Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)
Every single human being is born with a need for a vision, something to work towards, something to make our ‘true north’ and provide the impetus to overcome difficulties and obstacles and encourage us to work hard and excel. The need for a purpose is a perfectly normal and natural human longing and was placed in us by God. When He calls us to salvation, God speaks, in part, to this inner longing – although His call extends to the whole of man, particularly the spirit, and can never be apportioned to a single need. But the need to be part of a ‘higher purpose,’ of something greater than ourselves, is a powerful one, and has founded many a dynasty and started many a war. It’s the something that pushes us to reach beyond ourselves and create a legacy, often at the expense of others, to satisfy the longing for the ‘something missing’ within us. Understanding and living the calling of God is particularly relevant to this fundamental and powerful human need, because it addresses the need as God intended it to be, not in the way man traditionally seeks to fill it.
The calling of God in our lives is the purpose for which He created us.
Many Christians lead disappointed and disillusioned lives because they have missed the real truth of the calling of God. They hear talk of the ‘calling of God,’ but it’s often vague or used only for one single purpose or ministry, creating the impression that if we don’t have a ‘formal’ or recognised ministry, we don’t have a calling. They look around them and see preachers, prophets, worship leaders, intercessors, and all other ‘approved’ ministries and somehow feel inferior or inadequate because God has not ‘called’ them. They have not ministry – no calling – because they don’t have what it takes to do God’s work.
This is a natural human response given that the church often operates on the same principles that the world does. We measure the things of God by the same standards the world uses, which creates an entirely skewed perception of how God really does things. To understand, we need to grasp the truth that the calling of God relates to different aspects of our Christian experience.
The first calling of God is that to salvation. We are called by God to repent, seek forgiveness, acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour and that we cannot hope to save ourselves. This is the calling of God into the family of God and the kingdom of God. It is the calling of God to spiritual death and resurrection, to burial with Christ and new life in Christ. It is a calling to change our citizenship and give our obedience to a higher authority. It is a call to transformation, humility, and grace. Whenever we hear the expression ‘the calling of God,’ this should be the very first thing that comes to mind because it determines and empowers what follows.
For now, we can look at the third calling of God – the one which causes so much misunderstanding. This is the calling which results in ministry as we know it in the church. Paul clearly tells us that some are called to be teachers, prophets, evangelists, etc. There is biblical basis for the identity of each of these. But it does not say that everyone will be one of these – suggesting that if we are not, there’s a problem. We need to look at the life of Christ to see the simple explanation at work. While on earth, Jesus had twelve disciples and He preached to the multitude. In other words, there was one leader, twelve chiefs-in-training, and the multitude.
It’s important to note that the calling of God has ‘seasons.’ While Jesus was on earth, the disciples sat at His feet in training. They weren’t the leaders. There was only one teacher – Jesus. They were simply students. Only when Jesus left did they assume the leadership roles they were called to in order to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives – to found the early church. They did this by applying what they learned from Christ, and by glorifying Him in their lives. This particular point is one to take hold of, because it’s critical in understanding the ‘second’ calling of God which is for every Christian. They may be remembered as prophets and evangelists, but in order to do this they had to start off as simple students. They could not skip this step and achieve what God intended.
The problem is that we coin phrases like ‘all are equal in the eyes of God,’ or ‘God is no respecter of persons,’ and misapply them. We twist the truth that all of us contain the potential to be ‘equally great’ in the eyes of God, and lose sight of the truth that clearly states that he who is last will be first. We apply the standards of the world to the things and the calling of God. The real truth is that those who appear to have the ‘powerful ministry’ might well end up ‘last’ in the kingdom, or the one Jesus turns away from because He never knew them. Of course, these may be godly ministries, fully led and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot know the heart of the minister. Only God knows, but their ‘success’ is not measured by how important they seem in the work of God.
If we take a quick look at those powerful men of God – the Old Testament Prophets – who stand out so boldly on the biblical canvas, we see that many of them suffered martyrdom and death for their troubles. If we look at the New Testament apostles, all of them suffered death and most martyrdom of some kind. It’s a sobering reminder that holding high profile ministry isn’t all sunshine and roses. The real truth is that, if this is the kind of calling of God we’re after, we’d best prepare ourselves to endure. It requires humility, surrender, and commitment – a total yielding of self – and utter reliance in faith on God to accomplish the work. It’s not about what we may appear to enjoy. It’s about what has to be given up first and always.
