God's Call

December 27th, 2011

God Created You for a Purpose

When someone speaks about “God’s call,” he or she frequently means a lofty, divine encounter that leads a person to enter a life of service in the church, often as an ordained pastor. But in a deeper exploration, through a vast variety of biblical stories and in passages like Ephesians 4, it becomes clear that the meaning of God’s call is broader. God calls us to be fully alive—and in that living, to grow in faith, serve the church, and transform the world.

But how do we begin to define our call? According to theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” If you can discern what your greatest joy is and what you believe is a pressing need in our world, and then find where the two intersect, chances are you will begin to understand God’s calling in your life.

Defining Our Call

A call is unique for every person, but every call shares certain characteristics. A call is always personal and tailored to fit a person’s soul. It builds on one’s spiritual gifts; it usually feels urgent and persistent. A call is a response to a summons. It is a kind of surrendering. It is a challenge and a joy. Author C. S. Lewis wrote, “To follow the vocation does not mean happiness, but once it has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow.” Eric Liddell, an Olympic racer in the movie Chariots of Fire, summed up his call differently. “When I run,” he said, “I feel God’s pleasure.”

One’s call should not be mistaken for one’s job. A call is bigger than what we do for a living. It defines God’s intentions for our lives. Our job is a way of pursuing our call, but so are our hobbies, the things we do in our churches and communities, and the ways we interact with the world.

It is not uncommon for people to resist their call. Moses did; most people do. The most frequent excuse is, “I don’t have the resources, the ability, the time, or the courage to follow a calling.” But according to the Reverend Olu Brown, pastor of Impact Church in Atlanta, “What God envisions, God provisions.” God calls. God provides.

Stories of God’s Call

The Bible is brimming with call stories. God called Noah to build an ark. God called Abraham and Sarah when they were old to leave their home and go on a journey to found a nation. God called the boy Samuel out of a deep sleep. God called Esther, telling her she was made “for a moment like this” (Esther 4:14). God called Jonah, who turned out to be a reluctant prophet even after spending a few days in the belly of a fish. God called Mary, a teenage girl, to give birth to the Savior. God called Peter to be a rock upon which a church could be built. God called Paul on the road to Damascus and set him on a path that would transform the world.

Not all call stories are biblical. Fanny Crosby, a Methodist, was born in 1820 and became blind when she was six weeks old. As she grew, she depended on her grandmother, who described the beauty of the world to her and introduced her to the Bible. With the encouragement of a woman named Mrs. Hawley, with whom they both lived, Fanny began memorizing passages from the Scriptures, and the poetry of the book spoke to her. In school, she got in trouble for making up poems; but she could not stop herself. Fanny believed that God had placed a gift within her.

“I seem to have been led, little by little, toward my work; and I believe that the same fact will appear in the life of anyone who will cultivate such powers as God has given him, and then go on, bravely, quietly, but persistently, doing such work as comes to his hands,” she said. Crosby became a prolific poet, writing up to seven hymns a day. Her work includes “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” and “Blessed Assurance.” When she died at the age of 95, Crosby had written more than 8,000 hymns.

Pat Dirken, a member of Bethesda United Methodist Church in Maryland, also has a call story; but he believes it is still in the process of being written. Two years ago, Dirken was riding an ocean wave at the beach when a large wave crashed him into the shoreline, breaking his spinal cord and making him a quadriplegic.

Months of physical therapy and laboring to rebuild his life, while confined to a wheelchair that he operates with just his breath, have made Dirken a new man. His experiences have reinforced his belief that God answers prayers. But he could not quite make sense of why such a tragedy befell him—until his church introduced him to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Once a month, members of Bethesda United Methodist Church go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to provide lunch to military personnel who have been injured in the war in Afghanistan and their families. Dirken accompanied them and offered a friendly heart and a kindred spirit. He was able to talk to the men in a way no one else could. He had wisdom and faith to share. “It’s a God thing,” he said. “I feel called.”

A Cycle of God’s Call

While some people sense their calling like a lightning bolt sent straight from God, most go through a series of steps, a cycle of discernment and action. The steps of the cycle are:

  1. Revelation: When you get a clear glimpse of what God is calling you to be or do.
  2. Resistance: A phase filled with doubt and questions.
  3. Commission: God’s voice becomes clearer, and you feel compelled to respond.
  4. Partnership: A time when your call begins to fit into the church or other ministries, and your call becomes part of the community’s call.
  5. Service: You move into action, bringing God’s call to life.

This cycle recognizes that God gives each of us spiritual gifts to equip the church to do ministry. God has gifted us to make the world and the church better. God wants us to be a part of the body of Christ and enrich it with our presence. That is what God calls us to do. The point is to say yes to our own call and then to sound it in the community so that others may partner with us. They help us live out our call in practical and life-changing ways.

God’s call often asks us to let go of things that are comfortable to us in order to let something else come in their place. This is often no easy task. The threshold between what we know and what we intend to do can be large. But letting our call fall dormant and silent within us does not serve God or us. Some experienced spiritual directors would even say that some of the illness and “disease” in our lives comes from bottling up our call within us. A related tragedy might be that an unspoken and unanswered call leaves a hole in the world because of untapped possibilities. Sounding our call helps to create the space for the Spirit to bring about what God is intending in the world.

But the cycle of call does not stop with service. In different stages and places of our lives, God calls us to new things. Our call never ends. As Eugene Peterson writes about it in The Message, “Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!” (2 Corinthians 6:11-12).


This article is part of FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.

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