Living Your Calling: The Third Phase
In a previous article, I noted that researchers Tunheim and Goldschmidt (2013) found that calling can be experienced in three phases. The first phase, Awareness, is the phase in which an individual becomes cognizant of God’s calling to a general area of service or focus in life. The second phase represents a period of interpreting that calling, or, as I learned in my own research, understanding what it might mean and imagining the shape it might take in the future. The third phase is the goal: living out one’s calling. The many benefits that researchers have found experienced by those “with a calling” are actually realized in that third phase, when one is fulfilling that calling, not just holding awareness of it. This article will focus on the third phase, living out your calling.
“I feel like I am doing what God created me to do.”
Whether or not we have said that ourselves, most of us have probably heard someone say it. People who experience that sense of thriving and satisfaction in serving Jesus are living out their calling.
Researchers have found many benefits of sensing a calling. Various studies have shown that people whose work is connected to their calling have increased skills in making decisions related to their work, greater commitment to the organization that employs them, more intrinsic motivation, greater success in overcoming personal crises, and more resistance to stress than those who do not believe they are called to the work they are doing (Dik & Duffy, 2012). In addition, engaging in one’s calling is related to work satisfaction and psychological well-being (Dik & Duffy, 2009; Hunter et al., 2010). Further, satisfaction in one’s job is related to general satisfaction with life (Dik & Duffy, 2009; Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007; Hunter et al., 2010).
Additional benefits have been found in research with college students (aged 18-24 years). For this group, calling is related to a sense that life is meaningful (Astin at al., 2011; Parks, 2000), as well as to spiritual growth and overall well-being (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Fowler, 1999; Royce-Davis & Stewart, 2000).
For the Church, the importance of living out our calling is difficult to overstate. If God has called, then the Spirit has also given gifts of grace for that calling; suppressing gifts is like trying to hold a beachball under water. Unfulfilled callings also impact the Body of Christ, which missing out on the contribution of critical limbs and organs that the body needs to function at its full potential. The results are individuals who are frustrated and unfulfilled, not living abundant lives, and local churches where the Spirit’s work is not as full as it could be.
The other impact of not living out our calling is even more crucial. When God calls and gives direction, then developing, pursuing, and fulfilling that calling is not about the benefits we can experience, but about obedience to God and service to His purposes. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price.
Living out our calling is critical. How can we take steps toward that, or encourage others to do so? Here are three practical steps for an individual to take and two challenges to churches and Christian organizations.
Steps for Individuals
- Explore your passions and gifts. God’s calling often overlaps with your passions and gifts. What do you care deeply about? What do you get angry about in the world? What gives you great joy? What are you particularly good at? What are you doing in the moments when you are especially productive and lose track of time? These could be signposts, pointing you to the issues, people, and tasks God designed you to invest in. If you are not sure how to answer those questions, start with the CliftonStrengths assessment at https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/253868/popular-cliftonstrengths-assessment-products.aspx, or try new activities and ways of serving.
- Engage in a process of discerning your calling. Using a guide such as The Path by Laurie Beth Jones is helpful. Even better would be to take Northwest University’s Life Calling course, even you enroll as an audit student. Auditing allows a person to engage in the class for a nominal fee rather than tuition, without the pressure of earning a grade. I teach the Life Calling course in person every year at the Oregon campus; contact us for more information.
- Make a commitment and follow a plan. Knowing what God has called you to is not the same as fulfilling that calling. Talk with people who are doing work or service that is similar to your own calling. Listen to their story of preparing and developing the skills and character that allow them to fulfill their calling. Notice the similarities and differences between people’s journeys. You will find at least two common themes: a calling is a call to not just to do, but to become; and, there are no shortcuts in the process. Use this insight to create a plan to move forward toward fulfilling your calling.
Challenges for Churches
- Talk about calling. Give people opportunities to hear from God and respond to His call. Remind them that God calls people to many types of work, service, and ways of living, including parenting, encouraging, public service and leadership, business, and philanthropy, as well as to traditional church ministry and missions.
- Make space for people to explore their gifts. This will mean that some will find areas in which they are not gifted … so things will not always be perfect. Creating occasions and contexts in which people can try something new will result in some exciting discoveries as they and others around them see God at work through them.
Living out the call of God on our lives requires preparation and is not always easy, but it is always worth it – for us and for the Kingdom of God. He chooses to use us. Let’s partner with the Spirit as He gives gifts and speaks direction and be bravely obedient to His call.
 Researches who have documented the benefits of a sense of calling often define calling in secular terms, without specifically attributing it to God.
Resources Referenced in This Article
Astin, A. W., Astin, H. S., & Lindholm, J. A. (2011). Cultivating the spirit: How college can enhance students’ lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2009). Calling and vocation at work: Definitions and prospects for research and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 37, 424-250. doi:10.1177/0011000008316430
Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2012). Make your job a calling: How the psychology of vocation can change your life at work. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.
Duffy, R. D., & Sedlacek, W. E. (2007). The presence of and search for a calling: Connections to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 70, 590-601.
Fowler, J. W. (1999). Becoming adult, becoming Christian: Adult development and Christian faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hunter, I., Dik, B. J., & Banning, J. H. (2010). College students’ perceptions of calling in work and life: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 178-186.
Parks, S. D. (2000). Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Royce-Davis, J., & Stewart, M. (2000). Addressing the relationship between career development and spirituality when working with college students. Unpublished manuscript, University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA. Retrieved from ERIC. (document 452 444)