How to Discover Your Calling
Yours may be a leadership call in business, education, government, community service, the Church, your family, your neighborhood, the arts, entertainment, media, or sports. No matter what your vocation, it is inevitable that there will come a time when you begin to doubt yourself and what God has called you to do. You will wonder if your work really is God-ordained or important in His Kingdom. If you are like me, you have gone through times of doubt as you struggled to find a sense of purpose in your life’s work. You may begin to doubt if you have a calling at all. Don’t despair! Rest assured that God is in the business of equipping and calling leaders. God will not call you to something He does not give you the grace to do.
God Gives You Talents and Gifts
If you are unsure what your call is right now, know that God has given you talents and gifts to help you figure out your calling. Aristotle said that “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, lies your calling.”1 But it is rarely that easy. Although you should use your talents and gifts to serve others, a calling is so much more.
First of all, let’s look at your talents. Your talents are those things God has deposited within you to excel, such as the following: public speaking, teaching, singing, mathematics, debate, accounting, writing, painting, cooking, interior design, working with children, sales, and many others. Your talents make certain types of work attractive to you. And because they represent natural skills you already have or can easily develop, you excel when you use them.
When David was anointed as the next king, you would have expected him to enter the royal court in some managerial or top-level capacity. But he did not. He gained entrance as a lowly harpist. God used his harp-playing skills to get him noticed in the king’s court. In the same way, you can look at your flair for public speaking or preaching, your love of writing, or your ability to work with figures and be assured that God can use and develop your talents which will eventually prepare you for your calling.
In addition to your talents, you also have God-given gifts! Your gifts are spiritual areas of life that God has blessed you with. “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well…”2 Your gifts may include teaching, service, preaching, encouragement, generosity, music, hospitality, and so on. No matter what the gift is, God is the source of the gift, and it equips you to fulfill His call. God has uniquely gifted you. Your call will take advantage of your strengths—those qualities and abilities He’s given you. He wants you to do great things—for His purpose, His Kingdom, and His pleasure. Since He is the Giver of all gifts, your success completely depends on His activity through you and your dependence upon Him.
How to Discover Your Calling
Just using your talents and gifts, however, does not mean you have been called by God. Your call is so much more than doing something you are good at.
How can you discover your calling? Your calling comes as a significant impression from God. You realize this call is the Holy Spirit working within you. It’s a conviction about what you are to do with your life at this particular time. It is something that feeds your passion. It is that unexplained, God-given desire deep in your soul that excites you whenever you think about it. Finding that “sweet spot” where your abilities and interests align with God’s purposes and intersect with the world’s needs is something many leaders long to achieve. Your calling is something you do because it gives you a sense of fulfillment of God’s plan for your life.
Most leaders know their calling involves more than one passion and more than one talent. One of my vocations is to write books. I am currently writing this book from Nairobi, Kenya. I took a break today between leadership meetings where I was serving as a consultant and a mentor, in order to write. And tomorrow I look forward to writing on my long plane trip home as I travel from Zurich, Switzerland, to WashingtonDulles Airport. I love to write! It is a passion of mine. It is that personal “sweet spot” for me.
Eric Liddle was a Scottish runner who competed in the 1924 Olympics. He had a calling as a missionary, but he also had a calling to run. When he was challenged by his sister to go immediately to serve as a missionary in China rather than competing in the Paris Olympics, Eric acknowledged that God made him for a purpose—to be a missionary, “…but he has made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”3 He knew that for this particular point in time, God had called him to run competitively.
God knows that if we are passionate and fulfilled in what we do, we will be cheerfully and unselfishly occupied in our work as co-laborers with Christ. The apostle Paul is an example of someone who discovered his God-given calling after using his talents in a very destructive manner. In the Book of Acts, Paul (then called Saul), was using his zeal, passion, and gift of teaching to persuade people not to follow God. In fact, he persecuted and imprisoned those who believed in Christ. But after he met Christ in a personal way and was filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul used those same gifts to help lead many people to Christ. In addition to using his natural talents and spiritual gifts, he had discovered his life’s calling.
God has a great redemptive plan for our lives. For example, an unscrupulous money manager who has swindled thousands of dollars from clients, when he is redeemed, will use his talent for allocating capital for clients in productive ways—helping rather than hurting them.
Know That You Are Called
God’s call comes to people in different ways. Biblical accounts of God’s call vary greatly. It would be so much easier if God called us all in the same predictable way. Instead, He expects us to be sensitive and obedient to His direction as He leads step by step.
Sometimes fellow Christians have an important role in confirming or correcting your perception of God’s call. Because everyone will not understand your response to God’s call, you should prayerfully listen to fellow believers who encourage or question your pursuit of a particular calling. God may be speaking through them.
