I hear Jesus Calling (Part 1)

How often have you heard someone say, or perhaps said yourself, something to the effect of “this is God’s calling for my life” or “I feel like God called me to do this”? It’s incredibly common language among evangelicals which I’ve used my whole life without a great deal of thought about it. In a recent class, my professor, Ron Marrs, suggested that though the language of “calling” is biblical, we usually misapply it.

If he’s correct, and I think he is, what are we called to, and what terminology should we use when referring to something that we believe God wants us to do, but is not spoken of in scripture?

The primary way that the word call is used in the New Testament is the invitation or calling to salvation. It is a call to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. All Christians are called! We should live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Eph. 4:1), which is heavenly (Heb. 3:1) and holy , according to grace, not works (2 Tim. 1:9). This is by no means an in depth treatment of the topic, but that will have to be left for another time. We do talk about “call” in this way, but we also use it to refer to God specifically directing us to a particular ministry, place, or position, which is the use in question.

In the Bible there are numerous examples of people who experience a direct call from God to a certain service or position. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and called him to free his people from the oppression of Pharaoh. In a stunning vision, God called Isaiah to preach a message of judgment and repentance. Paul was knocked to the ground and blinded by the direct call of Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to suggest that God no longer calls to people in this way, because I think that he can and does. However, both biblically and experientially, these types of calls are not normative. Even when people feel very clearly directed and moved by God towards a particular decision or ministry, it is rarely through a direct, external, miraculous call. We may hear an inner voice, feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, experience peace, or the lack thereof, or see God’s hand opening or closing a door of opportunity for us.

When we use the term “call” to talk about what we feel like we should be doing, we both misapply the term, as well as potentially confuse and mislead others about what it means to serve God. Some feel that they can’t serve God unless they’ve experienced a direct call like Samuel, and when we use the language of calling, we reinforce that misguided belief. Because of the elevation of the term, others may feel as if they are not serving God with their life since they don’t feel “called” to be a pastor or missionary.

What do you think? Does the language of “call” as used in this way help or hurt, or is it neutral? Is there biblical precedent to use the term in the way we do?

I realize I haven’t answered all of the initial questions I asked, but this post was getting a bit long. I’ll do a part 2 soon and explore the rest of this. Feel free to share your thoughts if you have any.

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9 thoughts on “I hear Jesus Calling (Part 1)

  1. This is something that I’ve wondered about before!
    I’ve always felt a little weird about the term “calling” and how we throw it around so casually.
    I would tend to agree with you (and your professor), but I’m no Bible scholar 🙂

    • This is something I’ve talked through with many women throughout the years. The notion of being “called” to motherhood or that motherhood might be a calling is ridiculous. Many women use the term, I think, to legitimate their life work as a SAHM, etc. They are using it to counter their culture–usually a culture that has grown tired of children and at its best thinks children to be pesky appendages. Christians aren’t meant to be counter cultural though. We aren’t to be so much against something as we are to be being and becoming always for and like Someone. I blogged these ideas out some time ago if you’re interested: http://chocolateseoul.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/motherhood/

  2. The thought that went through my head is even when my phone is on vibrate or even silent (not the “norm” of ringtones), calls still come through. Language is ever changing and will always need to be revisited. Just a thought. I love reading yours 🙂

  3. Wow. Thanks for all the replies. I was expecting to have a conversation with myself. I’ll work on getting the next part up as soon as homework allows.

  4. Great thoughts, Luke! I’m on the side of “God still calls today,” as I personally have experienced what I believe to be a unique, personal communication from God to me that have been distinct from the biblical “calls” for obedience to His Word on the part of all who follow Him, etc.
    However, I also believe that the concept of “calling” is horrible misused by Christians–when some people invoke the “I was called by God to…” clause I feel that the underlying message is that whatever the person claims to have been “called” to is beyond exploration and questioning by any mere mortal, and must be either received as a mandate from God, or rejected as God’s will! No wiggle room!
    So I guess I believe that the use of such terminology routinely helps (as it has provided me with clear direction in some very important areas of my life) AND it hurts when the concept is used as either a conversation-stopper or a mandate to do something that is really simply what one desires to do anyway,(or should be doing!).

    • Thanks for sharing, Ken. I totally agree that God still calls today.

      In regards to the communication you experienced from God, was it something external, such as an audible voice or vision calling you to something specific, such as Paul or Isaiah experienced, or was it more internal, like the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, circumstances, or scripture?

      I also agree that no matter how we define calling, or what we use the term to describe, it must always at least not contradict the teaching of Scripture. That is certainly it’s most insidious form, when used as the trump card to do what I want.

      I’m not sure entirely sure if you’re disagreeing with your last statement, but don’t you think the concept is used scripturally to describe exactly what we are supposed to do?

      • I associate the “callings” found in the Bible with specific individuals and groups, as opposed to the generalized commands and directives given to believers and their sub-groups (such as leaders, pastors, etc.) For instance, Jeremiah was specifically “called” from the womb to a specific ministry setting, as was Samson, Moses in Midian, Abraham in Ur, Mary in the divine conception, Paul’s call to the Gentiles, Peter’s to the Jews, etc. There are solid principles found in those individual’s calls that I can apply (preach the gospel, submit to God’s leading, be a faithful shepherd, etc.) but not claim as specifically spoken to me as the primary recipient. (That’s why I’m not too keen on invading Canaan and destroying any Amalekites :)) I think when Christians too easily adopt and even claim the callings that were given to specific people and groups as their own they are committing a type of theological shoplifting. On the other hand, there are solid, exegetically valid reasons for adopting the principles found in many of the bible’s “calls.” The Great Commission is the first one that comes to mind: I can see that the disciples themselves understood this call as applying not only to themselves (by their subsequent behavior and decisions), but also, in a derived sense, to all who in the future called themselves disciples of Jesus (cf. 2 Tim 2:2, eg)
        Nope, never heard the Lord speak to me directly. But felt an overwhelming, personal conviction of His desire for a specific direction my life was to go in, and then looked to see if my feelings, my friend’s perspectives, the Word, and the church–confirmed it. Can’t wait for the Day when I do physically hear His voice! Too long a reply, sorry. Don’t spend your time replying!

  5. Pingback: I hear Jesus Calling (Part 2) | What I See

  6. Pingback: Calling Revisited: The Perspective of the Church Fathers | What I See

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