Discerning Your Calling

by Jordan Raynor

The following post was first published on YouVersion by Jordan Raynor, author of the national bestselling book for faith driven entrepreneurs, Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk.

Hierarchy of Callings

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Genesis 1:27-31

There is an unbiblical theme permeating the Church today which elevates the callings of pastors and “full-time missionaries” above “secular” vocations. If you’re an entrepreneur, photographer, artist, salesperson, doctor, musician, lawyer, or janitor, you have likely sensed this often unspoken hierarchy of callings.

Dr. Benjamin Quinn of Southeastern Theological Seminary says, “I [have been] awakened to the problem of the pulpit-pew divide—the centuries-old chasm between those who occupy the pulpit and those who occupy the pew. The physical space between pulpit and pew in worship spaces is necessary for practical reasons. The metaphorical space between the ‘ordained’ and the ‘ordinary’ in the church, however, is unfortunate and unbiblical.”

This pervasive idea that there is a hierarchy of callings for Christians is simply out of line with Scripture. When God created Adam and Eve and put them to work in the Garden of Eden, they weren’t donor-supported missionaries. Adam was called by God to be a gardener, a cultivator, and a branding agent. Jesus spent 85% of his working life as a carpenter and small business owner before he launched his “full-time ministry.” The highest calling on your life isn’t necessarily being a pastor or missionary; it’s glorifying God and serving others in whatever work God has called you to do.

Even if you’re able to tear down the man made hierarchy of callings in your head and in your heart, the fact remains that “calling” is one of the most confusing ideas in the Christian life. How can your work feel like a vocation—a true calling on your life? What does the Bible have to say about the work God has uniquely equipped you to do? What are the best questions to ask when discerning your calling?

Passions

Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

Throughout Scripture, God reveals three primary pointers on the road to discerning our calling: our passions, our giftings, and our opportunities to use the combination of those two to glorify God and serve others.

Have you ever wondered why God created the earth and humankind? He certainly didn’t need to. So in one sense, it appears that God created for the pure joy of creating. It’s impossible to read the creation account in Genesis 1 without imagining the thrill God must have had bringing the earth into being, flinging the stars into the sky, and turning the oceans loose. This truth points us to the first question on the road to discerning our calling: What are you passionate about? In other words, what work brings you unspeakable joy?

Isaiah 64:8 says that “We are the clay, and [God] our potter.” Through Scripture and human experience, we innately understand that God uses our passions to mold and shape who we are as individuals. One of the ways in which He molds us and helps us to discern our vocational calling is by designing us with unique passions, the things in life that bring us pure joy. Are you passionate about entrepreneurship, photography, music, arts, law, coffee, sales, or medicine? Those passions are from the Lord! As Psalm 139:13-14 reminds us, God is the one who knitted us together, passions and all.

But while discerning our calling requires that we first identify our passions, passion alone is not enough to make our chosen work a calling. If we stop with the passion question, we will have identified the work we are most eager to do, but we will not have found our calling. Why? Because our work can only be a calling if God calls us to it and we work for His glory and the service of others, rather than the service of self. How do we glorify God and serve others through our work? By choosing work that aligns our passions with the gifts God has given us, allowing us to do exceptional work.

Giftings

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith. Romans 12:6

As we have seen, identifying our passions are key in the process of discerning our calling. But passion without competence is worthless. In Romans 12:6, Paul said, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” We have largely ignored this verse in the Church today, choosing to define calling as simply what we are really passionate about, rather than the intersection of both our passions and giftings.

Our work won’t feel like a calling until we re-imagine it as service to our Caller and the world. It’s impossible to serve someone well if you aren’t gifted at your craft. You may be really passionate about wanting to fly an airplane, but if you’ve never been to flight school, you won’t be serving others by taking the controls in the cockpit. You may really want to be an entrepreneur, but if you’ve started multiple companies and have consistently lost investors’ money and laid off employees, are you really serving others through your chosen work?

In order to best glorify our Creator and serve others, we should do the work we are best at, work that God has equipped us to do exceptionally well. In her classic essay, “Why Work?” renowned British novelist Dorothy Sayers said, “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

Nobody starts their career knowing what they will be exceptionally good at. We learn what giftings God has given us through continual trial and error. Individual failures don’t necessarily mean that we aren’t gifted and called to a particular line of work. But if we are to glorify God and serve others through our vocations, we should be in a continual process of analyzing where our passions and giftings align. It is that intersection that brings us one step closer to discerning our calling.

Opportunities

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:14-30

In the above passage, Jesus points us to the third question we should be asking when discerning our calling: What opportunities have we been given to use our passions and giftings to glorify God and serve others?

In the parable of the talents, the opportunity could not be clearer: The master audibly calls his servants and entrusts them with the responsibility of investing his wealth and producing a return. The opportunities for you and I to use our passions and giftings to serve our Master aren’t always as clearly spoken. But in the words of C.S. Lewis, “Aslan is on the move” around us. Through constant communion with God through His Word and through fellowship with other believers, our eyes will be open to where God is moving and where He may be calling us to put our passions and giftings to work for His glory and His agenda.

Once that opportunity is clear, it is our responsibility to act! Commenting on the parable of the talents, Reverend Robert Sirico says, “There seems to be a natural connection between the discovery of entrepreneurial opportunities and the master’s admonition in Matthew 25 to be watchful of his return and to be caretakers of his property.”

If the Lord has revealed opportunities to use your passions and gifts to love and serve others through your work, you have discovered your calling. Now it’s up to you to steward those God-given gifts well, so that one day, the Master might also say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Editor’s Note: If you liked this piece from Jordan, we encourage you to check out his other FDE blogs as well:

FDE Blog "Every Christian is a Full-Time Missionary"
FDE Blog "God, The First Entrepreneur"
FDE Blog “Gospel Driven Ambition”
FDE Blog “C.S. Lewis and the Call to Create”