If you’re a Christian leader, you’ve probably found one of the most common questions people come to you with—especially younger people—is that of calling. What is my calling? What is God’s will for my life? How can I tell what God wants me specifically to do?
These are big questions that require careful answers. Your voice as a leader is powerful. The best way to answer is to ask questions that help them come to their own conclusions.
One frame that can be helpful to look at these questions through is there being three different kinds of calling: calling in the moment, calling for a season, and life calling. All are important… and most significantly… each one helps lead into the next.
Calling in the moment
God is speaking into our daily lives. Knowing what God wants you to do in the moment means listening and discerning God’s voice hour by hour, each day. What does God want you to do right now? Today? This kind of calling relies heavily on doing what you know God is calling you to do in scripture (living out the fruit of the Spirit), but it also involves listening for and discerning the voice of God. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you? To hear that, we need to be intentional about listening. Calling in the moment is what we saw with Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8. He heard God telling him to go to a particular place and talk with a particular person, and Philip was open to that leading.
Calling for a season
God also calls us to do things in seasons. What is God asking me to do this year? These next few years? God may be calling you to be a student now, but that’s not necessarily a life calling. Or he may be leading you to a season of caring for small children or elderly parents, but that won’t be a full lifetime either. Sometimes circumstances change or opportunities arise. The Apostle Paul experienced this when God called him to share the gospel in one place but not in another. He also experienced it when God told him to stay in one place for an extended period of time. In our cases, we also need to listen to God’s distinctive voice as we live in obedience to his general commands.
This is what most people mean when they talk about calling. The trick is, we can’t discern our life calling—or see the whole path in front of us—right at the beginning without also listening for God’s voice as we discern his calling in the moment and his calling for seasons. As we practice listening for his voice in the moment, we learn what that feels like. As we live out God’s calling for certain seasons, we start to see the bigger picture fall together. We may have a general sense of life calling early on—say, missions. Or take for example, Paul’s calling on the road to Damascus to proclaim his name to the gentiles. But even he didn’t see the whole picture at once. In the same way, we won’t see the whole picture of what that will look like for us until we participate and live into the other types of calling.
How do we discern these varying callings?
The discernment process is the same for all of us: listen, pray, try something, if it doesn’t work, pray and listen again, try something else, be open to surprises, listen for God’s voice. If one path doesn’t work, pray, listen, and maybe try another. Recognize that life isn’t always what you expect, and it won’t always go according to plan.
There’s not a simple formula to follow: discernment flows out of our personal relationship with God. There are a variety of ways we sense promptings and the leading of the Spirit. See what works for you. It’s a constant cycle of discernment, seeking, looking, listening, testing, trying, determining.
Keep these three principles central in your process:
- Cultivate a heart that is open and responsive. (Prov 3:5-6)
- Live into what God has already revealed. (John 14:15)
- Walk alongside other followers of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Remember that no one else will be standing with you before the throne when you are called to account for your time here on earth. What do you want to be able to tell God that you did with all he left you to steward? And what do you want to hear?
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:21
Calling: Focused Ministry Coaching Guide and Storyboard– No two people are exactly alike, and no to ministry roles are exactly alike. This resource provides you with a clear process to help people get involved in effective, focused ministry. With a basic structure for the stages of ministry involvement in hand, plus help discovering the right questions to ask, you’ll find you are better prepared to move people forward into the kind of ministry God is calling them toward.
Guide for Discipling– Guide for Discipling is a downloadable set of eight interactive guides which encourage disciples new and old to love God, love others, and make disciples. With a total of forty lessons, each is supported by related scriptures and includes thought-provoking questions to encourage discussion. Especially relevant to today’s post are the guides on Experiencing God and Spiritual Responsiveness.