by Alastair Sterne
March 23, 2015
6 min read
Can we admit that when Christians talk about calling it can carry a lot of baggage? Surely we have all asked, “What’s my calling?” We can feel a lot of pressure to figure it out. It can be a confusing process. It can carry a lot of worry and fear. “What if I miss the call? What if I do the wrong thing?” It can also invoke a lot of guilt and shame. You look to others and think “It must be nice to know your calling. Why don’t I know my calling? What’s wrong with me?” Or it can just be down right frustrating and disheartening because you have no sense of what God wants for you — God seems silent on the matter. Or maybe you feel no sense of call in the work that you are doing — it feels mundane and meaningless.
If God is calling, many of us are still waiting for the phone to ring.
When it comes to calling, the book of Jonah is a good place to go. Jonah reminds us that our primary calling is always to God. God has called us to himself. And even when God calls us to a specific thing or task, it is always going to be an expression of who he is. God calling Jonah to leave the comfort and safety of his homeland Israel to go to Ninevah is consistent with who he is. God’s call on Jonah’s life is an expression of God’s passion for the nations, his passion for cities, his passion for the world to be restored to him.
Sometimes God’s calling is explicit. I’m not denying that this happens for people. It happens to Jonah. Yet I don’t think it’s the normative experience of most Christians. We have to resist wanting to make every single passage in Scripture directly applicable to us. Just because certain men and women throughout history have had tangible callings doesn’t mean that it’s God’s default approach to every person. And let’s not forget, there are many people mentioned by name in Scripture with zero mention of their calling.
More often than not, God’s calling isn’t explicit. And when God is silent on the matter of what we should do with our lives — our calling — I don’t think we should automatically interpret that silence as a negative thing. I think it’s permission. God is giving us freedom to decide. Perhaps God is asking us a liberating question, “What do you want to do?” Based on what you know of God, what you know of yourself, what others affirm in you, the needs you see in the world, the passions you carry: what do you want to do? You see, no matter what it is you do — whatever it is! — you’ll do it in light of your primary calling to follow God and his ways.
God doesn’t want us to have needless existential crises in trying to discern our callings.
God doesn’t want us to have needless existential crises in trying to discern our callings. We may actually have many different expressions of our calling in our lives. We may do something for a season, and then move on to another thing, only to move on to yet another thing down the road. We may even get it wrong at times. We may even run from the calling God does have for us.
But here’s where Jonah really helps us. God calls him. But he runs and flees. Not only is he not interested in the task, but he’s not interested in what the task says about who God is. When he can flee no further, he ends up in the belly of a great fish — which to Jonah is the belly of Sheol. And it’s there he prays a confession-less, narcissistic prayer simply to escape his circumstances. In Jonah 3:1, we read these stunning words, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.”
What can we conclude?
The calling isn’t off the table even though Jonah ran from it. It’s not off the table even though Jonah attempted to head 2500 miles in the opposite direction. It’s not off the table even though Jonah hasn’t yet repented. It’s not off the table even though Jonah isn’t fully ready to embrace what the calling says about who God is. And even more importantly, there isn’t a single word from God about everything that’s gone down. He doesn’t heap on shame upon Jonah for fleeing. He doesn’t recount all his mistakes. God simply offers the call, the same call, a second time.
We don’t have to worry about missing our call. We don’t have to worry that we’re settling for plan B or C or D or Z when it comes to God’s call for our lives. Jonah is offered God’s ‘Plan A’ a second time. It’s the same call. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it” (Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-2). Do you think Jonah’s flight took God by surprise? Of course not. Our confusion, our indecision, even our blatant running from God doesn’t thwart God’s plans. In fact, God can use these things to prime us for growth in our calling to him. Everything that Jonah has gone through has prepared him to walk more fully in God’s calling.
We’re always called to a people and a place. Think about Jesus. His call to proclaim the gospel — the kingdom of God at hand! — brought him to people and places. He went to people like Peter, John, Matthew, Bartimaeus, Zacheus, Mary, Martha, Jairus. He went to places like Galilee, Samaria, Caesarea, Jericho, Jerusalem.
The people and place God calls us to aren’t a ‘project’ ether. Because we’ve never locked eyes with someone that God does not love. And we’ve never set foot somewhere where Christ isn’t crying out for it’s renewal.
Your people might be your coworkers, your place might be your office space. Your people might be your students, your place might be a school. Your people might be the sick, your place might be a hospital. Your people might be your family, your place might be your home. And on and on we can go. But the common thread is the way in which we all follow Jesus into the places and people in our lives. Your primary calling to follow Jesus is never put on pause. And that calling goes with us into every place and every person in our lives.
So the next time you fretingly ask yourself “What’s my calling?” just remember Jesus’ words, “Follow me.”