“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19, ESV
The calling given by Jesus to brothers Peter and Andrew as they were fishing in the Galilean waters was life changing. Jesus then walking further up the shore called two other brothers, James and John, to follow him as well. Both sets of brothers immediately dropped their nets and followed him, leaving their old lives behind.
God has been calling people to follow him from the beginning. But what does “calling” mean? In Baptist churches I attended years ago, there were frequent calls in the invitation time to surrender to a calling to ministry. I don’t see pastors doing that as much. It’s one thing to read about the call of the apostles who heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth and left all to follow him and quite another for us to consider the calling Jesus may have on our lives today.
This brings up so many questions. Do only certain people have a “calling?” Does a “calling” involve my vocation? How would I know if I have a “calling” and what could it be?
There can be a lot of confusion around this word “calling.” Let me add seven points of clarity to this mystery of the calling of God on a life.
First, I want to give credit where credit is due. I found a lot of help in understanding “calling” from Oz Guinness’ book: The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life. If you are struggling with general meaning and purpose for your life, I recommend you work through his book. It is large and very comprehensive on the issue of “calling.”
Second, the calling of Jesus is more than a calling to a vocation. Some would say that a “calling” has two parts. The first part is a big “C” Calling. The big “C” Calling is more about your relationship with God, your identity, your character and values, and your ultimate purpose in life. Second, they would then classify a vocational choice as a little “c” calling. The little “c” calling is how you live this out in the everyday life. Many will have the little “c” calling of raising a family, holding a job, serving in their church, and sharing the Gospel in the world. Little “c” calling is not little. It is vitally important. Little “c” calling involves knowing your talents, strengths and weaknesses, abilities, tendencies and more. Therefore, one part of calling is about who you are, and the other part is about what you do.
Third, the calling of Jesus is a calling to follow Jesus. It is first a calling to a saving relationship to him. So, everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ and has experienced the new birth has had a call from God. This is not all of the call, but it is the greatest part.
Fourth, the calling of Jesus by nature is personal, powerful, precious, and perplexing. It is personal in that Jesus at some point in your life came to you and revealed himself as Savior and Lord and you responded to him. He…called…you.
The calling to follow Jesus is powerful because you are following him. You are invited into his inner circle to be taught and empowered by him.
It is precious, for you have access to the Lord Jesus every moment of every day. It is an intimate access. He already knows you to the very depths of your soul and he wants you to know him in all his fullness.
Last, it is perplexing because his calling on your life will work out in ways you will not expect. God called childless Abraham to be the father of many nations. God called a young shepherd boy to be king over Israel. God called a frightened Gideon, hiding in a shed, to lead a very few of God’s people to battle a mighty Midian army, and God called an octogenarian who thought his life was over to lead his people out of Egyptian bondage and to the Promised Land. Jesus also chose 12 ordinary flawed men entrusting his life work in their hands. Yes, God’s call can be perplexing. If he can call all these, he can call you.
Fifth, the calling of Jesus is revealed not discovered. We may seek God and how to know him (the big “C” Calling) and we may seek to find out how we’re wired; what we do best and how doing that fits us and brings satisfaction (the little “c” calling). But all of it starts with Jesus. God has put eternity in our hearts for a reason. He is the initiator. For us to find God as revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ, he must first awaken us. We were dead in our trespasses and sin, but God has made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:1, 5).
Sixth, the calling of Jesus is counter cultural. The world says, “You are what you do.” The calling of Jesus says, “Do what you are.” What believers do with their lives comes out of their allegiance to Christ. Our calling is not about us. It is from Jesus to Jesus and for Jesus. We should never forget that. We should also never forget that our value doesn’t come from our ability but from our Lord. Therefore, what we do, we do for him. Our gifts and abilities are not for ourselves, but for Jesus. One radio commentator used to say his “talent was on loan from God.” One day he gave that talent back. So will we.
Seven, the calling of Jesus has distinctions that are kept in tension. There is the distinction between personal and corporate calling. Our personal response to the call of Jesus on our life is important, but there is also a calling that we have in common with other followers of Christ. We are individually members of the body of Christ. We are individuals but we are part of a body and need the body to balance our lives.
There is a distinction between a personal calling and a later, special calling. The apostle Paul is an example of this kind of personal calling to Christ and then his special calling as an apostle to the Gentiles.
The last thing I want to say about this distinction is the difference between the clarity of a calling and the mystery of a calling. I began writing this to provide clarity, and I hope I have. But I cannot provide total clarity.
“Who am I?” and “How should I live?” are questions that aren’t easy to answer. These questions apply generally to all of us, and the Bible will give us answers to these. God’s calling on your life will always be in alignment with what he has said in the Scriptures. If you come across someone who says God has called them to do something that is contrary to the Bible, then they have misread the call.
There are a lot of great tools that help us in our vocation (that part of our calling) such as spiritual gift tests, aptitude assessments, the Enneagram and personality assessments. But there is still a mystery. We are mind, body, and spirit. We find our calling in worship and in listening to God through his Word and in connection and service to his church. I believe God does it this way so that we will have one more reason to stay closely connected to him. Calling is static but it is also dynamic. So yes, Jesus said “Follow me.” I’d say, “Follow him closely.”