"I'm tired of jobs that pay the bills, but leave me feeling empty," John said at the beginning of his career counseling session. "I'll be 43 this year and I want to make a change while there's still time. I want to find my calling." John represents hundreds of Americans who aren't satisfied with having "just a job." They want more from their work than just a paycheck; they want to feel they are investing the best of themselves in something that really matters.

A Secular View of Calling

"Most of us are looking for a calling, not a job," says Nora Watson in her interview for Studs Terkel's classic book Working. "Most of us . . . have jobs that are too small for our spirit." Nora compared her job with that of her father, who had felt his work was "a profession of himself" and a calling.

The American culture encourages us to look to our work for our sense of purpose and calling. An article in Fast Company described how "work has become how we define ourselves....Work is no longer just about economics; it's about identity." We have been told that finding our calling is the same as getting our dream job or doing what we love. But is society's definition of "calling" a biblical one, as well?

A Biblical Perspective on Calling

Without a doubt, work is important to God. From the beginning of time, He has given human beings work to do. At its best, work uses our unique gifts and abilities and provides opportunities to make a difference in the world around us. The Bible, however, reveals that work is not our central calling. When the word "calling" is used in Scripture, it most often refers to our calling to a relationship with God. There are no biblical examples of "calling" referring to paid employment. Although God has designed each of us for special tasks and assignments, His calling for us is much greater and more soul-satisfying than a summons to work. Before being called to something, we are called to Someone.

Os Guinness makes a helpful distinction between our primary calling and our secondary callings. Our primary calling is to be in a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that God has created us to be his and to have a significant place in this world. As we live our primary calling, God enables us to see ourselves and the world around us differently. The closer we walk with God, the more we understand God's agenda for humanity and our part in it.

Incredibly, God calls us to be his "fellow workers" (1 Cor. 3:9). Embracing us as his partners to help fulfill his purposes on earth, God calls us to various tasks and life roles. These are our secondary callings, which include such life roles as parent, spouse, family member, worker, student, church member, citizen, friend, and neighbor. Our secondary callings provide the contexts in which we can live our primary calling to follow Jesus.

Finding Your Calling within Work

Your work, or vocational calling, is one of your secondary callings. It is inextricably connected to your primary calling to be in relationship with God. The English word vocation has its origin in the Latin word "vocare," which means "to call." Your vocational calling is a summons from God to use your gifts in the world whether it be within paid employment, the home, or volunteer activities.

Finding your vocational calling is a journey. There are five levels of vocational fit that you can use to assess where you currently are on that journey. See if you can determine which of the five levels of vocational fit best describes your work situation. From there, you can begin to discern what -- if any -- changes need to be made in your professional life.

The lowest level of vocational fit is when a person sees his or her work as just a job. A level one job may provide a paycheck but little sense of enjoyment or satisfaction. Level two is okay work that is of some interest. Level three is enjoyable work that may be satisfying for many years. Once people have achieved competency in this situation, however, they may experience a need for something more meaningful.

Level four is meaningful work, in which people feel they are contributing to a significant purpose or giving something back. People at this level usually are in work that is a good fit for their skills, but frequently they are most motivated by the mission of the organization. Level five, the highest level of vocational fit, is vocational integration. At the highest level of vocational fit, a person's work is an expression of who he or she is. People who have achieved vocational integration in the work world seem to earn their living simply by "being themselves." Their unique design is clearly visible in what they do; their personal identity is merged with their work identity. They feel that they are doing the type of work they were meant to do.

The good news is, as a Christian you can live your primary calling regardless of your work situation. You are called and can live that calling each and every day. And, as you move higher up the levels of vocational fit you will increasingly experience the joy of being God's partner in doing His work on earth.

 

Adapted from Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life. Copyright 2005 by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Read a sample chapter, find resources for starting a small group, and receive a special discount on the book at www.LiveYourCalling.com.

Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck are experts in helping people identify their giftedness and find their purpose in life. They are National Certified Career Counselors (NCCC) and the founders of www.ChristianCareerCenter.com, and www.ChurchJobsOnline.com.