If you're like most Christians, you probably think that you need to have a lightning bolt type of calling to consider moving overseas for a couple of years. I mean, that's radical, right? So, God must make his will clear to you by something equally as radical - like sending a light from heaven, or a whale to swallow you, or a booming voice from above, at the very least. Actually, that’s not always the case, and if that’s the only way you are looking for calling, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the clarity and confidence God can give you in your next steps.
In my own calling journey and in my role of helping others discover their own sense of calling I’ve learned a thing or two that actually flips the idea of calling on it’s head, and instead of struggling to discern God’s perfect will, has allowed myself and others to make next step decisions with clarity and confidence.
Before I go any further, I think it’s worth noting that everyone has a different understanding and definition of calling. For example, when some people are asking that question, they are really asking “what should be my specific vocation?” While others are really asking “what is my purpose in life?,” which could ultimately be satisfied in many different vocations. I think calling can be defined as…an understanding of where the Lord is leading you to steward your next steps in your life, career, and relationships.
Calling: An understanding of where the Lord is leading you to steward your next steps in your life, career, and relationships.
There are two instrumental parts to this definition. First, I believe calling is better defined as an understanding, not an experience. Some people do have a supernatural encounter that reveals God’s leading in their lives, but not all. These moments tend to make the best headlines - after all, we all love a good story! But, perhaps we’ve elevated the stories of people’s experiential callings so much that we now think it’s the only way to receive a calling.
We’re afraid to move forward in our own calling until we’ve experienced some goosebump worthy experience of our own. And when that doesn’t come, we feel lost.
The Bible actually reveals a richer understanding of calling by showing us many different types of calling. Just take Acts for example! In Acts 9 we see the radical calling of Paul through a blinding light and booming voice from the sky.
But we also see many other types of calling. Acts 13 shows us a “set apart” type of calling, where the elders of the church select the vocation of a few men as they receive wisdom from the Lord. In Acts 6, we see a “common sense” type of calling. When a need arose, it made sense to appoint someone to fill the need.
The Bible reveals calling can include “lightning bolt “moments, but it’s not exclusive to that. Experiences aren’t the only way to gain understanding. You can also gain understanding by focused study, personal introspection, wisdom of those around you, and recognizing needs.
Another important piece to this definition of calling is the word “steward.” Many times when we approach calling, it is all about us. What should I do, where should I go, the list goes on. But in order to have a true understanding of your calling, you must remember that your life is not your own! You’ve been bought with a price. (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God is the Creator, we are His creation, and we were created with a purpose - God’s purpose.
Paul says in Acts 20:24 “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Like Paul, when we think about this idea of calling, we should think about it in the perspective of stewardship. By definition, stewardship is overseeing something placed in your care by its owner for a purpose. When we consider what to do with our lives, careers, and relationships, we should really be asking - “how can I use my time, talents, and treasures given to me by God to further His purposes on earth.”
Flipping the concept of calling on its head
In my life and work with GoCorps, I’ve discovered one key shift in the way we think about calling that is simple, yet profound. This simple flips changes the idea of calling from some elusive ideal we’re always chasing but only the lucky few ever seem to grasp to an achievable understanding of who you are and how you fit into God’s plan.
The simple shift is this. People usually think calling is about looking forward, but it's actually about looking backward.
People usually think calling is about looking forward, but it’s actually about looking backward.
It’s a common mistake, because calling is usually about what’s next in life - decisions about future careers, places to live, opportunities to pursue. But news flash, none of us can tell the future! So of course that’s going to be frustrating and difficult!
If you are struggling to discern God’s will for your life, perhaps you’re feeling lost because you are focusing on looking forward. I think a better way to discern calling is to look backward. What does this look like? We should look backward at two things.
#1 - Back at God’s Word
If I were to ask you, “if you had a direct word from God about the purpose of your life, would that be enough to help you feel confident in your next step?” I imagine your answer would be a resounding yes! If only that would happen!
But many times we forget that we have the very Word of God in our hands. That’s what the Bible is - a direct revelation from God about who He is, who we are, and how we should live in light of those truths. Start to discern your calling by looking back at God's word. After all, who better to trust as the author of your life than the author of life itself!
Start to discern your calling by looking back at God's word. After all, who better to trust as the author of your life than the author of life itself!
A great place to begin is a collection of scripture that have come to be know as “the commission verses.” A commission is an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people. This is a title given to the group of verses that include Jesus’ words to His followers after His resurrection.
Picture this - you have been following a man who claims to have come from heaven to save the earth. You watched him die, and now he is alive again in front of you - proving that not only are the things he’s been saying true, but he actually has the power to accomplish it. He has a few more things to do and say before returning to heaven. Once he gives these final instructions, you then watch him display his unmatched power one more time by returning back to heaven.
