Those who have grown up within Christendom, as a whole, have an almost existential view of what we have simply entitled "the call." When I was a child, that phrase was used in only two ways: to describe the call of God to either the pastorate, or the mission field, and for years there has existed the unchallenged assumption that a "calling," to the ministerial profession somehow carries greater redemptive import than any other sense of purpose one might feel. Yet this weekend I have been challenged afresh to the fact that the most significant portion of my purpose for being here may actually have little if anything to do with what I do for a living.
This is a challenge that must continually be raised, especially to men, who so often define themselves solely in terms of their profession. Yet there is a greater purpose for us than simply acheiving an education, getting a job, and supporting a family, and that purpose, unique to each of us, can rightly be referred to as a "calling." For example, Paul's sermon in Antioch, recorded in Acts 13, points to King David as an example of a man who understood and fulfilled his true calling. Though this calling was connected in many ways to his kingly function, his role as King of Israel did not swallow his identity, but instead enhanced who he really was. The result is that, in spite of a few serious moral setbacks, David's legacy is one toward which every man should strive. Listen to how this legacy is described in Acts 13:36:
For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was buried with his fathers and underwent decay.
That's powerful! And it's powerful because it gives us a picture of what a true calling looks like. True calling transcends my profession. True calling can be accomplished regardless of what I do to pay the bills. True calling is something I can accomplish even if I'm incapacitated. And true calling is what gives me my ultimate sense of worth, because it explains why God created me. And let's be honest, none of us have any worth, let alone any purpose, apart from our Creator!
Your Calling is Connected to Your Creator. Notice that Paul places enormous significance on the fact that David served "the purpose of God." Apart from a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, we will never serve our intended purpose in this world. So many today strive for greatness, fame, riches, and a thousand other things that are in no way connected to why God placed us here. Our calling in life doesn't begin with our education, our profession, or our affluence. It begins with our Creator.
Your Calling is Connected to Your Context. Paul makes note of the fact that David served "in his own generation." In 14 years of ministry, I have often had conversations with individuals who have made statements such as "If only I had enjoyed a better childhood," or "If only I had been able to get a better education," or "If only I had been hired instead of that other guy." In essence, each of these statements can be expressed in the same way: "If only God knew what He was doing." The truth is that God has placed each of us where we are for a reason and purpose. Later in Acts, Paul will tell the Athenian philosophers that it is God who decides not only our purpose, but the place, time, and circumstances in which we will fulfill that purpose.
From one man he has made every nation of men to live all over the earth, and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. (Acts 17:26, HCSB)
So often we see the painful experiences of our past as things to avoid, when God intends for them to be learning experiences for us. This weekend I was challenged to list significant events, people, and circumstances in my life on a personal timeline, and to mark those things which were painful in pink. I think it no coincidence that by the end of my experiences, I realized that the moments, people, and events that have benefited me the most in a long term sense were those "pink" moments, people and events. In short, God intended our past experiences and our present context, and He means to accomplish His purposes in us through that context.
Followers of Jesus Christ, whether they are pastors, missionaries, engineers, physicians, mechanics, carpenters, or homemakers, need to be aware of God's greater calling on their lives. Each should know why they exist, what God wants them to accomplish, and what the results will look like if they are obedient to God's call. This is especially true for men, who so often miss the call of God because they are so focused on a career. Ironically enough, this is probably most true for those of us in ministry.
So I want to share some very personal things with the readership out there. This is a new thing for me, and I'm normally not this open in this public a venue. But I feel it neccesary to share with you an example of what this greater calling looks like. Charles Spurgeon once said that many a man has "missed his true calling and somehow stumbled into a pulpit." Similiarly, I think it is possible to serve with distinction and honor as a pastor over God's people, but miss the greater call on one's life because of professional myopia. My profession is what I do, and I love it, but I am not my profession, and this weekend's retreat* and time of reflection have reminded me of that fact. I challenge you to reflect during your time with God on His purpose for you, and develop a personal (as opposed to professional) vision that describes what will be accomplished should you be successful in fulfilling God's greater calling. But there are a few things of which you must be aware as you do this:
Will your aspirations be halted if you somehow lose your job? If so, then what you describe is a career, but not God's call. (Even if you are a pastor, this principle still applies)
Will your vision be accomplished even if you are physically incapacitated? If not, then what you describe is ambition, but not calling.
Below is the truest description of God's call for me:
I exist to display the majesty of God, the power of His Gospel, and the immanence of His Kingdom through my relationships with God, my family and the world God created. If this purposeful calling that God has placed on my life is obediently fulfilled, the following will result:
-My wife will become more like Jesus Christ by my leadership in our home, and will influence our children, and other women around her in the same vein.
-My sons will become Godly men who lead with confident humility in their homes, their churches, and their places of profession, and will influence others around them toward submission to Jesus Christ.
-Many disciples of Jesus will be produced and equipped to impact their spheres of influence so that as a result, the businesses where they work and the schools where they teach will come under the Lordship of Christ.
-My church, and other churches I may have influence with, will assume a missional mindset, seeing everything through the lens of making Christ known where He is not known.
-God will be worshipped more deeply and profoundly by me, and those around me.
A personal vision like this is freeing, because all that is required for it to be accomplished is that I be alive, and that I be obedient. It doesn't require that I ascend to a place of prominence in my denomination. It doesn't even require that I stay in "professional" ministry.
But it does require clarity of calling. And to acheive clarity, we have to somehow get rid of the idea that "calling" is some mystical and unattainable thing outside of a specific call to ministry. Everyone is called, and the calling to be a carpenter is no less significant than the call to be a pastor. The establishment of personal vision is empowering because it allows one to see beyond career and professional acheivement to something much greater. God has good plans for His people, and while those plans certainly include what I will do to pay the bills, they are not defined by such things.
Acts 13:36 is actually a eulogy of sorts, and what a complimentary eulogy it is! What greater thing could be said of us in death than that "he accomplished the purpose of God in his own generation"? May God grant that this statement could honestly be written on all of our tombstones!
*The retreat my wife and I attended this weekend was called Focused Living, sponsored by ChurchSmart Resources and Church Resource Ministries. For more information, you can find them on the web at www.crmnet.org.