Calling and guidance | Christian Vocations

Calling and guidance

How can I discern what God wants me to do with my life? Because there is confusing and often contradictory advice about ‘calling’ (and especially the ‘missionary call’), it can seem difficult and overwhelming to find a way through. Some people talk about a deep sense of personal call - perhaps a mystical experience or a 'voice from God'. Others have a very rational, logical approach of gathering information, praying and simply making a decision.  And there is everything in between!

So how should we approach this important subject? Four things to remember:

  • The primary image of calling in the Bible is the calling to follow Jesus. The living out of our personal gifts and abilities in such a way that God is glorified (our vocation) is secondary to that. Our jobs are not necessarily the most important aspect of our calling or our service in Christ’s work of redemption.
  • We are all different and God often works in different ways in our lives.
  • God's 'call' and guidance is not discovered in a 'vacuum'. As you think and pray these things through it is vital that you seek wisdom and advice from others who know you well, and particularly those whom God has given responsibility for your spiritual life - your local church leaders. Discernment is a corporate, not just an individual thing.
  • The consideration of calling - in terms of the work that we do - is often done from a position of privilege, and we would do well to remember that. Most people in the world do not have the luxury of choice - see Why we shoudn't be chasing our vocation for some healthy perspective on this.

Some helpful suggestions:

Tim Keller gives a 3 point approach. We can discern God’s calling when three factors come together for us: 

  • Affinity         (What human needs do I ‘vibrate’ to? What interests me? What are my passions?)
  • Ability          (What am I good at? What do people say I am effective in?)
  • Opportunity  (What doors for service are open? What needs to be done?)

Clarifying the Call by Christopher Ash answers the question How do I know that Christ has called me to "prayer and the ministry of the word"?  The most important principle to bear in mind is stewardship. Rather than asking what we want, we need to ask what gifts we have been given. So the question is not, ‘How do I discern whether I am called?' but rather ‘How may I discern what gifts have I been given?' 

  • Try it and others will tell you  - as you serve, so the fellowship in which you serve will see what you are gifted at and what you are no good at. The latter experience may be painful, but is usually a part of the process.
  • Church leaders will tell you – they will be looking for four qualities: a godly character, a clear gospel, the ability to teach, and a love for people
  • Conclusion: you are free to decide! - remember that the decision is yours before Christ. You must neither let yourself be pressured into pastoral ministry by pushy leaders nor dissuaded by worldly motives. Pray for purity of heart. Listen to wise leaders who know you. And then decide.

Bill Taylor (abridged, from Send Me! Your Journey to the Nations) encourages us to consider the different ways that God leads different people:

  • Path 1:  A few people really will have some kind of personalized call, vision, powerful encounter, or voice from the Lord.
  • Path 2:  Other friends tell me theirs is not a matter of a "personalized call" to missions. It's more a matter of obedience to God.
  • Path 3:  Still others find that they end up in missions after a serious evaluation of prime factors: deep commitment and obedience to Christ, plus a personal assessment of interests, gifts, experience, and dreams, combined with a heart of compassion for the lost and the poor, and an opportunity to serve and to make a difference in the world. These all converge to form a path into missions.
  • Path 4:  Some report that the prime factors leading them into missions were rather simple: a radical obedience to Christ that meant a willingness to do anything, go anywhere, pay any price, plus an identification of their gifts and others' needs.

Blogs, books, articles and other resources

Common Sense and the Will of God - "Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that God’s guidance will normally be through something spectacular or unique. Usually he guides us by simply letting us use our heads. The choice that makes sense is often the one God would have us do." A very helpful blog post by Bruce Waltke.

3 things your calling is not - your calling is not for you, your calling is not from you, your calling is not future tense. Excellent blog post from Ivan Mesa, the Gospel Coalition.

Have I been called? a helpful and practical short article from Frontiers.

Missionary Call: The Definitive Post - an excellent blog post from Eddie Arthur.

Calling & Vocation: Overview – a longer article from Theology of Work Project looking at issues such as types of God’s calling, discerning God’s guidance to a particular kind of work, the needs of the world, your skills and gifts, your truest desires and more.

Why we shouldn't be searching for our vocation - the idea of vocation can be deeply problemmatic. This helpful blog post from Christian Today offers some really important reminders about the place of work in our lives.

How Martin Luther transformed work: "With few exceptions, all vocations were a calling from God". A helpful blog post from Intersect.

The Call - an excellent short book by Trevor Archer and Paul Mallard giving wise, biblical and practical advice to those considering full-time Christian ministry. Offering twelve 'markers' to look for in a person called to ministry, and suggestions of next steps you could take on the journey.

Just Do Something - a short book by Kevin DeYoung offering "a liberating approach to finding God's will."

Options Coaching - are you needing to discover, determine, develop or resolve issues concerned with your calling and life of service and work? Options Coaching is a service provided by professional Christian coaches to help you find a way through.