by Amber Mann Riggs
Growing up, we have grand dreams of adulthood. A vision of being able to fill our days with things that bring us joy and fulfillment while allowing us to make a difference. Embracing a calling.
Well, let’s just say that #adulting is an adequate description of the shock of some of the realities of adulthood.
Dishes pile up. We find ourselves surrounded by mounds of dirty clothes that don’t fit in our “vision”. Incidentally, this vision also didn’t include investing money, sweat, and tears into an education just so we could work 12 hour days with no breaks before crashing into bed at night and doing it all over again.
The word “vocation” comes from the root word vocare, which means “to call”. It is an accurate reflection of a deeply embedded human longing to be engaged in a vocation – in a work. But not just any work. In one that “speaks” to us, that “calls us” to something that transcends our individual existence. But what do we do when the sounds we are straining to hear are muffled by life’s messy layers?
Christian Olympian Eric Liddel (Chariots of Fire) has been attributed with declaring, “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure.” In a sense, calling is about discovering that which makes us “feel God’s pleasure”.
When our culture talks about calling it tends to be enveloped in mystical terms. In The Call, Os Guinness, pulls back the veil shrouding this mystery by asking us to encounter calling in two parts:
- He invites us to first embrace a call reverberating throughout the world that is “by [Christ], to [Christ], and for [Christ].”¹ He refers to this as our primary call. It is this call by, to, and for Christ that puts the rest of our lives in context.
- The primary call then gives context to a “secondary call.” That is, in whatever position of life we find ourselves, “everyone, everywhere and in everything should think speak and live and act entirely for Him.”² It is within the context of this secondary call that we muse about the concept of vocation and the specifics of the call that are unique to our individual lives.
Guinness emphasizes that to realize that powerful sense of calling we are after, the secondary call can’t come first. The primary call must remain primary. Putting the two together, he defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to His summons and service.”³
But that still leaves us with a practical question:
How do I “hear” my secondary calling?
Let’s imagine how this would look played out on stage:
If my secret dream came true, and life was a musical, Christ would be the main character on stage in a rather raucous theater. He makes a call for people to come and join him in acting out His story. Through all the noise, you hear that call and join Him on stage. So you have been called by Him, you have come to Him, and it is for Him as you join Him in acting out His story.
But here’s the thing – He does not call us to be the lead or even one of the supporting actors. Christ is the main character. He calls us to be chorus members – background storytellers who only occasionally feel the warmth of the spotlight.
In a musical production, the chorus is that group of unknown singers and dancers who fill the space and sound on the stage amongst the lead characters. The chorus’s job – their vocation – is to respond to the main character. They do this through rich, multi-layered harmonies and unique movements that amplify the play’s meaning.
Secondary calling – that vocation that makes you “feel God’s pleasure” – can be described as the unique harmonies and movements that your body uses to respond to the story being played out on center stage.
In that sense, vocational calling is more of a response to and interaction with God and His story. It is an embrace of His invitation to us to join Him in telling that story.
Calling as a Response
It is important to note that this freedom Western Christians enjoy in vocational choice is unique to the past 50-75 years of Western culture. Once upon a time, our ancestors were either born into a profession, chose between a few select professions according to family connections or gender, or otherwise worked in the realm of a narrow range of possibilities. This vocational choice was a static constant for life, and because the emphasis was more on provision and survival, the ability to choose a vocation with an eye towards personal fulfillment was largely a luxury.
However, this lack of choice in no way negated the notion of a secondary calling because secondary calling remained how they responded to God’s story through their voice and actions, regardless of their position on the stage or what props they were given to work with. Both then and now, response often correlates with integrity, compassion, and kindness in the context of the daily grind of work.
Today, however, Western Christians experience a freedom of choice that can sometimes be overwhelming. In the United States in particular it isn’t uncommon to completely change professions 4 or 5 times in one’s lifetime. In fact, the freedoms inherent in our culture means that sometimes changing professions is a completely normal response to God’s story while at other times it means staying put and responding in different ways.
The irony is that, at times, we don’t even know how to respond. Thus, this responsive freedom should make us all the more desperate to understand and immerse ourselves in God’s story.
Responding to God’s Story
No one can come into contact with God’s story and not respond to it. Some people respond with indifference. Others respond with outright rebellion. Still others respond with intrigue.
To follow Christ, however, is to respond and interact with God’s story in ways that reflect God’s heart.
Here is one strategy to accomplish this:
1. Pay closer attention to God’s story. Do you understand the implications of Christ’s death on your own life, and also on all of creation? Can you describe what that means for humans and creation both presently and in the eschatological future? Have you discovered how each story in the Old Testament points to Jesus and this ultimate reconciliation? Can you point out the timeless qualities of the Kingdom of God described throughout Scripture and how Jesus made them tangible? And most significantly, how this Kingdom reflects God’s heart?
2. Immerse yourself in God’s story, and when you come up for air, immerse yourself again. The depths of the ocean and the expanse of outer space are shallow and finite compared to the One who allows us to discover Him much the same way that we explore His creation.
3. As you encounter God’s story, compare the vision of this story to what you observe in everyday life. Look at each of your spheres of life: home, church, community, work. How do you see this vision playing out in each of these spheres? How do you see it not playing out around you?
4. Recognize that following Jesus makes you a leader. He has given you authority to speak and shape these visions into existence in your natural spheres of influence. Which components of God’s story grabs your heart and imagination the most?
5. Take note of your gifts, skills, talents, abilities, and affinities. How can these attributes help you make that part of God’s vision a reality in your sphere?
Your secondary calling lies at the intersection of each of the above questions. And the likelihood is that there are multiple combinations of response – multiple avenues through which to “feel God’s pleasure.”
Make It Practical
The topic of calling is close to the heart of my secondary calling. My current response to God’s story is to invite fellow Christians to embrace their identity as leaders shaped in God’s image and develop Christ-centered leadership strengths. I am an introvert who loves to read, study, teach, make music, problem solve, strategize, and encourage. So how does this response take shape in each sphere of my life?
- At home: Home is the front line of Christian living…as well as Christian leadership and discipleship. Thus, my husband and children have first priority. In addition to helping my family interact with life through the lens of the gospel, one of the ways that my calling takes shape in our home is through homeschooling our four children.
- At work: As dean of administration for Artios Christian College, I get to problem-solve and strategize about how to most effectively equip Christian leaders through our specific model of education.
- In my church congregation: As a worship leader and teacher, I get to invite people to encounter and respond to God’s story through both music and study.
- In my community: Teaching classes for other homeschool students in my community allows me to plant seeds for Christ-centered leadership within a new generation.
Make it Personal
My response to Christ’s call isn’t going to look like your response. All of these things fill me with delight…but I don’t expect them to fill you with delight. God designed each of us to respond to His story in unique ways. And our response to His story can change as we progress through different seasons of life!
So put yourself in God’s story. Stay in His story. Allow yourself to respond to it in whatever sphere you find yourself. But don’t get lost in your own response; allow yourself to take in the beauty of the enormity of His story and the vast range of responses being played out around you. Most of all, embrace that there is no greater delight than for God’s pleasure to become the source of your own.
¹ Guiness, Os, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville TN: Word, 1998), p. 31.
² The Call, p. 31.
³ The Call, p. 6.