Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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4 Recommended Books on Calling

During a message I gave last year on living on mission for God, some in attendance indicated that they were not familiar with the subject of calling. That doesn’t surprise me. We don’t often hear terms such as calling and vocation used today. If we were to admit it, many of those we work with, and perhaps some of us, view work as a necessary evil. Most don’t look at their work as a vocation, a calling, or even a career. No, it’s just a job. They embrace Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” philosophy, celebrate reaching “Hump Day”, ask “Is it Friday yet?” and get the “Sunday Night Blues” as they think about going to work on Monday morning.

The dictionary has two definitions of calling that are relevant here:

  • A strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.
  • The vocation or profession in which one customarily engages.

In The Call, the most helpful book I’ve read on our calling as believers, author Os Guinness tells us that our calling is deeper than our jobs, our career, and all of our benchmarks of success.  We should not let our jobs define us and give us our identities. However, we spend so much of our waking time doing our work, this can certainly happen. Think of when you meet someone. You ask them what they “do”. We can become what we do. Guinness tells us that calling reverses such thinking, and a sense of calling should precede a choice of job and career. The main way to discover our calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be. So, instead of thinking that you are what you do, calling says to do what you are. Continue reading

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When Your Calling Changes

For nearly 38 years I was a leader in a Fortune 50 organization. I’ve previously shared “4 Reasons I See Leadership as a Calling”. But 10+ months ago, my time at that organization ended. Although I still lead in some ways, particularly at church, I no longer have a team that I provide day to day leadership to. What now? What about my calling?
Os Guinness, in his excellent book The Call, introduces us to two types of callings, primary and secondary. As Christians, our primary calling is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live and act entirely for God. So, our primary calling is to God. Our secondary callings can be our jobs or vocations.
Guinness tells us that our calling is deeper than our jobs, our career, and all of our benchmarks of success.  We should not let our jobs define us and give us our identities. Frankly, we spend so much of our waking time doing our work, this can certainly happen.
I believe we have multiple secondary callings (son, father, husband, employee, etc.). Both writer Jeff Goins in his book The Art of Work and pastor Bob Smart in his book Calling to Christ, refer to our “portfolio of callings”. Goins writes that our calling is more than our career. He suggests that we consider the variety of things that we do (work, home, play/hobbies, etc.) as our calling portfolio. Dr. Smart writes that calling formation is for a season, and usually takes from age 18 to 35, but is always renewing with changes in our particular, or secondary, callings. Continue reading


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Living on Mission for God

This summer I spoke on the topic of “Living on Mission for God” at the “By the Way” Conference at the Lexington Community Church in central Illinois. It was a great time at the church, as my wife Tammy and I got to meet many wonderful people and visit with their pastors. I wanted to share a brief summary of the message I delivered at the conference.
The theme of the conference was being mission minded in our everyday lives. I looked at how we – whether we work in a large organization, a small non-profit, are a stay at home mom, a student, farmer or are retired – can live out the mission God intended for our lives. How can we live on mission for God?
Drawing on the scriptures and a number of excellent books I have read, I started with some foundational information, looking at God’s mission in creating the human race and redeeming us for His glory, the mission of the church (the “Great Commission”), and how we can be a part of God’s mission as individual believers.  I summarized this section by indicating: Continue reading


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Knowing God’s Will for Your Vocation


Do you consider your work as a job? Or do you consider it a calling or your vocation?  Dr. R. C. Sproul defines vocation as being a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us.  I like to think of what I do Monday through Friday as a calling or vocation.
As Christians consider their vocations, one thing that we want to assure is that our vocations are in God’s will. But how do we know that? A question we might ask could be “How do I know that I am in God’s will for my vocation?” I was recently helped in this area by re-reading R.C. Sproul’s small book Can I Know God’s Will?  (Note: The e-book version of the book, and all of the books in his Crucial Questions series, are available free). It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives.
Sproul writes that whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. God Himself is a working God, and from the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. He also reminds us that work was given before the fall, and that work was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. Sproul tells us that it is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Ready for a bit of theology? One thing that Sproul points out that we might not be aware of is that there are different aspects of God’s will. He helpfully leads the reader through the different ways in which the will of God is addressed in the Bible. First, he addresses the decretive will of God. That is the will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty.  God said, “Let there be light” and there was light, for example.
He then talks about the preceptive will of God. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that God delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do.  Sproul tells us that the decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken, the preceptive will of God. God’s preceptive will can be disobeyed, and indeed it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
Sproul writes that the top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.  I would phrase it that if we seek to obey his preceptive will, the will of God as revealed in Scripture, then our field of vocation is wide open to us.
In discerning our vocational calling, he gives us four important questions to consider:

  • What can I do?
  • What do I like to do?
  • What would I like to be able to do?
  • What should I do?

