourself. Needs abound in the world, as do practical considerations (like money) and the persistent expectations of other people. But if you can ignore all those distracting voices for a moment, you may find that all along, you’ve been carrying the clues to what you were created to do inside you.
The dreams God spoke into your heart when you were a child. The activities that make you feel truly alive. The people that your heart inexplicably breaks for. Pay attention to those things. They aren’t accidents.
4. Follow love.
God is love, and His greatest command is to love. Your calling will not be separate from love.
Loving isn’t easy. It’s not always a joyful choice. Loving involves sacrifice, patience, and endurance. It is not for the faint-hearted.
But love is also what carries us forward, for we have been loved first. Millions of years before we were born, God thought of us and treasured us. So no matter where you are in the process, no matter what you feel like you have or have not accomplished, His love for you is greater than you could imagine. Keep on following that love. It will not fail you.
Have you wrestled with discerning your calling? What has given you clarity along your journey? Have you tried trial and error? How did that work out? I love hearing your thoughts and stories––feel free to add to the conversation in the comments section below!
**This is the Part 2 in the series Purpose & Potential.
Part 1: Purpose & Potential: Caught up in the Millennial Race to Relevance
Part 3: Purpose & Potential: In the In-Between
Part 4: Purpose & Potential: Living in Freedom**