Growing up, we have grand dreams of adulthood — a vision of filling our days with things that bring us joy and fulfillment while allowing us to make a difference. Embracing a calling.
And then comes the shock of some realities of adulthood. Dishes pile up. We’re surrounded by mounds of dirty clothes that don’t fit in our “vision.” This vision also didn’t include investing money, sweat, and tears into an education just so we could work twelve-hour days before crashing into bed at night and doing it all over again the next day.
The word vocation comes from the root word vocare, which means “to call.” It is an accurate reflection of a deeply embedded human longing to be engaged in a vocation — in a work. Not just any work but one that calls us to something that transcends our individual existence. But what do we do when the sounds we are straining to hear are muffled by life’s messy layers?
Christian Olympian Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) has been attributed with declaring, “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure.” In a sense, calling is about discovering what makes us “feel God’s pleasure.”
When our culture talks about calling, it tends to be enveloped in mystical terms. In The Call, Os Guinness pulls back the veil shrouding this mystery by asking us to encounter calling in two parts. He invites us to first embrace a call reverberating throughout the world that is “by [Christ], to [Christ], and for [Christ].” He refers to this as our primary call. This call by, to, and for Christ puts the rest of our lives in context.
The primary call gives context to a secondary call. That is, in whatever position of life we find ourselves, “everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, and live and act entirely for him.” Within this context we muse about the concept of vocation and the specifics of the call unique to our individual lives.
Guinness emphasizes that to realize that powerful sense of calling, the primary call must remain primary. Putting the two together, he defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”
But that still leaves us with a practical question: How do I “hear” my secondary calling?
Calling as response
Let’s imagine how this would look played out on stage. Christ would be the main character. He calls people to come and join Him in acting out His story. Through all the noise, you hear that call and join Him on stage. So you have been called by Him, you have come to Him, and it is for Him as you join Him in acting out His story.
Christ does not call us to be the lead or even one of the supporting actors. He calls us to be chorus members — background storytellers who occasionally feel the warmth o0f the spotlight. In a musical production, the chorus is that group of unknown singers and dancers who fill the space and sound on the stage among the lead characters. The chorus’ job — their vocation — is to respond to the main character. They do this through rich, multi-layered harmonies and unique movements that amplify the play’s meaning.
Secondary calling, that vocation that makes you “feel God’s pleasure,” can be described as the unique harmonies and movements your body uses to respond to the story being played out on center stage. In that sense, vocational calling is more of a response to and interaction with God and His story. It is an embrace of His invitation to join Him in telling that story.
No one can come into contact with God’s story and not respond to it. Some people respond with indifference, others with outright rebellion. Still others respond with intrigue. To follow Christ, however, is to respond to and interact with God’s story in ways that reflect God’s heart.
So how does this response take shape in each sphere of my life?
Make it practical
At home: Home is the front line of Christian living and of Christian leadership and discipleship. Thus my husband and children have first priority. In addition to helping my family interact with life through the lens of the gospel, one way that my calling takes shape in our home is through homeschooling our four children.
At work: As dean of administration for Artios Christian College, I problem-solve and strategize about how to most effectively equip Christian leaders through our specific model of education.
In my congregation: As a worship leader and teacher, I invite people to encounter and respond to God’s story through both music and study.
In my community: Teaching classes for other homeschooled students in my community allows me to plant seeds for Christ-centered leadership within a new generation.
Make it personal
My response to Christ’s call isn’t going to look like yours. All these things fill me with delight, but I don’t expect them to fill you with delight. God designed each of us to respond to His story in unique ways. And our response can change as we progress through different seasons of life!
So put yourself in God’s story. Allow yourself to respond to it in whatever sphere you find yourself. But don’t get lost in your own response. Allow yourself to take in the beauty of the enormity of His story and the vast range of responses played out around you. Most of all, embrace that there is no greater delight than for God’s pleasure to become the source of your own.