Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Sermon on Calling

Even though I studiously take notes on most sermons, I’m honestly not that good at revisiting them, and I want to make sure I remember parts of today’s—possibly they’ll be useful for someone else, too.

Our guest preacher’s text was 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, and he taught about work and calling. I would really encourage you to listen to the sermon itself, once it is posted, rather than hearing it filtered through me. However, here were some of the major points, as I heard them:

  • God calls us first to Himself and secondly to particular places and roles. (See, e.g., Romans 1:6, “called to belong to Jesus Christ.”) And we all have multiple callings in our lives; "calling" is not reducible to our employment.

  • The meaning of our work is often hidden from us. Not being able to see the significance of our work can drive us to despair. But God sees it, and He knows why He puts us in a particular place of service. It’s our job to strive to be faithful in that place.

  • We struggle with this because we get stuck in a place we don’t like or that doesn’t feel quite right and are tempted to think, “If I could just escape, then I’d be happy.” But as v. 17 shows, there is in Scripture a bias toward staying in the place where God has placed you.

  • This is not fatalistic; it does not mean, for instance, that if you are in a bad or unhealthy situation, it wouldn’t be right for you to look for opportunities to get out of it. Like anything, situations like this call for much wisdom and discernment. (An example might be my husband’s decision last year to change careers rather than trying to salvage a career in academia/ministry.)

  • However, it does mean that you aren’t always looking for “the next thing” or for advancement or change for its own sake. This ties into a challenge many of us experience, where Christian and secular ideas about calling are banging around in our heads, to the point that what we’re espousing is really a secular idea baptized: namely, that “my work should be fulfilling.” We are prone to exaggerate the range of options we have and to act like there’s a perfect situation out there for us, if only we could find it, or set ourselves up for it in just the right way. (And, realistically, it’s a relatively privileged few who have this kind of flexibility open to them, much less the ability to take advantage of it.) Biblically speaking, though, we’re called instead to serve God based on the abilities He has given us.

  • So, in other words, try not to think of life as a series of choices; ask yourself instead, “How can I find myself within the web of relationships and circumstances in which God has placed me?” Instead of, “What do you want to do?” or “What will make me happy?”, ask “Where has God put me?” Trust Him with the gifts, experiences, opportunities, and relationships He’s given you, and don’t worry about the tangible results, which are not up to you and not even, necessarily, the point.
[To be clear, the rest are my own extrapolations/reflections.]

One thing I like about this is that it’s affirming of the goodness of ordinary pursuits. I know I’ve heard a lot of messages, whether explicit or implicit, trying to stir up Christians to make a big impact in the world for Jesus; but I’ve wondered lately how much this might be shaped by worldly thinking, or, dare I say it, a “theologian of glory” mindset. It presumes a lot, both about the uniqueness of our gifts and about God’s intentions in using them. It certainly seems to rest on me knowing what I’m doing, which is a potentially crushing thought—because what if I miss that one thing I’m apparently uniquely equipped to do? And who is to say that the more obviously visible impacts are the most important or most pleasing to God?

I also think this is an especially challenging word to my generation. I’m probably not alone in having grown up imbibing the message that I have a unique calling and a very specific niche I’m called to carve out, and not only that, I can expect to be "fulfilled" in the pursuit of my passion. Talk about soul-crushing—and how discouraging to reach a point where you’ve followed all the “right” steps and discover that you’ve “failed” because you just don’t love it enough! Again, how much of this is a function of privilege, of the illusion that our choices are unlimited and that we really can be anything we want to be? I know for a fact this isn’t how Christians have thought about vocation and calling for the vast majority of history; and I doubt it’s a mindset that would even make sense to most Christians in the broader world.

Looking at calling this way can be liberating when the purpose and impact of my work is not transparent to me and might never be in this life. It lifts the burden of needing to have things figured out, and to be constantly in pursuit of the next goal instead of learning contentment here and now—which, let’s face it, is a hard enough task.

It’s not easy to figure out how this translates into specific circumstances, or to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of false messages about one’s purpose and value, but, as Kevin put it, it’s about gradually habituating oneself to a different (biblical) way of thinking.


  1. This is GREAT.

    I remember at my last job (retail), being so unhappy and was talking to a friend about job hunting and not finding ANYTHING. To which she replied, "God must not be done with you where you are yet."

    That made me really think about purpose and how purpose trumps happiness. And, how joy trumps happiness and can exist in the unhappy times.

    Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoy sermon notes!

    1. Thanks for reading!

      After listening to the sermon and reflecting on it, I feel more free to admit that there are some areas of my life where I'm not happy, and that's okay, since this is all about persevering in faith, not having happy feelings 100% of the time. It's not as if I was fooling God anyway. :)