How to Find My Calling
How to Find My Calling
General Life Advice Article #3
How to Find My Calling, Step #1: Secure a biblical understanding of what a calling is
What is a calling?* I’ve always liked the practical definition that Gary North uses. He says a calling is “the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace.” In other words, a person’s calling refers to something that they do (and usually it’s not for money) that serves others and that creates lasting value. When a person discovers their calling, they have found their purpose in life.
It’s unfortunate that many people never consider the topic at hand and therefore fail to operate in terms of their calling. The result is a perpetual sense of aimlessness where they wander from one thing to another without any idea of where their life is headed. They either end up perpetually frustrated or settle for comfortable stagnation. And it is even more unfortunate that, even though a call is a biblical idea, very few modern Christians live in terms of this doctrine. That is, they do not think about how they—as Christians—are called to serve their neighbors by providing uniquely Christian service to everyone. In short, they do not think biblically about their calling and how it animates what they do. Those who do think biblically about their calling find the most satisfaction in life because what they do aligns all the more closely with the Creator’s design.
In general, your calling incorporates your unique talents, passions and abilities and applies them to your unique contextual location. Of course, for the Christian, your calling is even more specific. With the recognition that human beings are made for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7), a calling answers how you specifically will glorify the Lord by what you do during your season on Earth. Now, let us be mindful that a calling does not necessarily imply “work” or a “job” under the domain of the church or within the sphere of religion. It matters little where you practice your calling; it matters much what you do and (more importantly) how you do it. Accordingly, a calling can be to preach and teach as a pastor; it can also be to work as a physician, to volunteer to train others in a foreign country, to make furniture or to raise children.
Looking in the Bible, what we find is people who were doing one thing, and then God draws them out into their calling. For example, Saul, the man who would become the apostle Paul, was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. On his way there, he met Jesus and subsequently was struck with blindness. It is then that the Lord sent Ananias to minister to Saul. In Acts 9:15-16, the text says:
But the Lord said to [Ananias], “Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer in behalf of My name.
What the text tells us here is that Paul’s calling was to be an apostle to the Gentiles; he was a special messenger sent by God to tell the non-Jewish world about Christ. The rest of the New Testament clarifies for us that Paul did this primarily by his missionary work and writing the bulk of the epistles.
Also consider the calling of Peter, James and John. Matthew 4:18-22 says:
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left the nets and followed him. As Jesus was going on from there he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee, and John his brother. They were in the boat with Zebedee their father mending their nets. He called them, and they immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.
That fishermen became fishers of men speaks to the principle that, in general, God usually prepares those whom he calls for their calling by first grooming them in a related field. For example, in the Old Testament, Moses had been a shepherd (of sheep) in the wilderness. Then what happened? He was called by God. To do what? To shepherd rebellious Hebrews in the wilderness. It’s also important not to miss that in these examples, God calls productive people out of their comfort zones into something that was not only disruptive but also permanently life-altering. The simple point to be made here is that there is often a distinction between a person’s job and their calling. The former earns a paycheck, is predictable and conventional and puts food on the table. A calling may put food on the table eventually, but how is not always precisely clear at the time of calling. There are few people whose job and calling are one in the same (e.g., pastors and seminary professors).
Now that I’ve established a rough idea of what a calling is, how do you go about clarifying yours?
How to Find My Calling, Step #2: Evaluate your interest(s) and talent(s) accurately
No one is called to do something kicking and screaming. Yes, they may often get tired and encounter difficulty in what they do, but they have an earnest interest that keeps them going. Their passion for their work fuels the fire that drives them for the long run. Passion and a purpose-driven calling go hand in hand, so when you do discover your calling, you will normally find it’s something you’re tremendously passionate about. Evaluate your interests, because you are called to do what you are already interested in.
Accordingly, the greater your interests are, the greater the reason for you to pursue those interests. It would not be wise to pursue something that you are not interested in, for this is not likely to be your calling. And the more specific your interests are, the more likely it is for that interest to become your calling. So, for example, if you are a great teacher, that is an asset, but the world is full of interchangeable great teachers. It’s a completely different ballgame if you are a great teacher with a specific interest: the history of warfare among Native American tribes prior to the 17th century.
Take out a blank piece of white paper. Draw two lines from top to bottom, creating three columns. At the top of the first column, write down “Interests.” Spend a few minutes and write down the top five things in life that you are interested in. An easy way to identify your interests would be to ask yourself a few questions such as, “What type of work appeals to me? What would I be willing to do for the remainder of my life? In what areas would I like to improve my skills if I had the opportunity?”
