How many calls did you get yesterday, through phone or text or email? If you’re a Christian, you get one particular call every day — a call to serve. But you’re probably already serving at church, as volunteer or staff. So you know about serving. But God doesn’t just tell us to serve. He calls us to serve. And the calling makes a difference.
In his book The Call, Oz Guinness reminds Christians that we have both a primary and secondary calling. In our primary calling, Jesus calls us to himself. In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about our primary calling in verses 8 and 9: we are saved “by grace,” “a gift of God – not by works.” Then, in verse 10, he turns to our secondary callings. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Knowing our secondary callings is crucial to avoiding burnout, constant frustration and feelings of insignificance as we serve. Wouldn’t your life be healthier, and wouldn’t your service be more rewarding, if you were doing just those tasks God prepared for you?
Lord, What are You Calling Me to Do?
“Lord, what are you calling me to do?” My husband and I asked this question when we considered inviting his mother to move in with us. I ask it when work piles up and I don’t know where to start. It’s a crucial question for each of us, whenever we face decisions on how to spend our time. And the Person who calls us will not fail to respond.
Lord, what are you calling me to do?
When you want to know what God is calling you to do:
- Do the obvious: ask him. Ask him often; step your prayer life up a notch.
- Listen. Be alert when you are in weekly worship, as you read scripture daily on your own, and as you study it with fellow believers.
- Think about where God has placed you-where you already serve in your immediate and extended family, for your employer, at church and elsewhere. Being aware of where he has placed us can guide us in knowing what he wants us to do.
- Think about how God has shaped you: your spiritual gifts, abilities, interests, personality, education and experience. He gifted you for service, but also be aware that sometimes he calls us to serve where we’re not gifted. (This worksheet, Lord, What are You Calling Me to Do?, can help you think through where God has placed you and how God has gifted you.)
- Talk it over with a mature, wise Christian.
- Act. After a time of asking and listening, do something. Take a step. See if God opens or closes the door. God’s most effective guidance is often through experience.
“Lord, what are you calling me to do?” Don’t just save this question for major decisions; ask it often. If each of us began each day with that question, imagine the difference it would make in our churches. No one would burn out, or take on too much. No one would neglect one calling for the sake of another calling. No one would miss the need God planned in advance for them to meet.
Calling Powers our Service
Have you ever pictured God milking cows or changing a diaper? These intriguing mental pictures come from writings of Martin Luther, the 16th century monk who ignited the Reformation. Although best known for his emphasis on grace alone, faith alone and scripture alone, Luther also reformed both church and culture with his teaching on vocation.
Have you ever pictured God milking cows?
The church of his day taught that the vocation – the calling – of monks and nuns was far superior, and more God-pleasing, than the work of the common people. Luther disagreed. He taught that the everyday tasks of everyday people were more important because God himself works through people like the milkmaid, the parent, the farmer and carpenter, to provide for his children. God himself milks the cows and changes the diaper. And so with us today. When God calls us to serve, he works through us. He himself, in fact, is doing the work. We’re just the tool in his hands.
Think of the places and ways you serve: doing the laundry at home, writing that report at work, organizing that event at church. Picture God in the laundry room or your office or the meeting room with his sleeves rolled up, saying, “Come on over here and join me. Yes, you. We’ve got work to do.”
Because he is working, the results are in his hands. And our competence, or lack of it, is not really an issue. He is competent. God has given me the blessing of serving in many areas where he’s gifted me. But he’s also called me to be primary caregiver for my mother-in-law, although he certainly didn’t give me the gifts I see in others who are natural caregivers. But it’s the call, not the competence, that’s the issue. God has called my husband and me to care for his mother, and God is meeting her needs through us.
It’s the call, not the competence, that’s the issue.
Wherever God calls you to serve, he is working. Hold on tight to that truth when you don’t seem to be making a difference, when it’s the same grind day after day, when there are roadblocks and disappointments, loneliness and emptiness, when it’s two steps backward for every one step forward. God is working through you. He will accomplish his purposes.
Calling Frees our Service
Calling is personal. Calling powers our service. But, best of all, our calling frees our service.
