4 Reasons Not to Obsess over Your "Calling"
- Jen Roland Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2022 16 Jun
When I graduated college and began my teaching career, I assumed I’d spend the rest of my life in the education system. I loved kids and came alive in the classroom, fulfilled by helping others grow and learn. I was sure this was my “calling.”
Problems arose when, nine years later, I put my career on hold to care for my new baby. In stepping out of the workforce, it seemed I’d lost my identity. If teaching was my calling, how could I face the reality that I wasn’t “following” it? And if it wasn’t my calling, what was?
A few years later, I thought God might be nudging me to accept a leadership position in my church. I didn’t act immediately because I wasn’t sure and, by the time I came forward, the position had been filled. I confided in a friend, tears streaming down my cheeks, and told her I’d made a mistake. She responded, “You would have been a great candidate, but no one knew you were interested. That’s why, when the Holy Spirit speaks, we must act immediately.”
That experience heightened my anxiety over missing God’s calling. I began to act out of fear, jumping on opportunities I thought might be from God or holding back out of worry that I’d make the wrong choice. I continued to seek clarity on God’s “calling” for my life while being secretly afraid I would miss it.
Over the past decade, God has helped me trade “finding my calling” for following Jesus and letting His plan unfold. He’s shown me four reasons we shouldn’t obsess over our calling or worry that we’ll miss it. They are:
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1. Our culture has overcomplicated the concept of “calling.”
We live in a culture that tells us we can and should become whatever we want to be. We’re told to chase our dreams, follow our heart, and do what makes us happy. This is a path to destruction, not freedom (Proverbs 14:12 NIV). The desires of our heart, unless led by the Spirit, lead us astray (Psalm 34:4 NIV). They cause us to seek power, money, fame, and other things of the flesh over the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33 NIV).
When we believe our calling is a personal choice in a sea of endless possibilities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When we instead trust that, before we were born, God prepared good works for us to do and had a specific purpose for our lives, the concept of calling is simplified (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). It’s not a mystery we must search outside of ourselves to find, but what remains when selfish ambition and external expectations are removed. Only when operating from our Spirit-led self are we free to grow into who God created us to become.
God is our Caller, and He calls each of us by name into a relationship with Him (Isaiah 43:1). In Christ—not our careers, performance, or the opinions of others—we find our identity and purpose. First and foremost, all believers are called to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus. As we spend time with the Lord, He will reveal how He wants us to use our unique gifts and abilities to serve others, make Him known, and impact the world.
In the words of Richard J. Foster from Freedom of Simplicity, “There are not many things we have to keep in mind—in fact, only one: to be attentive to the voice of the true Shepherd.” Our “calling” becomes clear as we cultivate a life of listening.
2. Determining our “calling” ultimately comes down to one thing.
Leaving my teaching career was difficult, but I look back now and recognize God’s provision. As I started reading His Word, creating space to hear His voice, and learning how to listen, God met me in moments I felt lost or lonely and began steering me in a new direction.
Six months after I felt God prompting me to write my testimony, I received an unexpected phone from the leader of my mom’s ministry. The woman scheduled to share her testimony the next day had called in sick and she asked if I could “pull something together.” I didn’t have to, because I’d already written it.
In the years that followed, God continued opening doors to write and speak while increasing my hunger for spiritual things. When tempted to return to classroom teaching, God spoke to me through Veronica Partridge’s book, Find Your Calling. The author describes her friend Jen (same name), who worked as a teacher, but felt led to share her story to help others. Jen started a blog (I had too) and her story resonated with many women. She describes how Jen, if she’d continued in education, would have likely had a successful career, but she would have missed the opportunity to provide hope and healing to others by following God’s calling.
Cultivating a life of listening isn’t easy. I didn’t get it right the first time, and you may not either, but that’s okay. Even Samuel, whose life was dedicated to the Lord, didn’t recognize God’s voice right away. Three times God called Samuel, and each time Samuel ran to Eli (1 Samuel 3 NIV). It wasn’t until the fourth time, when Eli told him it was God, that Samuel replied, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
Like Samuel, to hear from God we need to slow down, get silent, and listen. You’ll start to notice ways God speaks to you through scripture, song lyrics, open doors, new desires, promptings, other people, and pain. God won’t lay out His entire plan, but He will show you the next step and ask you to trust Him. In the words of Jesus, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more” (Mark 4:24 NLT).
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3. Your unique “calling” will change as you grow and mature in Christ.
While our primary purpose of glorifying God remains the same throughout our lives (Isaiah 43:7), I’m convinced our individual “callings,” which align with our giftings, go through seasons as we grow. I don’t believe I missed the mark by spending nine years as a classroom teacher any more than believe I stepped out of my calling when I stayed home to raise my children. In each of these seasons, God had a purpose, conforming me to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29) and preparing me for the next season.
Our calling should stretch us. Our responsibility is to do the best we know how to use our gifts for His glory. Furthermore, from the moment we put our faith in Jesus, He places the Spirit in us, and we are bestowed spiritual gifts that benefit the church. When we combine these gifts with our natural abilities and the passions God has placed within our hearts, we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit to reach our full potential in Christ.
Resist the urge to fast-forward through the season you’re in to get to a future calling. This promotes anxiety and discontent, stealing time and energy that could be spent prioritizing your relationship with God. Your calling is not a destination to be reached or something you must strive to figure out. According to Pastor Steven Furtick, if you serve the purpose of the season you’re in right now, then your calling will find you.
Focus on where God’s placed you and on serving the people in your presence well. Share the love of Christ as you attune your ears to His voice. As you faithfully pursue what God has given you to do today, He will lovingly guide you—one step at a time.
4. When you earnestly seek God, He won’t let you miss your “calling.”
In the example of the Lord calling Samuel, God didn’t give up when Samuel mistook His voice for Eli’s—He kept calling. This brings peace for anyone who has worried about missing their calling (myself included). In the situation I described earlier, God found someone else to fill the position, but a few years later another leadership opportunity opened up. Today, I am the Director of Women’s Ministry at my church, and I am excited, rather than anxious, about where God will lead me next.
Instead of seeking God for answers or asking Him to show you what to do, ask Him to guide your daily steps. Pray for wisdom, discernment, and courage to be obedient as you follow Jesus and allow His plan to unfold. In your quiet time, instead of asking God to show you your calling, ask Him to help you cultivate a life of service to others and devotion to Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome fear, doubt, and anything else holding us back from walking in faithfulness and peace.
I’ve found that God often speaks through repeated words or phrases, such as a passage of scripture. When this happens, pay attention! God promises to instruct and teach us in the way we should go (Psalm 32:8 NIV), but we can’t receive His instructions if we’re busy, burdened, distracted, or too focused on our own agenda.
Recently, after being kicked out of a Facebook support group for sharing my faith, God led me to Jeremiah 20:9 NIV: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” God used this verse to confirm my passion and purpose for sharing His Word with others.
I prayed that if ministry was God’s will for me that He would show me that verse again, and He did. God also affirmed my call through a mature believer who has encouraged me on my walk. Ten years ago, I never would have thought I’d end up in ministry, but often the path God has for us can’t be seen from our vantage point. For me, hardship, humility, and a willingness to listen—not human effort—have brought clarity over time.
Rather than obsess over your calling, look for ways to use your gifts to serve. Get plugged in to a Spirit-filled church and cultivate a life of listening. As you spend time with the Lord, His plan for you will naturally unfold.
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