Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, I gazed out the window of my quaint hotel room and watched the snow silently weave together a thick, white blanket. I took a weekend trip away from the city I lived in to wrestle, process, and pray through a big decision. To what or where was God going to call me next? I stood at a crossroads: I had spent close to two years working in full-time ministry in Italy, and I needed to commit to another three years in that location or return to the United States. As each snowflake floated to the ground, I could not help but reflect on both the grandeur and intimacy of God. As they say, no two snowflakes are alike. Each contains a unique design with a distinct shape, pattern, and framework. Similarly, no two people walking the earth have an identical makeup. God has fashioned the hearts of every individual with various passions, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, desires, and personalities.
As believers, we know that God has set aside good works for us to fulfill during our brief stay on this planet. According to Ephesians 2:10, We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. So what exactly are those good works? How can we discover them? How do we know what God calls us to do individually and corporately as the body of Christ? Learning our vocation or calling is a part of the faith journey we are on.
During that silent evening in Switzerland, I deeply longed for God to display the exact blueprints for my life so that I could confidently follow them. Could God have plainly said, “I want you to stay here or go there?” Certainly. He is God! Sometimes He does do that, but I have often found that we are not very comfortable with how often His calling for our lives remains hidden. Often, God uses the journey of uncovering our hidden callings for the greater purpose of strengthening our faith in Him and His promises as we step out into the unknown.
Perhaps you are wrestling through an important life decision. Maybe you are wondering if you are in the correct job, place of service, or ministry. As I have processed through some significant life decisions relating to my own calling and vocation, I have found a few helpful tools to guide me to discern my next steps. I hope this will not only help you discover your calling and vocation, but that your faith and love for Christ would also be strengthened along the journey.
Search the Scriptures
First, we can know the general calling for all believers through God’s revealed Word, the Bible. Scripture does not tell us what job to take, the ministry we should do, or where we should live. However, the Bible does give us specific exhortations to implement regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. For instance, all Christians are called to: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and … love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39); make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33); be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18); and many other specific callings. As believers, once we have entered into a relationship with Christ, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) in which we are called to share the hope of the Gospel with a lost and dying world. However, God seems to leave room for us to discover the context in which we will do so.
We each play a unique role in the grand plan of redemption for the world. As we seek to discover our individual callings, we first need to align ourselves with the revealed general will of God found in the Bible, and then all of our decisions should flow from that. Are we surrendering our whole hearts to God? Seeking first His Kingdom? Laying down our fleshly desires? Looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with others? As we spend time reading Scripture, praying, relying on the Holy Spirit and connecting with the Body of Christ, we can confidently take steps down various paths of life even if we do not hear God explicitly say, “Go here or there.”
I have spent much of my life looking at others and wishing I had their gifts, talents, and strengths. By doing so, I have missed out on the way God has uniquely made me. When assessing your calling or vocation, be honest with yourself about who you are and who you are not, because that will help you determine what you do. When we write with our dominant hand, it is more natural than when we write with the opposite hand. As we work out of our passions and gifts—writing with our dominant hand—we will thrive more than when we force ourselves to fit into something that goes against our makeup and nature. According to Paul in Romans 12, within the Body of Christ, each member has a distinct and unique role: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Romans 12:4–6).
So how do we know our gifts and passions? Spend time asking yourself some questions such as,
“What do I enjoy doing?”
“What excites me?”
“Is there a specific people group I am naturally drawn to such as the youth, peers, the homeless, people of different ethnicities, etc.?”
“Does a career or area of service exist that encompasses what I am passionate about?”
“What are a few things other people have said I am really good at?”
Assess your values, passions, gifts, strengths, and desires. Lay them all before the Lord and ask Him how He wants to use them.
Do you enjoy social justice? Teaching?
Serving the homeless? Global work?
Once you learn what you are passionate about and where your strengths lie, pursue a career or area of service where you can use them. The Holy Spirit will empower your passions and gifts when you entrust them to God.
Although we would ideally like to work out of our strengths and passions all the time, we may not always be in a job or place of service where we are able to do so. If you find yourself in that situation, ask God to show you how He wants to use you in that place. It may be a season of personal growth or a time for you to take steps of faith to share the Gospel with the people around you. As Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians, no matter where we find ourselves: Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). In the end, our main purpose as believers is to reflect the glory of God to others wherever we go.
Remember, This World is Not Our Home
As we pursue both the general calling of God for all Christians, as well as our individual life callings, we need to fix our eyes on the end goal: eternity. Everything we do on earth, all that we sow and reap, is for that which cannot yet be seen. As believers we are exiles on earth and our citizenship is in heaven. Our greatest purpose is to love God and love others. No perfect vocation, city, family, or friendship exists this side of eternity, and we will never be completely comfortable.
Because our citizenship lies in heaven, as we pursue God with our lives, we will encounter trials. In one of Christ’s final sermons to His disciples, He said: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Paul shared with Timothy in his last days: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Both statements are emphatic that following Christ will never be easy. However, He has not left us to our own demise. He gave us the Holy Spirit as our Guide, our Comforter, our Helper and Counselor on whom we can rely every day. As you pursue your calling, you can know: It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Hold fast to His Word, keep your eyes on Christ, and remember that this world is not your final destination.
Note: All Scripture references are ESV (English Standard Version)
Questions to consider: Are we surrendering our whole hearts to God? Seeking first His Kingdom? Laying down our fleshly desires? Looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with others?