Oz Guinness, in The Call, expresses it this way: “I work for an Audience of One. Before anyone else,
I have nothing to prove . . . nothing to gain . . . nothing to lose.” Because Jesus calls us, he is our Audience of One. That fact frees us from fear of what others might think or say or do. It also frees us from our need to be seen as competent, our need to be liked or to please others.
He who calls us also forgives our failings. For no matter where and how we serve, at times we will fail. Sometime we will hurt those we say we’re serving. We will ignore the needs of family and others in order to do church work. We will ignore the hurting person God put in our path. We will quit when things get tough. We will use our gifts for our purposes, not His. We will fail. But God never fails us. The call is never conditional on our performance.
Being called to serve is a wonderful grace-filled gift, but it’s usually not a walk in the park. It’s more like an adventure, with all the challenges and the sweat and the unknowns of an adventure.
There’s a short little verse in scripture – just 8 words — that I go to when my callings became a challenging adventure. I freely admit I’m using this verse beyond its intended meaning, but it reminds me of two important and simple ways to deal with the challenges of my callings.
Mark is describing the healing of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:49). When Bartimaeus hears Jesus passing by, in the middle of a huge crowd, he starts yelling to get Jesus’ attention. The people nearby want him to quiet down, but he won’t stop. Jesus hears him, and asks that Bartimaeus be brought to him. And Mark mentions that the people around Bartimaeus, probably those same ones trying to shut him up just a moment ago, now tell him: “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you!”
When your calling is hard, “Cheer up!” Remember the One with the rolled-up sleeves who labors alongside you. Remember the power and freedom of your calling. This isn’t a “put on a happy face” kind of cheering up. It’s better: a joy, a deep, unquenchable joy to cling to no matter the circumstances.
On your feet!
He’s calling you!
When your calling is hard, “On your feet!” Take a step. Do something. Don’t go sit on the bench; get back on the playing field.
Because, “He’s calling you.” He knows you. He hears you. He heals and forgives you. Whether your service is fun and full of rewards, or whether it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, he’s calling you.
Called to Serve Together
It’s exciting for me, and for you, to be called to serve. More exciting yet is that fact that everyone at my church, and at your church, is called to serve. Then why are our churches so short of volunteers? Let’s start by checking our attitudes.
How do we get all those pew-sitters to sign up for all these things that need doing?!
We who serve in our churches, staff and volunteers alike, are busy people who care about ministry. That’s why we feel that every member should volunteer, and we’re frustrated so many don’t. This common recruitment-focused attitude can be summarized: How do we get all those pew-sitters to sign up for all these things that need doing?!
But when we view believers as being called by their Lord to serve, our attitude changes. We want to help each other clarify and carry out our callings; we want to help each other serve. Using a word that has come to express this attitude, our church aims to equip people to serve.
What’s the difference between these two attitudes?
|Recruitment attitude||Equipping attitude|
|Our focus||Tasks that need workers||People gifted for service|
|Our goal||Fill positions||Help people serve|
|When a position is filled …||… we’re done||… we support those who are serving|
|The church is||an organization with needs||the living body of Christ|
He’s calling you . . . and those in the next pew, too.
If we took on an equipping attitude, how would it change the way we do church? For starters:
We’d talk more being called to serve; talk that would educate, encourage and challenge us.
- We’d talk about our callings to serve in our families and jobs and community as well as our churches.
- We’d talk about how to wrestle through that question, “Lord, what are you calling me to do?” and how to help others through it.
- We would stop recruiting through guilt or pressure or desperate pleas.
- We’d recruit by personally inviting qualified people to consider a specific ministry need, asking them to ask God if He’s calling them to serve in this way. We’d accept an answer of no graciously.
- We’ll train people for their service and support them while they serve.
- We’ll watch for those little problems that crop up and can hinder serving, and we’ll address them quickly so they don’t grow up into big problems.
- We’ll never be too busy to say thank you.
- We who lead will hold each other accountable for how well we help others to serve. Those who excel in helping others do ministry will be honored more than those who do it all themselves.
Ephesians 4:15-16: ‘[S]peaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Worksheet: Lord, What are You Calling Me to Do?