Most young adults ask themselves: What do I want to do with the rest of my life? If they have submitted their lives to God, then they also ask: What is God’s call on my life?
At some point in our lives, we have asked ourselves the same kinds of questions.
I just finished a book titled Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. It’s one of the most comprehensive studies on this topic I’ve ever read. I highlighted so many pages, in fact, that my husband finds of all my scribbles to be distracting. So I ordered another “clean” copy for him.
It’s a must read – even if you are no longer in those young, formative years. As Smith articulates, there are three major life transitions that we must learn to navigate with vocational integrity:
- From adolescence into early adulthood
- From early to mid-adulthood
- From mid-adulthood to our senior years
No matter which season of life you may find yourself in, it is worth reflecting on “where you’ve been” and “where you’re going” and then making those transitions with dignity and integrity.
I will explore these transitions in fuller detail in a later post, but first, I’d like to share a distinction that Smith makes between vocation and occupation.
The call of God on our lives can be understood in three distinct ways:
- The general call – the invitation to follow Jesus;
- The specific call – a vocation that is unique to a person; that individual’s mission in the world;
- The immediate responsibilities – those tasks or duties God calls us to today. (10)
The book Courage and Calling focuses on the second of these, namely, our specific call. Smith uses the word “calling or vocation – not as an occupation or ‘line of work,’ but something that nevertheless speaks of our engagement with the world in response to God” (11).
THE GENERAL CALL
If we look to the disciples, such as Peter and John, we can identify the general call happening in those moments when Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). But three years later, after much teaching and learning and growing, Jesus gave each of these disciples a specific call.
THE SPECIFIC CALL
While on the cross, Jesus commissioned John to care for Mary. Even though Jesus had younger brothers who would have customarily taken on this responsibility, Jesus wanted his mom in John’s care. This was a specific call to John (John 19:26,27).
Then, after the resurrection, Jesus instructed Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). And we know from the Book of Acts, that Peter carried out his specific call by preaching the Good News.
THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSIBILITIES
The disciples had regular responsibilities to tend to as well. Peter had a home and a family. And in the case of Paul, we know that he chose to make tents in order to support himself financially while he preached the Gospel.
From these examples, we understand that our specific call is in light of the general call. In other words, the general call comes first.
However, the nature of immediate responsibilities is most evident to me. I’m a stay-at-home mom; I have young children I am responsible for. My husband has responsibilities too. He goes to work every day to provide for our family.
So how can we make sense of a “specific call” in the midst of these daily tasks?
The life of John speaks to this question. While Peter and Paul traveled the known world preaching salvation, John was stuck at home on “mom duty.” So what did John do while he cared for Jesus’ mom? He led the church at Ephesus. Then he later wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles.
The whole time John carried out his specific assignment, God was doing a work in him. And it was through John that God gave us Revelation.
So if your life seems predictably ordinary to you, it is worth remembering that God seems to specialize in transforming the ordinary into extraordinary. As Gordon Smith says:
[W]hen we speak of calling we do so with the appreciation of the extraordinary potential of each person to make a difference for good. By this I do not mean that everyone needs to be a hero, but rather, in the midst of the simple ordinariness of everyday life, the work we do has the capacity to be good work that has profound worth and significance. (19)
Therefore, we needn’t ever worry that perhaps we “missed our calling” or that it’s “too late for us now.” As long as we are on this planet, God has a call on our lives.
In what ways have you discerned your calling?
How does your calling mesh with your everyday responsibilities?