What Does a Call Look Like?
I’ve been talking to several people over the past couple of week about that term “calling.” Just what does a “call” look like?
In baseball, they have the “call to the bullpen” where the old pitcher comes out and a new pitcher comes in to take over the rest of the game.
Then there is another way to use the word:
“My name is Zebediah, but you can call me Zeb.”
In that case, the person wants you to call them by a certain title or nickname.
Then you have the doctor version of it. “I am on call.”
And there are multiple other uses of the word…
“’Should I call the men from up on the hill?’ he called out.”
But what about in Christianity? Let’s look at a couple verses and determine what this word actually means and if it is even biblical to say “I have a calling to go into the ministry.”
Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
1 Corinthians 1:26-27 – For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
That is a lot to digest!
Let’s unpack each of these verses and throw in some of the church history as well.
To begin, the general call in the Bible is to a live with Christ. That is the first and foremost call in the Bible.
Romans 1:5-6 – through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ
Belonging to and in Christ is a much deeper calling than anything else in there. When one starts to discern a calling from a Christian standpoint, we need to make sure they have first a restored relationship with God and with His people.
This means that the primary call of the Christian is to respond to and act upon the call to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
This means that whatever work we choose must be integrated with the participation with Christ Himself. We could be a plumber, but as a plumber, we can work for the Kingdom by repairing relationships, showing justice, acting with mercy and grace and other components of the kingdom.
Next, God has given us a call to work. God created us to work. It started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. In Exodus, we are told that we are to work for 6 days and then rest. So you could say that it goes beyond calling, we are created to work. In the very beginning the call to basically be a farmer was the highest calling there was other than unity with God (until Eve came along that is).
Next, we are called to, well, life. Our work is not merely the job from which we get a paycheck. We raise families, have a spouse, and have friends.
Eve came along and Adam was then so smitten with her that he gave his time and attention to her as well as working his job in the Garden. This means we should balance our paid work and personal work with our families and friends.
So, to this point, we know that we are called to belong to Christ. We are created to work. And we are called to have a full life, filled with family and friends.
Knowing what kind of work you do is probably not that high on God’s list of things that are of critical importance.
But let’s look at whether God calls us to particular work.
We do know it does happen. God has called several people in the Bible to specific work. He called prophets. He called Noah to build an ark. He called Moses and Aaron to their roles. Many of the political leaders we see in the Bible, God elevated them to their roles. Even though the word “call” is not used here, there is no mistaking that God called those people to their roles.
I have read several commentaries that said that God called very few people in the Bible. And, I guess He didn’t call a lot of people numerically. But if you take that as a percentage of the people mentioned in the Bible, it is actually pretty high. And if you include the people we don’t get to “meet,” then that is a very high number. We don’t see all the people who went on to plant churches in the New Testament or all of the Israelites whose sole job it was to protect the Ark of the Covenant.
But were many of these calls a direct “voice from heaven” moment or were they more subtle, such as being attuned to the heart of God through Scripture and meditation? There are several ways to discern where God wants to place you as far as a career goes.
First, we need to look at the needs of the world. We are told in Scripture that we should support ourselves and our families.
1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Titus 3:14 – Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.
We also are expected to meet the needs of those who are not part of our family.
Proverbs 14:21 – Happy are those who are kind to the poor.
Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.
Or what about working to be productive in society? That is Scriptural as well.
Jeremiah 29:5-7 – Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Next, God gives us each talents and gifts. We should use those gifts not only for the edification of the body of believers, but for the society as a whole.
Isaiah 28:24-26 – Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground? When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cummin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border? For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.
1 Corinthians 12:7-10 – To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
This is where knowing what you are good at and what spiritual gifts the Lord has given is important. This happens by talking to those closest to you, realizing your talents and spiritual gifts tests.
For example, I know that God has given me the ability to take large tasks and get them accomplished. I have managerial skills and leadership ability. I also have the ability to preach and to teach. That is what has helped me to confirm my calling into ministry. But similar skill set could be used to be a training manager for a company or a military commander.
Finally, what has God given you as your desires? Your fulfillment of purpose is vitally important to God.
Psalm 37:4 – Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
John 16:24 – Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
Because of sin, however, our desires can get all screwed up. Doing what makes us happiest will not always bring the greatest fulfillment. God is looking out for our fulfillment of purpose, not mere happiness that comes and goes with the circumstances.
Does this mean that being “called” into the ministry is a higher calling? Around the Middle Ages, becoming a monk or a nun was considered a higher calling. Even to this day, we still see that played out. I have been fairly consistent in believing that while I welcome the benefits that the government affords those in ministry, they further create a divide into calling versus higher calling, and that is a mentality that needs to stop.
But fact of the matter remains, God does call people into vocational ministry.
Exodus 28:1 – Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Mark 1:16-17 – As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Acts 13:2,5 – While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ….When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.
Regardless, Christians are called, yes called, to conduct themselves to the full-time service of Christ.
Colossians 3:23 – Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
But, Fred, what about 1 Timothy calling out those who are elder or pastor as it actually being a higher calling?
1 Timothy 5:17-18 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”
This should be translated more in line with pay rather than about comparing their work with other peoples’ work. The true comparison in this passage is about pastors who rule well versus those who don’t instead of pastors versus the rest of the world.
Whew….That was a lot. But I believe this will give some insight, mostly to myself, about the word calling and what it is to the Christian.