The Bible records that most leaders were not seeking a position of leadership when God intervened in their lives and called them. Some leaders that God called did not think they could lead (Moses). Some leaders felt that other people would be better leaders. Yet if God calls us, whoever we are, we should be ready and willing to accept that call. In fact my personal observation is that God is glorified in using people whom the world perceives as weak or unlikely leaders. Take Peter, for example. In modern terms, he was a blue collar worker, an uneducated fisherman. He was not religious or part of the priesthood, and moreover, he often put his foot in his mouth and jumped to conclusions. Yet God used him in a major way!
As a leader, you must know you are called. Then you can say, along with Paul, the apostle, that you are “chosen by the will of God…” (1 Cor. 1:1) and “not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself…” (Gal. 1:1). For example, if you are a pastor, you have heard God’s call and have an inner conviction and desire to lead the family of God in your local church. This desire requires a passion and calling from God or you will want to give up when the task becomes difficult and demanding.
Seventeen years ago, I almost quit as the senior pastor of our church. My immaturity as a leader and my inability to communicate clearly the things that I felt God was showing me led to my frustration. After serving as a senior pastor for twelve years, I was ready to “throw in the towel.” I felt misunderstood, and I was not sure if it was worth all the hassle. I was frustrated, exhausted, and overworked. In a misguided attempt to try to please everyone, I was listening to dozens of voices that seemed to be giving conflicting advice and direction. I felt unable to get back on track. I was tired and was encouraged to take a sabbatical. It was during the sabbatical, spending time with God in the mountains, that I remembered the original call from God to lead this church. And the call had not changed! God never told me to quit! I went back to my original call from God and led our church through a transition to decentralize into eight churches and then start a family of churches scattered all over the world. Today, by the grace of God, I am extremely fulfilled in my call and role of leadership.
Be Secure in Your Calling
Paul knew he was called by God to be an apostle and that is why he did not seek to win the approval of men. “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Gal. 1:10). He was secure in his calling and encouraged others to know their individual calling as they lived a life of purpose and destiny. “…Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you” (Col. 4:17).
You must know that you are called by God to serve in a role of leadership. Otherwise, when the going gets tough, you will probably doubt yourself and question your decisions. Bear in mind, if someone talked you into a position of leadership, someone else can talk you out of it.
Like Paul, you must not only know you are called, you must be secure in the fact that you are loved and called by God to carry out the job He’s given you to do. Discovering who you are means you let go of the person that you, or others, think you are, and instead you strive to be who Jesus wants you to be.
Your Calling May Change
As you enter different stages in your life, your calling may change. Sometimes your primary calling in life changes due to the fact that your priorities have changed. Your primary career may no longer fit your needs—perhaps because you are taking care of aging parents. Other times your business has changed and a downturn in the market outlook alters your field and revenue no longer meets your needs. Sometimes in midlife you discover a field of work that you feel called to that is totally different from what you are currently doing. You decide that any sacrifices you have to make to change your career will be worth the effort because you feel that God is calling you to change. My friend Deryl started a realty company and was a partner in this business for many years. But he changed his career in mid-life to pursue his passion for pastoral ministry. He is now an associate pastor in my local church.
Nowhere Else to Go But Into God’s Calling
Paul also knew there was a cost to his calling because Christ said, “Come after me, take up your cross, and follow me” (see Matt. 16:24). Though tremendously fulfilling, any leadership role can be marked with pain, sacrifice, and conflict. Sometimes well-meaning people will say things that will test your call to your area of leadership. There will be those who disagree with your style of leadership. Some will think you make decisions too fast, and some will think you make decisions too slow. Others may question whether you should even be the leader. It is during times like these that you must know that God has called you.
In John 6, Jesus spoke a message that was too tough to swallow for many who were following Him. In fact, it caused many to desert Him. He declared that He was the living Bread and anyone who ate this Bread would live forever. Many could not understand what He meant. After many disciples subsequently left Him, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked if they wanted to leave too.
Peter gives his famous response, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life…” (John 6:68). Peter knew that he was called to follow Jesus.
As a leader, you must know where the Lord has called you and to whom you are called. Peter had settled in his mind that he was called to Christ. There was nowhere else to go. It didn’t matter if his fishing business was more profitable and could supply a better living for him. What mattered was that he was called to follow Jesus, and because he was called, he was not going anywhere or doing anything outside that call! You must be settled about where you are called to leadership for this season of your life and refuse to compromise, even when you are tested.
Daniel, Joseph, and Esther are a few of the many biblical examples of godly people who were severely tested in their callings. Each of them was placed in situations where things seemed out of their own personal control, but they surrendered to God for them to achieve this end. They knew they were called for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). They persevered during the tests. Leaders grow when they are in situations that are out of their control. In these situations they have to depend totally on the Lord or they will fail.
Leaders that have been tested in their calling become secure and mature. When you serve the Lord with the ability and calling He has given you, you bring glory to His name and blessing to His people.
The Calling Test
- Describe your personal God-given calling.
- Define the difference between talents and gifts
- Take the time to create a list of your natural and physical talents
- Now take the time to list your God-given gifts.
- How do the two intersect in such a way that they fulfill or could fulfill a life call? Who will you serve with these gifts?
Larry Kreider, author of Passing the 21 Tests of Leadership