What is my calling? Where does God want me to serve Him? What are my gifts? These are all questions that Christian young people are asking. And these are good questions. The desire to follow in obedience is the natural response of someone who has had a saving encounter with Jesus. Romans 12:1 says that this is “true worship.” The old King James rendered this phrase “our reasonable service.” In other words, putting your “yes” on the table and asking God to send you is the right response to His gift of salvation.
But what does this look like? How do we know where, when, why, and how God might use us for His kingdom purposes? I think we can begin to discover this by shattering three myths about calling.
1. It’s all about me
I think it can be helpful for Christians to utilize personality profiles (enneagram anyone?) or to help us narrow down and think through the matrix of our backgrounds, unique talents, spiritual gifts, and other factors. At various points along the way, these kinds of tools have helped shape my life.
Yet, too much emphasis on these tools can become myopic and self-centered. Scripture tells us that while salvation is personal when we are regenerated, we are baptized into a body (1 Corinthians 12:13). Our story is part of the larger story of God’s mission in the world. Our spiritual gifts were not given to us for mere self-actualization, but to serve the people of God (Ephesians 4:12-16).
In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Frederick Beuchner wrote: “By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work that you need most to do and that the world most needs to have done. ... The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
This is why I believe the best way to discover our callings is not in a navel-gazing session on an idyllic mountaintop, though getting away for contemplation and prayer is important (Luke 5:16). The best place to know where God wants you in His mission is in community. Often it’s the observation of others that help us discover our giftedness. I remember the words of some mentors and friends in high school who urged me to go into pastoral ministry. They saw in me what I couldn’t quite see in myself. I’ve had the opportunity to affirm the gifts of others along the way.
So here are a few good diagnostic questions to ask yourself as you are praying and seeking wisdom for your future:
So yes, take the personality profiles and spiritual gift inventories, but then plunge into Christian community and see how these relationships help provide shape and form to the calling of God upon your life.
2. It’s all about money
When thinking about the future, it’s good and right to consider how your educational choices and early career decisions will impact your ability to provide for yourself and your family. The Bible tells us that “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7) and that one who is lazy and does not provide for his family is “worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). Making educational choices based on a career that will maximize earning power is an important aspect of wise decision making.
But your calling is more than your paycheck; your calling encompasses all your life. Some of your talents and gifts may be the very skills that an employer is looking for and will help you provide for your family. Some of your talents and skills may not help you earn a paycheck, but will help you be a good parent, a good church member, and a good member of your community.
This is why I think it’s important, especially when considering education, to think of all of your calling. In college, it’s very likely you will take courses that you will not use in your workplaces, such as philosophy, history, and literature. In a Christian college setting you’ll likely take courses in theology that may or may not directly relate to the work you do for a living. Yet it’s good and right for you to study areas that are not monetized because they are shaping the whole person. It’s good for Christians to be curious, to understand history and other topics, and to know Scripture and theology because these ideas help you better love God with your whole person: heart, soul, mind, and strength. Your worldview matters regardless of your career. And your mission is not less than what you do from nine to five, but it is certainly so much more. So when thinking of your calling, think of all you will do in the future: work, home, church, and community.
3. It’s all about now
When I talk to high school seniors or college students, I often detect anxiety about the future. I remember fretting in my twenties about “what I want to do with my life.” But while it’s important to plan and it’s good to dream, God often unfolds His calling to us in seasons. I look back on my life and am amazed at the way that God has led me to opportunities and places that I couldn’t have sketched out and envisioned when I was in my twenties.
Proverbs 3:5-6 really is true. If you commit your way to the Lord, He will direct your path. Often that is through a conversation, an opportunity or an internship. Make wise decisions through prayer and counsel, but don’t let the uncertainty about the future keep you from making decisions. You don’t have to sweat the “rest of your life.” A friend of mine often says, “You don’t need to know today what God wants you to be doing in ten years.” This is especially true when you are young.
That first job will likely not be glamorous or a dream job. It may be for low pay and with a less than desirable boss. But it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. It isn’t forever.
As a young adult, you’ll also likely, dabble in jobs and opportunities where you discover areas you are not good at and things you don’t particularly enjoy. This too can be a gift from God to help narrow your focus and shape your future.
If you are walking with God, His Word promises to be a “lamp for your feet and a light for your path” (Psalm 119:105). This kind of light gives you just enough to step forward in the darkness, not enough to see the entire winding trail. So discovering your calling today might just mean stepping forward so gingerly in faith while trusting the God of your tomorrows.