As we sipped our coffees at a local café, a student asked, “How do I know if that’s what God is calling me to?”
On another occasion, sitting in my office, a different student said, “I’m just not sure if this is God’s call.”
And during debrief time after a small group lesson, yet another student commented to the group, “God may call me back there one day, but for now I’m going to wait on him.”
The call of God.
“Calling,” for short.
A familiar topic of conversation and pastoral counsel for any youth minister. And, a decision-debilitating theme for the teenage and young adult demographics.
Christians love to talk about calling. Calling is made to sound like some intangible thing, something outside of ourselves that we miraculously receive when the time is right. It is made to sound like God’s one and only definitive will for our lives.
But…I’m not sure God works like that.
Calling and God’s Sovereignty
Calling is clearly linked to our understanding of how God operates in the world, his divine sovereignty and action.
Throughout scripture, we are told that God guides and is sovereign over everything. One explicit example occurs at the end of Genesis when we read of Joseph’s response to being sold into slavery. He tells his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
This truth is repeated throughout the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. In the New Testament this theme continues; Colossians 1:16-17 is a perfect example:
“For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.”
All of scripture illustrates God’s active involvement in the world and in our individual lives. God’s sovereignty impacts us, even when we’re unsure of what that impact is. As we seek guidance in what he is calling us to, we uphold his sovereignty and action. In essence, we acknowledge God’s hand in our calling.
Calling and Confusion
It’s easy to be confused about our calling because we live in an individualistic society that places a heavy emphasis on personal feeling.
We want to feel called.
We want to feel we’re in God’s will.
We want to feel we’re doing the right thing.
And who doesn’t want to feel called?
To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.
To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.
We have confused feeling with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.
Calling and Christ
Like me, you may have heard missionaries, or those who promote a cause, speak from the platform of your church. Regularly, the term calling is used as some sort of divine anointing while the rest of us sitting in the pew wonder when we might be called to something similar, something great. The way the term ‘calling’ is expressed often suggests there are Christians who are special and there are those who are not.
The point is, God has already called us, whether or not we feel that calling in a profound, emotional way.
In the New Testament the word ‘call’ is used 13 different ways. None of these uses, however, mean a specific feeling or a particular calling to a place or a people. Instead, the call of God revolves around two particular things.
First, the call of God is to follow Jesus. It is a call to discipleship.
Second, the call of God is to grow in godliness. It is a call to become more Christlike.
There is no third.
This is it.
Follow Jesus and, through the power of the holy spirit, seek to be more like him.
Just as we are reminded in Romans 8:29-30; God has called us to himself and is transforming us to be more and more like Jesus.
“For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”
Calling and Clarity
For me, this puts a line right through other ideas we might have about calling. We can follow Jesus and become more like him in different places and with different people across the globe. This doesn’t limit us; it provides us with unimaginable freedom.
Instead of thinking we need to wait for God’s call, we can know we’ve been given it already. We can rest assured that God has called us to himself, to follow him and be more like him.
This vision of calling also gives us a new sense of equality. We are called by God! We are in no greater or lesser position than the pastor of our church or the missionary we support. We are to be witnesses in the world as we follow Jesus and seek to be more like him.
The Scriptural view of calling also reveals that wherever we are, wherever we go, we are exactly where we’re meant to be. We are people called by God to the place we find ourselves in. There is no need to think about call in terms of a place and people group. We’re in it already. We can get going with being witnesses to Jesus right here, right now.
Understanding how the Bible teaches calling makes following Jesus tremendously freeing. We are free from expectation, from pressure, and from the fear of missing out. Instead, we are given freedom to follow Jesus through our passions, abilities, gifts, skills, and opportunities. As Kevin DeYoung helpfully says at the end of his book Just Do Something,
“…the end of the matter is this: Love for God. Obey the scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these thing, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (120).
How freeing is that!?
When a student (or anyone) seeks counsel in how to think through what they believe God is calling them to, help them understand the freedom they have in following Jesus and in being more like him.