"What do I want to be when I grow up?" Finding your true calling
“What do I want to be when I grow up?”
It’s a question we ask ourselves from the earliest grades of primary school. When I’m all grown up will I be a doctor? A police officer? For me, when I grew up I wanted to be a garbage collector - there was a song on playschool! (When I asked my son he said he wanted to be Ironman #DadGoals).
Later in life this question seems to take on a more existential edge - what do I want to do with my life? “What is my calling?”
If you’re a little older, the questions of calling can slip into the past tense. Existential questions become existential crisis - what have I done with my life? Where have the years gone? “Was I true to my calling?”
Recently as my project comes to an end, I dropped to a four day work week. It’s given me a opportunity for some breathing space. A chance to take stock of life and prayerfully consider how the next step in my work might best serve God. Some might say “to seek God’s calling for this next phase of life.”
But as I looked at Ephesians 4:1, I am reminded of the New Testament’s use of the word “calling” can be quite different to our own. Writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes:
As a prisoner for the Lord,* then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Notice that the “calling” that Paul speaks about is one that the church has already received. He is referring to the calling that every Christian has already received in Christ.
In fact, across the entire New Testament, the word “calling” (klēsis) and “call” (klētos) are almost exclusively used to refer to our “calling” as Christians.** In Christ we find our deepest and truest calling.
It’s definitely different from how the world thinks about calling! For the world, “calling” is something that most people have not. yet. found.
And our world is full of people wanting to help you to find it. The Internet overflows with articles and videos and quizzes to help us. Trying to find that sweet spot where our skills and passion and opportunity intersect - that is where you will find your calling we are told. From personality tests to career lifehacks, from inspirational dream boards to TED talks, everyone has an opinion on how to find your future calling; how to find your “one true you”. As Christians living in the modern world, it’s easy to co-opt these ideas. What is God’s will for my life? What is God’s calling for me? In the… future tense.
But what the New Testament tells us is that as Christians we don’t need to find our calling. We already have it. In Christ, you are your "one true you".
So what? Over the next few weeks, I will still continue to pray and seek God’s ways for what comes next. But remembering the Bible’s use of “calling” helps reframe all my searching for what comes next. Because in Christ, my ultimate calling has already been found.
And this calling in Christ is greater! This calling draws me into a bigger cosmic purpose far greater than any “life purpose” I could have imagined for myself. This calling draws my skills and passions into service of the very one who “knit me together” in the first place. This calling draws me into a relationship with a loving family of diverse brothers and sisters; it draws me into relationship a with Jesus Christ himself.
In union with Christ I am called to be who I was made to be. In Jesus I already am my “one true self”.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
* Notice how the title Paul uses here isn't "apostle" as he does at the beginning of the letter (Eph. 1:1) but "prisoner." It is, on the one hand, a juxtaposition of his current situation with the true calling he is describing, while, on the other hand, a double-entendre - he is a "prisoner of the lord" insofar as he is in custody of the state for the Lord, but also a description of who has truly captured his heart.
** Matt. 22:14; Rom. 1:1,6,7; 8:28; 11:29; 1 Cor. 1:1,2,24,26; 7:20; Eph. 1:18; 4:1,4; Phil. 3:14; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 2Pet.1:10; Jude 1:1; Rev. 17:14