I hear Jesus Calling (Part 2)

from Wikipedia

In Part 1 of this post, I asked a few questions about calling and the validity of some of the ways we use the term today.

So when we say, “God called me to be a missionary”, or “I feel called to ministry”, what are we really referring to, if we have not experienced an external call from God in the dramatic and miraculous fashion that Isaiah, Paul, Moses, and others in the Bible did?

In my Discovering and Developing Ministry Potential Class, Ron Marrs, made this statement:

“God desires that everyone use their gifts, abilities, and talents to glorify him and love people and will sovereignly guide every Christian to a place of kingdom maturity.”

This is relatively standard stuff. As a part of the body of Christ, each Christian has been given spiritual gifts and has natural talents and abilities which they are responsible to use to love God and love people. However, as we discussed this in class, he made the point that this is essentially what we are talking about when we describe our calling.

A few people in our class had experienced what they described as some sort of external call from God, but the vast majority described some form of the leading of the Holy Spirit, often through confirmation of experience, through input from the community of believers, a discovery of a new passion, or by realization of a way to make use of a gift.

He suggests that we should, in order to find our place or places of kingdom usefulness:

  1. Examine our gifts, abilities, passions, and temperaments
  2. Consider the needs of people
  3. Weigh the variety of life’s obligations: work, marriage, family, school, church, etc.
  4. Discuss with trusted friends and family
  5. Pray!
It was evident during the discussion how ingrained the language of “calling” is. We all had a very difficult time talking about the type of ministry which we felt God had prepared us for without resorting to the language of “being called.” It was certainly eye-opening to me to realize that what I had in the past called a call, were things that I was passionate about, or good at, or enjoyed doing. There is nothing wrong with those things, and I think we should be aware of them. However, having never personally experienced a dramatic, external call from God to something very specific, I want to be careful about the language that I use, especially in order to avoid some of the detrimental confusion which I mentioned in Part 1.
I don’t necessarily think everyone should stop using the word “call”, and I honestly don’t have a great term (nor did my professor) for referring to what most Christians term their “calling.” It has been helpful for me to think through these things, and to understand that all disciples of Christ are called to serve him and his people in one unique way or another depending upon how he has made them. I may not have had a vision of the throne room of God, or been specifically sent to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but God has called me to repentance, and to his son, and Jesus has called me to follow him. I pray that I will faithfully pursue the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to know myself so that I can follow him to the best of my ability.
Should we continue to use the term “calling” to refer to what we feel God has prepared us to do for him? Is there a better term that would preserve the biblical use of call as something more specific than many of us have experienced, and not cause as much confusion to those who have not had such experiences?
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8 thoughts on “I hear Jesus Calling (Part 2)

  1. An important point to realize is that the English language evolves quickly, dramatically and easily. Over time words can change their meanings completely or simply expand their definitions to include a broader or more varietous meaning. This just may be such a case, in which it may not be our language that needs to change, but our definition.
    Generally speaking, it is true that when people use the word “calling” they don’t mean a miraculous writing-on-the-wall, flash-of-blinding-light experience. They are simply describing that which they believe they were created to do, based on experiences, passions, giftings and abilities.
    I wonder if this issue would not be an issue, if we simply realized that words can have a variety of meanings, even closely related meanings, that make a great deal of difference.
    While we may not be able to say it’s the “biblical” meaning of the word, it is one meaning. Plus, I don’t get the idea that you’re trying to protect textual integrity. It seems to me that what you’re pursuing is simply clarity in how we discuss these issues.
    In his book SHAPE, Erik Rees uses the term “Kingdom purpose”. While I may not agree with everything in the book, I do find this a helpful term. What do you think?

    • Thanks for this clarification John. The definition of terms is precisely the issue. I’m in no way opposed to language changing, or one word have a variety of meanings, but I think that when we don’t define terms, we can confuse people if we’re not careful.

      I do think “Kingdom purpose” could be a helpful term. For myself, I’ve been thinking about it in terms of what God has prepared me for, instead of what he has called me to.

  2. I suppose what I refer to as His “call” on me to pursue preaching was actually a type of personal fine-tuning of the general (but personal, too!) call to repent and follow Jesus wherever He leads me. Also, as I’ve moved along the route of that “call,” it’s morphed from “be a preacher who pastors” to “be a pastor who preaches.” So what I understood that initial call to mean has changed. I imagine I’d be very frustrated if I insisted that my initial understanding of it remain unchanged and unchallenged.
    So, imagine a church board asking,”So, tell us about your fine-tuning to the ministry, Luke.” šŸ™‚

    • Hah! I’ll certainly admit that it’s much easier and more natural for me to use the “call” language. Anything else does sound kind of weird.

      It’s interesting to think about how the fluidity of our service to God plays into all of this.

  3. I suppose my point is this, at least practically. If we are going to continue to use the language of calling, let’s encourage people to responsibly pursue how God wants to use them instead of either waiting around to have a vision, or being satisfied (or feeling inadequate) with doing little for God because they don’t feel “called” to ministry.

    • I think that’s a great point. This isn’t just semantics. This affects how we teach, how we preach and how we ourselves do ministry in the various areas God has called us to (using my definition šŸ˜‰

  4. One of the difficulties I have in regards not to having a sense of calling to a particular form of ministry is how do you work through the hard times when they come. Also within the sense of calling in using gifts, talents abilities – we could virtually send every Bible college student out as an overseas missionary.

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

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