Sproul writes that every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation, and that along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift. Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. A vocation is something that we receive from God. God usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations, and His invisible sovereign will works in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
Other thought-providing questions that will be helpful in discerning our vocational calling are:

  • What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?
  • What would I like to be doing ten years from now?

Sproul concludes with:
“As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.”
So where does that leave us in seeking God’s will for our vocation? I would recommend praying about it and following the helpful questions above. You probably won’t need to worry about being out of God’s will if you choose to live in Illinois vs. Florida or Texas, for example. Also, reflect back on Sproul’s comment that any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. And for our millennial readers, remember that you don’t have to perfectly fulfill your passion and happiness in your choice of work.  Instead remember Jesus’ words:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33 ESV)
Enjoy this related message from Dr. Sproul’s series Knowing God’s Will, entitled “God’s Will and Your Vocation”.


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21 Quotes on Calling, Vocation and Leadership from One Thousand Wells: How an Audacious Goal Taught Me to Love the World Instead of Save It by Jena Lee Nardella

Jena Lee Nardella quoteJena Lee Nardella’s new book about her work as co-founder of Blood: Water Mission is my top book of the year. You can read my review of the book here.

We can learn much about calling, vocation and leadership from this inspiring book from a young leader. Here are 21 of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • The vision included serving African villages where women and children walk several miles a day to find water to keep them alive. It included providing clean water for one thousand of those African communities.
  • I see that the only way to reach an audacious goal is slowly by slowly.
  • Most important, I learned that to take on immovable mountains, the first thing you have to do is move. Before you try to conquer something as big as a mountain, you have to change.
  • I was unaware at the time that connecting an overlooked community to a community of resource would become the vocational pattern of my life.
  • Vocation is surprising like that. Sometimes we try to make it much more difficult than it is. We assume that we have to be martyrs, monks, or missionaries in order to be doing what God wants us to do. I hold fast to the words of novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner, who writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
  • How to inspire very compassionate but very busy people to care about what you believe is one of the most important things in the world.
  • Even today, my talents are not in being the most capable person in the room but in knowing when I need others and remaining teachable.
  • Dan responded. “A thousand is a number that we shouldn’t be comfortable with. If we get there, we know it wasn’t because of us. It’s audacious; it’s not possible. But it has to be done.”
  • But I had learned that the alignment of passion, skill set, and opportunity—those three pulses at the heart of vocation—is hard to find.
  • I began to ask questions that continue to shape me, and Blood: Water, today: How can we place anything—commerce, opinion, semantics—before caring for those in need? How can we paint “secular” and “sacred” labels while missing the vision that all things God touches are sacred, even if they are broken? And most of all: When do we overlook opportunities to love others because we’re so concerned with keeping ourselves safe?
  • Each of us was just beginning to learn that making an impact with your life is risky. Missional vocation will break you, taunt you, do whatever it can to test whether you mean it when you say you want to serve the poor or provide clean water in Africa or conquer a mountain.
  • “We are implicated in the lives of others, even those we have never met,” Steve Garber had often reminded me.
  • But sometimes best practices are less important than mercy.
  • And I felt the joy of it all, the alignment of calling, the thrill of connecting resources with a corner of the world’s need.
  • Looking around the room at Brooke’s loved ones, I understood in a new way that when you choose a calling, you don’t do so in isolation. The people you love are a part of your choice, too. They are the ones who rejoice the most with you when life goes well, and they are the ones who will bear the heaviest burdens should the world’s brokenness overtake you.
  • A vision for change is thrilling when you stand behind a soup kitchen counter or in a classroom buzzing with ideas or in the back room of a tour bus that overflows with dollar bills. But when you’re face-to-face with human depravity—sometimes others’ and oftentimes your own—it is extremely difficult to keep pressing forward with any conviction that it is worth it. I couldn’t decide if fighting the long defeat was a devastating way to look at vocation, or if it was simply the more honest and, therefore, more sustainable way.
  • This way of looking at the world means admitting that at some point along our vocational journey, we will not feel the rush of serving as we did once, but we will stay with it anyway. It means admitting that the world is indeed a hard place to live, and it will likely break our heart if we keep engaging with it, but we will choose to hope anyway.
  • When you choose to keep walking in a proximate direction, you define success differently than before.
  • The challenge is to wake up each day and live out your vocation in the same way true change happens in Africa: slowly by slowly, brick by brick. Faithfully entering the world does not require an advanced degree, a fancy job title, or endless resources. Vocation is a calling, an action, to be expressed wherever your feet are today.
  • Partnering directly with local people who are capable, compassionate, and hardworking and applying the values of dignity, relationship, and excellence—now that’s where you’ll see true success.
  • My calling is to do the one more thing in front of me. And then the next. If I can step into that, I want to be there. If stepping into this calling means stepping into hard times, I still want to be there.