“Calling” can be such a daunting, pressurizing word nowadays, and it can feel like the questions that we’re constantly being asked, or asking of ourselves, sound a lot like: what is your life’s calling; what do you feel called to do; and to what, whom, and where are you being called? We spend so much time trying to figure out just what in the world our calling might be, asking God to reveal the things He wants us to do, searching our hearts to recognize our gifts and passions, and then attempting to piece it all together into something that maybe — just maybe — reflects what we should be doing with our lives. But what if the idea of “calling” is much more simple than we think? What if it has less to do with what we do and more to do with who we are in Jesus and where He has placed us? I am not an expert by any means, but if there is anything that I’ve learned in my almost thirty years of life, it is that we are really good at complicating the things of God. I have come to believe that the whole idea of calling is really quite simple, because if we look into Scripture, there are really only a few things that we are all called to do: to love God, to seek Him with all of our hearts, to love our neighbors, and to make disciples. I believe that this is our general call as believers, and regardless of what we do with our lives vocationally, these are first and arguably most important things that we are called to do.
Calling vs. Vocation
I do think that some people have a very specific call over their lives that can coincide with their vocation. I also think that this is one of the biggest misconceptions: that your vocation or day job has to be the same as your calling. Some of us may feel led to work in church ministry, go into long-term missions, or become foster parents. I have friends who do all of these things, and they are living examples of people who are trusting God every day to fulfill their needs and help them to love others like Jesus loves; they are living out their callings. I also have friends who are medical professionals, accountants, administrative professionals, and stay-at-home parents, and guess what? They are living examples of people who are trusting God every day to fulfill their needs and help them to love others like Jesus loves. They, too, are living out their callings, because the truth is that — more often than not — our callings extend beyond our vocations.
The truth is that your calling isn’t always tied to the actions of your day job, nor is it always tied to your financial stability. Maybe your vocation doesn’t feel holy, but it can give you the opportunity to love others who might not know Jesus. Or maybe it just helps to pay the bills, but gives you the time and the space to live out your call in another way, whether that means volunteering at your church, creating beautiful pieces of art or working on that book you’ve always wanted to write, or spending more time with your family. Do you see what I mean about how much we’ve complicated this calling thing? It’s much bigger than just what we do during the week; it’s about how we manage the things we’ve been given, be it a job, a dream, or our lives as a whole.
Truthfully, I do not know what my specific “calling” is, nor what I should be doing with my life vocationally, but I do know my general call: to love God first, love who He made me to be, and then love others out of the overflow. When I have prayed for specific things “to do” in the past, God has done a few things. First, He has revealed to or reminded me of some of the ways in which He has gifted me or the desires He’s put on my heart. Then, I have felt a nudge to do something that, at the moment, seemed crazy and “so unlike me,” such as moving across the country or quitting my job to travel. From there, I prayed a lot and sought the advice and counsel of those whose opinions I trust and who are in tune with God. And lastly, I would find myself saying yes to whatever that thing was, taking one step at a time, and watching Him provide along the way. The thing is that our relationships with God all look different because He made each us of uniquely, so the way that I hear from and respond to God may look different than it does in your life, but this is how He has and continues to lead me. And the truth is that all of my craziest adventures have been birthed out of a dream or “call” to do something big and beyond my control. You may be wondering: how have I known that they were from God? Because, to me, they seemed crazy, irresponsible, and — oftentimes — impossible. And in the midst of all of the reasons I believed it shouldn’t work, I said yes to Him anyway.
Working Out Your Calling
If you are in a place where you kind of, sort of know what you are being led to do or where He is calling you to go, I want to give you three pieces of advice:
First, do it scared. Don’t let fear keep you from stepping fully into what He has for you. Something I’ve learned, and where I have seen Him come through time and time again, is that the best place we can possibly be is the space where we are both excited and a bit scared. I like to call this the “sweet spot,” because it’s where something is being ignited in our hearts, but we know that we can’t possibly do it on our own. It means God has to come through for it to work out, and He loves to come through, because it is there that He gets the most glory. The Bible says, more than anything else, “do not fear” He has been faithful before, so why would that change? The truth is that it won’t because He won’t. He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). If our dreams are truly from Him, we have no reason to be fearful, because He who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). You need not be anxious, and you certainly don’t have to have it all together before stepping into a new thing with God, because He goes before you and has had all of the details worked out long before you even knew it would happen.
Second — and this one is hard — try not to concern yourself with what others might think. If I’ve learned anything about following Him, it’s that sometimes our God-given dreams or calls can make very little sense, especially in a culture where there are expectations of what our lives as adults “should” look like. Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Have babies. Buy a house. Save for retirement. Etc, etc. etc. Here’s the thing: this order of life events is not outlined in the Bible, especially not for every individual person to do the same thing in the same order. That would be pretty boring, right? When you look at some of the things He asked His people to do, like walk through a current of raging waters, march around a city wall seven times blowing trumpets, or lead a ragtag group of disciples . . . most of the time, it didn’t make a lot of sense. So why do we subscribe to the idea that our lives have to look a certain way? When we let loose of cultural expectations — even church-related expectations — and concern ourselves first with what He is asking of us, we will step into new and amazing things . . . and sometimes people just won’t get it. And that’s okay! If I can assure you in any way from my own experience, know that you will find that those who are truly close to God will be supportive and encouraging of you stepping out in faith.
Third, don’t be worried about taking the wrong step or getting it all wrong, because when you’re walking with Jesus in obedience, you really can’t. Stay close to His heart, seek His presence, pray continually, and take one step at a time. He will be faithful to lead you and guide you, and even to let you question and doubt in a safe space. Working out our callings can be beautiful and challenging, full of growth as we mature in our faith, and I really do believe that He loves it when we say yes to Him in spite of the unknown. Doing so can bring us to a place of truly believing that He is enough, and He will faithfully bring us into the things that He has declared over our lives. When we know and follow Jesus — the ultimate leader — we can be sure that are heading in the right direction, no matter where we go.
Be Where You Are
This last wee season of my life has been the most interesting one, as I recently spent over four months solo traveling around Europe, all the while praying and asking God to reveal what He wants me to do with this life He’s given me. While I do believe He graciously gave me a vision for what is t come, there haven’t necessarily been a clear set of directions. I have, however, learned a very big lesson: that sometimes we set off on a grand adventure hoping for a revelation or clarity over our calling, but maybe what or where we are supposed to be is as simple as profound as being fully present right where we are.
Friends, I want to encourage you in all of the many callings that God has over your life. First, remember that He is a good Father who has the best in store for you. Remember that we all have a general calling: to love God, to love who He created us to be, to love others, and to make disciples. From there, our first desire should be deeper intimacy and relationship with Him, and it is in that place that He will begin to reveal some of the more specific calls He has for us — whether they tie into our vocation or not. And then, remember to say yes. Say yes to the hard things, say yes to the scary things, and say yes to the unknown. Trust Him in the midst of it all… and then watch what He does.
This post originally appeared in print in The Bud Co. Sow + Dew Volume 4: Called.