Would you give weight to those words? Of course! Those words would become the most important thing in your life! That’s exactly what the five commission verses entail.
These five verses are the words of Jesus recorded in the four Gospels and Acts after his resurrection and before his return to heaven.
• Matthew 28:18-20 - “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
• Mark 16:15-16 - “15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
• Luke 24: 44-46 - 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for[c] the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
• John 20:20-21 - “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
• Acts 1:8 - “ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The main theme in all of these verses is being sent out to the world to proclaim the salvation ushered in by Jesus.
But did you know there is more? More than 1,600 verses in the Bible, from the Old to New Testament talk about God’s plan for the nations to repent and be saved.
• Genesis 12:1-3 - “Now the Lord said[a] to Abram, “Go from your country[b] and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[c]”
• Isaiah 49:5-6 - “And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says:“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.””
• Matthew 24:14 - “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
• Revelation 7:9-10 - “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Proclaiming salvation through Christ in all the world is not something the Bible merely speaks about – it is what the Bible is all about! It is the context that provides the backbone for God’s story and our story.
Since creation, God has been interested in redeeming all peoples to Himself. And the greatest injustice of our time is a spiritual one. More than two thousand years after Jesus gave His followers the command to go to those who have never heard the good news, there are still places in the world who have never heard this news.
As we look back at God’s word, and we realize that calling at its essence is more about an understanding than an experience, we can see that there is plenty to constitute a “call.”
#2 - Back at your life experiences
There are a lot of ways to be involved in God’s mission. So how do you gain a greater understanding of the specifics of how the Lord is leading you to steward the next steps in your life, career, and relationships?
A second part to this strategy of looking back vs. forward is to look back at your life experiences.
What has your journey been so far? How was he equipped, experienced, and gifted you? Note those things you’ve been through (the good and the bad), the things you enjoy, the things you do better than others, etc. These are all wonderful things to consider as you think about where He would have you invest your next steps. Simply put - "Whatever you're good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God." - JD Greer.
Simply put - “Whatever you’re good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.” - JD Greer
As you look back at your life experiences, here are some helpful questions to ask:
What have you studied? Less than 7% of the world has a bachelor’s degree. The degree you hold, or will soon hold, is an incredible gift the Lord has given you to steward. In Genesis 12:1-3, God reveals His purpose of blessing His people. He blesses them so that in turn the rest of the world will be blessed. Find an opportunity where you can steward your degree to bless the world around you.
What are your passions? What are the inner motivations that move you to take action? What are the things you’re interested in or close to your heart? Genesis 1:26 shows us that we were created in the image of God. As we follow Christ and are sanctified to look more like Him, some of the deepest yearnings of our heart represent part of God’s heart. That’s a great place to begin to see where God is leading you to invest.
What are your God given abilities, strengths, and natural talents? There is a reason why God has designed us all with different skills and abilities. It takes all of them to accomplish His mission. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Lean into the specific ways God has designed you, knowing that they are purposed for specific reasons prepared for you by God himself!
What are your learned abilities, that you’ve invested a lot of time into? You may have things you’re good at not because it came natural to you, but because you invested a lot of study or work. It’s only natural to want to make the most out of the things that you’ve sacrificed time and energy into. But instead of seeking how you can use these things to bring you recognition, comfort, or security, look for ways to use those learned skills or traits to bring glory to God and hope to other people.
If you’re having trouble answering some or all of these questions, ask those close to you. They might be able to point out passions, abilities, and gifts they recognize in you. The affirmation of respected others in your life is a great tool to help you gain more understanding of where the Lord is leading you to steward your next steps in your life, career, and relationships.
The Sweet Spot
Confidence in your calling is hard to come by if you are looking for direct revelation of the future. It’s not the way God has designed us to live! He wants us to live in daily dependence on Him and faithful obedience to His mission.
Finding your calling is about more than a specific location or opportunity. It’s a different way of seeing yourself and your degree and investing it into something that matters. It’s a posture of your heart, to go after God’s purposes more than your own. And it’s a decision you make daily to follow Christ and be a part of making His name known among the nations.
Kevin DeYoung, in his book on calling Just Do Something, writes “God is not a Magic 8-ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him.”
When you’ve looked back at God’s word and back at your life experiences, you can glean many tangible things to help you have confidence in God’s calling. Calling is the sweet spot where God's mission and your makeup align.
Calling is the sweet spot where God’s mission and your makeup align.
The opportunities to love and use your skills in the name of Jesus are vast. And our God told us to go, to bring tangible care and hope - across borders, over boundaries, through cultures – for the love of the world.
We have over 100 different opportunities for you to invest two years of your career in God’s global work. We connect with you a long term team and project to grow in your skill set, serve in community, and be mentored in living missionally. Take a look at our placement list and talk to a coach to find out more.