If you keep up with any Christian-focused magazines or blogs, or particularly if you’re a millennial and you read publications like Relevant magazine and the articles they post online, you’re probably familiar with the idea of finding your calling. In fact, if you go to Relevant’s website and do a search for that phrase, “finding your calling,” you’ll find several pages worth of articles related to the topic.
So what exactly is a calling?
The general sense of a calling is that it is the work you do that uses your gifts, concerns, and compassions to further the cause of Christ. For some people that means being a teacher of special needs students. For others, it could mean going into full-time ministry as a pastor or working for a non-profit that works to provide clean drinking water in Africa. And the list goes on. You probably get the sense that your calling is supposed to be something big, something larger than yourself and that requires vast resources of your time and energy, and you would be right. Whenever you pursue the work of God, it will always be bigger than yourself and it will never be easy.
This is not a blog about how to find your calling.
If you spend some time reading articles about finding or following your calling, however, you might begin to notice a trend that is somewhat problematic. Oftentimes – fairly frequently, actually – we tend to conflate our notions of calling and career. That is, we begin to think – or someone tells us to think – that our calling and our career are one and the same, that if the job we spend 40 hours or more a week working on isn’t in pursuit of our calling, then something isn’t clicking. There’s something wrong, and we need to try and fix it.
Is that really true, though?
For many people, whether you’re in your 20s or 50s or beyond, thinking like this makes life pretty stressful. It can easily throw a wrench into your plans, or make you begin to question the meaning, or even the validity, of your life. Should you be okay with your full-time retail job, or should you think about becoming a priest? You’re a great general contractor, but is that enough? Should you be doing something vaguely more than what you’re already doing?
Maybe. But probably not.
Here’s the thing – for most of us, our career and our calling are not going to be the same thing. In fact, many of us might find that we don’t even have a specific calling, like being a worship leader or building wells in Africa. And that’s ok. We can’t all be Mark Zuckerberg or Brian Houston or Blake Mycoskie, the visionaries or just generally the people who drop everything to pursue a singular vision. The reality is that there are plenty of other jobs that need to be done every day, and those are no less important than creating Facebook, or starting or working for a non-profit like TOMS Shoes.
You might be thinking, well, this doesn’t sound so great. Why should I accept that I’m not meant to do anything more than be a retail manager or an electrician? What we have to keep in mind, though, is that God doesn’t call us to a career – he calls us to Himself. When we give our lives to Christ, he calls us to two things – to love those around us (Matthew 22:37-40) and to share the Gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). As followers of Christ, this is our calling, and everything else is secondary.
For many people, it’s a struggle to live in that tension between the calling of Christ and what we feel to be our calling in life. And it’s true that it isn’t always easy. But here are a few ways to look at it.
Some people might find that it means planting a church in New Orleans, or going to work for an organization like Charity:Water. Maybe it means being a teacher, or a human rights lawyer. For the rest of us though, those of us who wind up working in retail or the food service industry or in a trade field, those areas that don’t typically get much respect, it can be as simple as doing our job with integrity and diligence, treating our co-workers and customers with kindness, and working with an attitude of gratitude – gratitude for having a job, for the ability to do it well, and the opportunity to share the example of Jesus through our actions.
But then you might be thinking, what about my spiritual gifts, the natural abilities God blessed me with? What am I supposed to do with those, if they aren’t part of my career?
Are you familiar with the idea of the “weekend warrior”? In general, the weekend warrior is someone who only does a certain activity in their spare time. One of the specific applications of this term is to musicians. Many musicians who start playing an instrument at a young age dream of one day doing it for a living, and probably being famous for it. What young drummer doesn’t want to one day be Neil Peart or Dave Grohl? What singer doesn’t dream about performing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden or writing a song as timeless as “Piano Man”?
We all know that this doesn’t happen very often. In fact, only a very small percentage of musicians are able to play music for a living, at any level. Many musicians have rock star dreams at 16 or 17, but then life happens – they go to college, or their interests change, they get married and start a family and pretty soon they’ve got a mortgage and about a million other obligations taking up their time. But the dream never dies, does it? After a while they might get together with some buddies and start a cover band, playing bar gigs or weddings on the weekends. Maybe they join a band and begin writing original songs, playing in small clubs on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s not exactly what they dreamed of doing when they were a teenager, but most weekend warriors are probably completely, totally happy to be able to play music on the weekend and give everything else to their family and their career during the week. Everything works in tandem, and a life is made.
Christians whose calling isn’t their career can adopt a similar approach as that of the weekend warrior. The majority of church worship bands aren’t made up of professional musicians, but of people who simply love playing music and are using that ability to lead others in worship once or twice a week. Many soup kitchens and homeless ministries run on the backs of volunteers, people who have a heart for those in need and who volunteer a few nights or a Saturday in service to a greater cause than watching Netflix. The point is, the church, the body of Christ, is largely made up of “weekend warriors” – those of us who love God, love people, and serve wherever and whenever we have the opportunity.
This might sound like a boring way to approach life, and it kind of is – it’s not adventurous in the manner of someone pursuing their calling in the plains of Africa, and it’s certainly not glamorous like the life of the church planter who winds up being the pastor to the world’s most famous actors and musicians. But the world needs ordinary Christians, and we shouldn’t see that as a bad thing. It’s natural to want our lives to look different, to be better, to want to do something that we enjoy, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t pursue those things. What we must remember, however, is that our true calling is to serve God, not ourselves. It looks different for everyone, but our common purpose is true and honorable. Our lives may look ordinary, but the One who gives us life is not – and that makes all the difference.