What’s God’s Calling for my Life?
“It didn’t feel like anything.”
by Greg Johnson
Your job is not a job. It’s a calling from God. That much is perfectly clear from the Bible. Before sin ever entered the world, God made us to work. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden to work it” (Gen 2:15). The fourth commandment calls us to work six days before we rest the one—it’s really two commandments (Ex 20:8-10). God made us workers. It’s what we are. But how can you know what specific calling God has for you?
We Christians want to do what God wants, so we can really stress over discerning his call on our lives. It was probably a lot easier a few centuries ago. If your parents were farmers, you’d be a farmer. Even Jesus, a carpenter, was also a carpenter’s son (Mt 13:55). But today, we have the opportunity to do almost anything. The sheer number of options makes it all the more difficult.
There are lots of tests out there that can help us discern our “vocation” (from the Latin for calling). They could at least get you started in the right direction. If you don’t really enjoy working with people, for example, God probably hasn’t designed you to work retail.
Then there’s the infamous question, “If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?” If you’d build a racecar, you should probably investigate engineering. If you think you’d cook all day, then you should work as a chef or start up a bakery. If you’d assemble the world’s largest, fastest computer, God may have made you to go into computers.
People often ask me why I left architecture to attend seminary and (eventually) teach theology. I loved architecture. I’d wanted to be an architect since I was in the first grade. Well, actually in first grade I wanted to be a professional house-drawer, but that was pretty close. But when I got to college, I found myself rushing through my architecture work just so I’d have time to read theology books. I’d be up at night gluing balsa wood together in the architecture studio, wishing I were at home preparing a Bible study. The highlight of my week was leading my small group through the Scriptures. After talking things through with a couple people in ministry, it was clear to me that my calling wasn’t architecture, but vocational Christian ministry. So I went to seminary.
While at seminary, I was able to compare myself to other men with callings in Christian ministry. I was also able to talk with men who taught theology as a vocation, and they saw in me “theologian” material. That’s when I started to see that I was called to teach theology—another piece of the puzzle. That made the next step clear: I needed a Ph.D. Later, while pursuing doctoral work, I could compare myself to other people who were called to teach theology, and it became clear to me that my real love was not teaching theology for theologians—“academic” theology. My passion was to teach theology for ordinary Christians.
People sometimes ask me what it felt like to receive a call into the ministry. I get frustrated with the question because it makes me look so unspiritual. Still, I’ll say it because it’s the truth. It didn’t feel like anything. I didn’t have any burning in my bosom or quiver in my liver or sheen in my spleen. I just thought through what I was best designed to do. Other people helped me assess my strengths and weaknesses and I weighed my options rationally. I prayed, but I wasn’t praying hoping to hear a voice. I was praying to express to God my dependence on him to lead me.
“I have never found a verse that says God leads us through emotional experiences.”
I was never 100% sure of my calling. I just made the best decisions I could at each moment, and God kept me on track. If that sounds unspiritual, you probably need to study biblical guidance. In my years of carefully studying the Scriptures, I have never found a verse that says God leads us through emotional experiences. That’s Gnosticism, not Christianity. God gave us his Word, which sets our priorities.
He’s also given us minds to reflect his rationality in us his image-bearers. God rarely bypasses our intellects in guiding us. He wants our decision-making to image him, which means we can’t turn our minds off and expect the Holy Spirit to take over. God is sovereign over even the tiniest details of our lives, so we know he’ll lead us—even if he doesn’t tell us where exactly we’re going. We can trust him. He made us, calls us, and will guide us to exactly the place he wants us.