A Higher Calling
What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Theologian Karl Barth once argued that the Christian spiritual journey featured three dimensions: justification, sanctification, and vocation.
As Christians, we are often fond of speaking about calling- we are called to perform tasks, assume responsibilities, or accomplish something by God. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this concept. On one hand, I feel comforted and empowered by it. To know that God has placed something on my heart and given me the will to achieve it is a powerful sentiment. On the other hand, I often fail to see how that is actually manifested in my life. I am a seminary graduate who doesn’t really do anything with his degree. In fact, in regards to purpose I feel more lost than I ever have before.
However, this wilderness experience has taught me a number of valuable lessons about myself and the nature of God’s activity in the world. A crucial lesson I’ve learned has been the distinction between a calling and a plan. You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage “You plan; God laughs.” There is a measure of truth to that. A plan is a set of achievable goals that we have determined based on our interests and desires. A purpose is a spiritual direction God has for your life. A calling is a mission, a quest God has appointed specifically for you.
Now here I caution you. It might sound like finding your calling will bring happiness but, the opposite might actually be closer to the truth. You will be joyful and fulfilled when you fulfill your calling, but you’ll also likely suffer. Consider Paul: he gave up his advancement into the ranks of the Pharisees by persecuting the church in order to follow the higher calling granted by God. He forsook a safe, successful life in order to risk his safety, his integrity, his health, and his sanity in order to follow Jesus. In his call-story in Acts 9, God promises Ananias that Paul will suffer much in His Name. Suffering may indeed be the only guarantee in a calling. That being said, our calling directs us to our chief end as human beings- to become fully alive in God and glorify God forever. The promise of peace is not one fulfilled in this life, but in the next.
We all start earnestly on one path, then find ourselves pursuing another. Hence, it is important to turn to God to find where the divine compass is pointing. Also, enlist friends in faith and mentors to explore your calling. A plan is formulated by an individual, but a calling is discovered through engagement with community. Live into this community and you will discover your purpose.
For all of you still seeking your calling, discerning God’s purpose for your lives, or just generally feel lost, I exhort you to take heart. God overcame the power of death and fills the abyss of meaninglessness that threatens to swallow us whole. Surely the same God will illuminate a way forward for you. I don’t speak out of a sense of certainty, but rather out of a sense of hope for myself and for all others in the wilderness with me.
Discussion Question Who is important to you in your call-story? What steps do you take to gain spiritual direction?
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