It’s no secret among my friends that I have an irrational hatred of telephones. To be completely transparent, this animosity frequently devolves into an outright phobia. Part of it is a generational thing, it would seem, as the Internet is rife with jokes (many self-deprecating) at the expense of the up-and-comings’ disdain for Bell’s claim to fame. But I can’t pin all of the blame on groupthink. After all, it’s my personal psych profile which reads “intense dislike of using the telephone for interpersonal communication” (or at least it would be if I had an actual psych profile). And why, do you ask? Because I don’t care for surprises. I am not a man given to randomness, and my phone always rings unexpectedly. That interruption was not a pre-programmed part of my day, and yet it demands my immediate attention nonetheless. To make a call is to force that same disruption into the live of someone else. Truly, it’s nigh unforgivable. This is why I sometimes simply let my cell go to voicemail and why I must mentally brace myself before making a call of my own.
Ghastly things, telephones. Beastly.
Luckily for me (and for people like me), when God places a calling on our lives, He doesn’t use a telephone. He does, however, use a variety of other means of communication. Prayer is one oft-used medium, particularly listening prayers geared specifically toward discernment. Reading Scripture is also helpful to discern a calling — just don’t treat it like a Magic 8 Ball. (For those who opt to neglect this warning and pursue the first vocation visible upon randomly opening their Bibles, I offer the additional caveat of the sheer number of slaves and prostitutes present in our holy book.) Fasting can aid discernment, as can any of the unmentioned spiritual disciplines. Most commonly, it seems to me, God uses other people to show us our calling.
How, you ask? Think about your time in school. (Try not to shudder. Stiff upper lip and all that.) If you had a truly good teacher at some point along the way, which I hope you did, they encouraged you to pursue a certain path. “Have you ever thought about studying _______?” “You’re really good at ________; maybe you should look into that more in the future.” “I think you’d make a great _______!” Other people besides teachers may have done this as well. Parents, friends, spouses, church members, pastors. This external affirmation of one’s internal gifting is quite possibly God’s way of nudging you along the path to your calling. Of course, those people can be wrong at times, too. I remember one teacher I had in high school who was positive I should go into radio (it would seem I had the voice for broadcast journalism, just not the face). But even the misapplication of a gift still points to a talent to be used. And where the voice of God unites in our hearts and the hearts of others (hopefully), there our calling lies. Occasionally God may call us to a task in defiance of others, yes, but rarely will He have us reject so many other Christian voices.
Perhaps I need to back up a step. We’ve talked about how God may issue a calling, but what is a calling, anyway? It’s what we consider a vocation (from the Latin vocare, “to call). Your calling is the work God created you to do. Now, don’t get me wrong: you can have a calling outside of your career (consider bi-vocational pastors, for example). On the flip side, a calling doesn’t have to be religious in nature. Perhaps you’re called to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a stay-at-home mom (or dad). But you could also be called to be an elder, a deacon, a pastor, a song leader . . . you get the idea. Frederick Buechner phrased it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Unadulterated bliss may not be a required component of calling, but bitterness and cynicism are right out, too. Put another way, as a common saying has it, your calling is to fix the problems you see in the world. Sick of pollution? You could be called to fix it. Have a passion for bringing lost souls to salvation? You could be called to do it vocationally. Illiteracy deeply troubles you? You could be called to teach. Your calling is your calling because your very soul won’t let you rest at night until you pursue it. Find your calling by finding where your passions meet a need in the service of the King.
And once you have your calling, do exactly that: work to use it for the kingdom of God. That’s why He called you in the first place: to use the gifts and graces you were given in His service. Whether you’re called to be a shepherd of souls or a sweeper of chimneys, your life can bring glory to God, and your calling can help bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So when God calls, answer.