The next thing to do is to honestly assess what you’re good at: your talents, which include your skills and your capacities. Now, let’s be honest: you may have an interest in something but not be very talented in that interest, which means you must now spend the time to develop it. That simply means that working out your calling may require working on your calling before stepping into it. Of course, by “working on” your calling, I mean acquiring more education, developing skills and obtaining the wisdom of a mentor. Ironically, the more talented you are, the more difficult it is to clarify your calling, because you may potentially be able to do many things quite well. For the person who is really good in only one thing—and this is rare—reality has already helped them narrow their choices.
On your piece of paper, write “Talents” at the top of the second column. List five things that you do well. A simple way to generate this list is to ask yourself, “What do I do best?” You should also seek the input of others here: friends, family members, teachers and church leaders. You could even consider a professional testing service if you really get stuck. Include on this list things that you want to do well and don’t mind investing the time to develop.
It’s important that when you list your talents, you are as specific as possible. Remember, a calling is “the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace.” People who have general skills are easy to replace. People who have a very specific set of skills are hard to replace. Therefore, your calling is the unique sphere in which you operate where your skills and capacities would make it very difficult to replace you.
On the last column on the piece of paper, write down “Audience.” Who is it that you are going to serve in your calling? Who are you doing this for? Putting a face to your calling narrows the field of whom you will help and simplifies your selection process. For example, serving “the world” is a tall order, but serving overweight 13 to 19-year-old girls in the South Bronx is very manageable.
What I would recommend is spending serious time thinking about, evaluating and re-evaluating what you write down on your paper. The goal is to develop two or three potential callings. This exercise is not easy, but sincere effort will yield fruit in real life. It is crucial to take this exercise seriously and to be as precise as possible, because fuzzy answers will lead to a fuzzy calling, which will only leave you fuzzy. On the other hand, having clear, specific and concrete ideas will yield a precise calling, which will leave you encouraged and motivated with a clear sense of direction.
When you are done with this exercise, it’s time for the final step.
How to Find My Calling, Step #3: Discern what is the most important thing you can perform in which few can replace you
After you have filled in your paper and developed a few possible callings, how do you go about “cutting out the fat” to determine which one is your calling? The answer is, decide on the one in which you would be the hardest to replace. One thing that helps you to make that decision is to consider that you may not make any money in your calling, at least in the beginning, yet because your passion fuels your purpose, you are willing to work in your calling for free. This by itself makes you less and less replaceable, because you are not doing it for money—you are doing it for God’s glory in service to your fellow man. Therefore, it’s not the highest bid that wins, it’s the highest service.
You also want to choose something where you think you will be the most impactful; this means your ultimate calling may not utilize the thing you are most talented in, because the greatest need is for your lesser talents. Competition may also play a role. You want to do something where you can add value, not just offer what someone else is already doing (and may be doing a better job). Always remember that a calling is not about consumption, it’s about creation. In your calling, you are creating lasting value that other people can use in their lives and that other generations can use when you are long gone. A calling is never about what you can get or what you want in life; it is about what you will leave behind for others so that they can repeat the process. The ultimate example of this is Christ, who left this world with nothing and in turn gifted thousands of generations with the greatest gift imaginable: salvation.
After You Find Your Calling: Set Some Goals
In the end, after you settle on your calling (which may take days, weeks or months), you will wake up every single day with a sense of contentment, inner peace and joy, knowing that you can take concrete steps toward serving your Maker and those around you. But how will you serve? Where is your service going? To answer these questions, you must also have a set of goals. A calling is the fire that drives the engine; a goal tells you where you’re going.
You can set goals for one week, one month and one year. No one can define goals for you, but your calling will define the contours of your goals. The only “rule” for goal-making is that whatever you set out to do, you must finish. Success in anything begins with the commitment to do what you say you will do. It’s perfectly okay to stumble and to fall short when you set goals, but what separates those who excel from those who fall is that you get back up again, dust yourself off and keep on pursuing your goals in order to fulfill your calling.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal
*The concept of a calling in the Bible can be understood in a number of distinct ways. Throughout this article, when I refer to a “calling,” I am referring to a vocational call to all people; this calling relates to what people do. This is distinct from the callings that are involved in salvation: there is a general call to all people and then there is a special call to God’s elect. Precisely, a special (or effectual) call is a term used to describe a sequence in salvation where God calls people out of the darkness of unbelief and into the light of faith and union with Christ. The basis of an effectual call is God’s grace. You can’t “find” your own (effectual) call to salvation, but you can find your vocational call through self-examination, scrutiny and trial and error.
Furthermore, because every human being is called to do something in their life’s work, there is no ethical distinction between “religious” callings and secular ones—meaning, because God calls all people to do something, it behooves each person to do that thing as best they can. Hence, a competent pagan contractor who is diligent is acting godlier in his job than an incompetent and lazy church leader. The quality of work trumps the type of work.
If you need additional help finding your calling, speak with a WiseWord biblical counselor.