Do we all have a calling? And is it possible to miss the call?
… Um, God, I’m just waiting for an important call, can you come back another time?
Getting ‘the call’—particularly to a life of officership—is part of our Salvation Army narrative. In writing for War Cry, I’ve often been astounded at some of the miraculous stories of calling—one Fijian officer was literally running out into an open field, when he heard the call to officership, kneeled down and dedicated himself to God’s service.
Many hear the call at a church meeting—they describe their heart thumping and the deep knowledge that this is what they are meant to do. These are real and authentic experiences that many officers say encourage them during the darker times.
But it does beg the question: Is everyone called? And what if you don’t get that so-called ‘lightning bolt from the sky’—does that mean you have missed your calling? While we’re waiting for ‘the call’, God may be knocking on the door of our heart in unexpected ways.
In the church, we have been guilty of elevating our spiritual lives above the rest—what is sometimes called the sacred/secular divide. We tend to call church positions ‘a calling’, but not—for example—working in the accounts department.
Os Guinness, in his seminal book The Call, describes how the ‘gifting questionnaires’ popular in churches focus only on ‘spiritual gifts’, not ‘natural gifts’. This means the larger focus is on serving the church, rather than serving the wider world through a range of skills and abilities. In this way, the church is being quite self-serving.
But one of the biggest issues with the narrative of calling, is that it is a luxury of wealthy societies. You have to have choices to be able to follow a calling, and most humans don’t have that much choice—they work in factories, rice fields, coffee plantations, and so on. Even within our local church, the majority of people are probably working jobs where their main goal is simply to provide for their family—does this mean they have missed their calling?
Paul, in the Bible, provides us with a great case study. He made his living as a tentmaker. Yet he is not known for making tents. He is known for being the apostle to the Gentiles, the first Christian theologian, and author of much of the New Testament. Our calling is surely much more than what we do for a living.
When we talk about our calling, there is a deeper question that lies at its heart: Who am I? and, Why am I here? Self-styled answers to these questions are found everywhere—from magazines to wellbeing workshops. Innately, we know we are important, says Guinness, ‘but we sense a deep insufficiency in [these] answers … They don’t explain what to each of us is the heart of our yearning—to know why we are each unique, utterly exceptional, and therefore significant as human beings.’
The answer to our question is that we are called—into a deep humanity by our great Caller. God is not a cosmic employment agency, finding us the perfect job to match our gifts. Instead, our gifts are part of the way in which we uniquely reflect God. And like a shard of glass, reflecting the prism that is God’s light, there are endless ways we can do this. We reflect God in any and every way we can—using our strengths and gifts; sometimes even using our weaknesses. Our central gifting is not the core of our being. God is the core of our being. Guinness sums it up like this: ‘Instead of “you are what you do”, calling says: “Do what you are”.’
It’s a weird dichotomy that by discovering God at the centre of our identity, we discover our true selves. ‘The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become,’ says CS Lewis. ‘It is no good trying to “be myself” without [God]. The more I resist him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires.’
Trying to find ourselves without Christ leads to the empty answers that Guinness talks about: Self help! The latest diet! Anti-aging creams! Making money! Being somebody! These are all damn hard work, and ultimately empty.
But one of Paul’s great exclamations is that, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!’ (Galations 5:1). In Christ we find ourselves—free from the tyranny of expectation and comparison. We are free to love others, to seek justice, and be authentic. This is hard to do, but it’s not hard work—because it adds richness and depth to our lives.
I’ve heard it said that if you want to know your calling, look at what you’ve been doing for the last 10 years. You’re probably already living out your calling, because that’s just who you are.
We need not fear that we can miss God’s calling. We are not asked to follow a prepared script. ‘Humanness is a response to God’s calling … responding to the call means rising to the challenge, but in a conversation and in a partnership—and in an intimate relationship between the called and the Caller,’ says Guinness.
God has given us a whole world to explore. We can understand what God wills for us within the rich tapestry of the Bible—which distilled to its simplest form, is to love God and love others. He has gifted each one of us with unique traits and strengths, with which we can do this. He has challenged us with weaknesses. With all this, we get to play.
And because God is intimately involved in our lives, he does speak with us. For the few, it may be a ‘lightning bolt’ experience—as some Salvation Army officers deeply experience.
But for most of us, it’s a sense of what we find both enjoyable and meaningful. Two of the most helpful questions we can ask ourselves, when discerning God’s direction, is: Does this reflect the values of God? and, Does this sound like fun?
We are given an opportunity—in partnership with God we step into it.
We discover that this ‘feels like me’ … We are unravelling our calling—whether it is in our vocation, in our relationships or through other skills we can offer.
Cadet Ivo Pyper, corps leader at Upper Hutt, says he did not sense a ‘call’ to officership: ‘It was more of a feeling that I didn’t want to look back at the age of 65 and think, “I should have done that”’. In stepping out and ‘giving it a go’, Ivo is on a journey, discovering that officership is part of his calling as a human being.
We do not all get to have jobs where we feel our deepest selves come alive—a feeling we usually label ‘a calling’. But we are all called. In Christ, we all get to discover our deepest selves.
(c) 'War Cry' magazine, 2 June 2018, pp20-21. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.