Finding Our Calling and Purpose
Oftentimes, we hear the words calling and purpose in church, but we do not always understand what they mean. How can we discover our calling and purpose? How do we know if we are really living out our calling and into our purpose?
Hearing the Call
When I was fifteen years old, I responded to a public invitation by my pastor to commit my life to the Lord Jesus. I knelt at an altar in the front of our church sanctuary. As I did, I began to cry, almost uncontrollably.
Though I didn't understand at the time why I was so emotional or even what this all meant, when I rose from the altar, I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I couldn't have explained it then, but I'd been forgiven, and the weight of sin I bore had been lifted.
What I didn't comprehend fully then was that God had called me to be His child and, as such, to follow His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In some respect, I believe we complicate this whole issue of "calling," and thereby, miss its simplicity.
Calling is an invitation to follow Jesus. As Christ-followers, our callings have many similarities, but our specific calling can manifest itself in very different ways. That's where purpose comes in.
Understanding Calling and Purpose
Two of the Apostle Paul's letters to Timothy, who was like a son to him, are recorded in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul writes: "For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan [purpose] from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus."
In this verse, we catch a glimpse of the relationship between calling and purpose, both of which are invitations from God. Though this verse is packed with significance and truth on many levels, for purposes of clarity and simplicity, I'm going to focus on the relationship between calling and purpose.
In many respects, the relationship between calling and purpose is like two sides of the same coin, similar to belief and faith. One is not complete without the other. Belief is an intellectual acknowledgment that something is true.
For example, I can say, "I believe the medicine the doctor has prescribed will help cure my illness." But unless I exercise faith by actually taking the medication, my belief is of no value. In other words, unless I act on my belief, it will have no benefit. That's true in our relationship with the Lord as well.
Similarly, understanding that I am being called (invited) by God to enter into a relationship with Him through belief in Christ has no real bearing on my life until I exercise faith and say, "yes," to God's invitation to be saved and become His child, which opens the door of opportunity for me to discover my purpose for being on this planet.
At its core, calling is an invitation to partner with God in the fulfillment of His purpose on earth. And what is that? "... His plan [purpose] from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9).
So, how do we do that? In Romans 8:29, Paul wrote: "For God knew His people in advance, and He chose [called] them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."
Once we respond to God's calling by accepting His invitation to become His child, then the journey of becoming conformed to the likeness of Jesus begins, and that, my friend, becomes our purpose. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much. The plan to climb Mount Everest may be simple, but it's far from easy.
Confusion abounds because people like me, who was a pastor for over 30 years, like to speak about our calling to be a pastor. Do I believe I was called to be a pastor? Absolutely. But how that really translates is this: Being a pastor was God's choice for me as I sought to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, which is my purpose. Being a pastor was the plan God had for my life as a means of living out my calling as His child, thus, contributing to the fulfillment of His purpose for my life.
God extends His invitation to everyone. He doesn't want anyone to miss their calling to become His child. But with virtually every invitation, there will be those who respond positively, and some will reject the invitation.
What's the point? Calling is for everyone. Purpose, from a biblical perspective, is only for God's children, those who accept their calling to become His child and begin the long journey of becoming like Jesus.
Discovering Your Purpose
Why is purpose wrapped up so tightly in becoming like Jesus? Because Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to be God's child. He alone opened the door of opportunity for us to accept God's invitation (calling) by laying down His life and paying the penalty for our sin, which we could never have paid ourselves.
So, what might your purpose look like? We get clues by looking at the life of Jesus. As I think of purpose, I see at least two primary dimensions. First, the character of Jesus, and secondly, the mission of Jesus.
In Colossians 2:9, Paul talks about the fact that in Jesus all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. In other words, Jesus was God in human form. Then in verse 10, he makes an astounding declaration that in Jesus we, too, are complete, whole, and filled with purpose. How can that be? Because of our union with Jesus! It's critical that we understand our purpose is all about Jesus, not about us, and allowing Him to develop His character in us is essential.
You might see your "purpose" as being an astronaut, physician, all-star athlete, mother, or teacher. The list is virtually endless in terms of how our purpose is expressed. But if Jesus isn't at its core, our true purpose will never be fulfilled.
The question isn't so much, "What should I do/be?" It's "Lord, may I never forget that whatever you've gifted and equipped me to do, may it be done to Your honor and fame and for the purpose of extending Your eternal Kingdom. May I use the gifts and abilities You've given me to accomplish Your mission on this earth—to allow Jesus to show His grace through my life."
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31: "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." What does that mean? It essentially means that whatever we do—in our home, in private, or in public, at work, at play—whatever we do, it should reflect the character of Jesus, enabling us or whomever we may be with, to sense the glory, the presence of God.
Fulfilling Your Purpose
So, how has the Lord equipped and gifted you? What are you passionate about? What are you really good at? What really gives you satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment? Do you like to take orders or give them? Do you like to lead or follow? Do you like to invent a way or follow a prescribed way? Do you like people, or would you rather go it alone?
These things aren't a means of defining your "calling," but they might be an avenue to defining how God has designed you to fulfill your purpose, your mission on earth, because of your calling to be His child.
Your truly "happy place" will only be found in your "all-in" response to become God's child through faith in His only Son and pursuing with your whole heart Christ's mission on this earth.
Being a pastor for many years was fulfilling, and I believe it was exactly God's purpose for me. But since I've been retired and attending Chase Oaks Church, it's as if I've been set free to focus exclusively on what God wired me to do—love Him without reservation and serve Him boldly as I love those He puts in my sphere of influence.
There are many genuine responsibilities that tug, not only on your heart, but your time, money, and energy. Your vocation, family, personal interests, recreation, and on and on it goes until at the end of the day you collapse into bed, wondering whether or not you've actually accomplished anything of eternal value that day. Been there!
One day, sooner than you can imagine, you'll stand on the threshold of eternity looking back over the "blip" that was your life. The only thing that will matter on that day is "Did I respond to Jesus' call on my life to follow Him, and how effectively did I accomplish the purpose/mission I was put on this planet to carry out?"
Finding Your Happy Place
I invite you to follow Him, love Him without reservation, and find the fulfillment in your life you never imagined you could find. He's the Treasure you seek. His love will revolutionize your life. Trust Him. Love Him. Follow Him. He is your calling. He is your purpose.
Contrary to many people's opinion, under most circumstances, you don't have to make a decision between God or career, God or family, God or recreation.
The beauty of walking with Jesus, that I'm now discovering in such good and satisfying ways, is that Jesus is walking with me now, in this moment, whatever I'm doing, whomever I'm with, as long as my heart is beating to please and honor Him. My happy place has a name. His name is Jesus!