The other misconception is that the calling of God will always be perfectly suited to who we are, what we’re good at, and what we enjoy. The understanding is that, if these three things are not present, we’re not living the calling of God. Peter and Paul are both examples of the reality that this is seldom the case. Peter, the simple, uneducated fishermen with a short fuse would never have been considered to either enjoy or have the skill and aptitude for public speaking, yet God transformed Him. Paul was a religious fanatic, extremely well-educated and a great orator, yet God had to transform him into a humble tentmaker and have him curb his tendency to ‘superior speaking’ in order to reach the ‘common man’ in ways that could be understood. Their joy and fulfillment did not come from doing what they were naturally gifted to do. It came from doing what they were told to do by God, and by doing it for Him rather than for themselves.
A related truth is that we will never face a true calling of God to ministry of any kind which we believe we can do. The reason for this is simple – if we believe we can do it, we don’t need God to do it. This can be a useful measure in determining whether we have heard God or not. If we look at a ministry and think ‘I could do that,’ then we’re after the wrong thing. Real ministry requires absolute reliance on God. That’s the first criteria. Thereafter, He does draw on our natural aptitudes, gifts, talents, skills, learning, and experience as tools, but it will seldom be in the way we expect. The third calling of God always brings a sure and certain knowledge that we cannot accomplish it without Him.
The second calling of God is the one that fits between salvation and ‘public ministry’ and it’s the one which is relevant to each and every one of us. It’s the calling of God referred to in today’s verses. It is the outworking of the calling of God to salvation, and it’s the foundation of any ministry – as formalised and recognised by the church – and which infuses and determines our lives and our service. It’s also the one we most overlook because we’re searching for ministry rather than service. It is the calling to reflect Christ. It is the calling that relates specifically to Christ’s great commission.
Acts 1:8 says, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. This is the true calling of God to every follower of Jesus – to reflect Jesus, to be a living witness to Jesus, to reveal Jesus in all we say and do. We are to make disciples, to teach others and share what we learn at the feet of Christ. It doesn’t matter if know only a little. There is always someone who knows less the us, always someone searching, in need, or who is ready.
To fulfill this calling of God upon our lives, we need to live the reality of our salvation – to fully identify with Jesus. Zeal for God cannot guarantee our success. It helps, sure, but it is only obedience that brings real and lasting success. It’s easy to look at high profile figures and want what appears to be a great blessing of God on their lives. But we need to remember that so many of these don’t last, and so many of them add to the weight of hypocrisy and wrong teaching that is taking over the church. It is the ‘ordinary people’ whose hearts are fixed on God who will make the true difference as our world spirals toward destruction. It is the humble ‘light and salt’ that will be the true reflection of Christ. The second calling of God is the one that will carry the greatest significance in an age where God and His Word are publically ridiculed, and where even His church sees fit to disregard His holiness and principles.
If you’re searching for the calling of God on your life – your purpose in Him, for which He created you – start with this second calling. Begin to seek Him not for a vision but for spiritual understanding. Make time to sit at His feet and learn from Him. Humble yourself and allow Him to show you what needs to go, and relinquish it freely. Let Him transform you into His image, and make the decision today to live Jesus in all you do. God won’t measure us by whether we run massive crusades and bring thousands to Christ, or whether we reach a single person in our family or office. He measures us by the condition of our hearts and whether we are obedienct to the calling of God to glorify Jesus and reveal Him in all we say and do.
There is no higher calling of God than to lift Jesus higher. My particular ‘calling’ may be to reflect Jesus to one person and be a part of their journey to salvation. I may never even know it, may simply be a link in the process. That is irrelevant. What’s important is that I live the calling of God today, in this moment, by living Jesus. God Himself will take care of the rest.
Father God, forgive us if our pride has turned our hearts to seeking Your validation in ‘big’ things instead of living faithfully in the small. Help us to live in the truth that our real purpose is to reveal Jesus, and to continue in the sure and certain faith that, when we surrender our lives and self to You, You will lead us into our purpose, whatever that may be.