Os Guinness’s The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life is the best book I’ve read on the subject of calling. I read that book in one of my last classes at seminary a little over a year ago. This small book was inspired by that book and contains much of the best material from that volume.
Guinness states that there is no deeper meaning in life than to discover and live out your calling. He tells us that our calling is deeper than our jobs, our career, and all of our benchmarks of success. He states that it is never too late to discover your calling, and that at some point every one of us confronts the question: “How do I find and fulfill the central purpose of my life?” He tells us that answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life.
One of the important points in the book is that there is no calling without a caller and down through the centuries God’s call has proved the ultimate “Why” in the human search for purpose. He writes that if there is no Caller, there are no callings—only work.
Guinness tells us that our primary calling as followers of Christ is by Him, to Him, and for Him. Our secondary calling, is that everyone everywhere and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him. Our secondary callings can be our jobs or vocations. Guinness states that these and other things are always the secondary, never the primary calling. They are “callings” rather than the “calling.”
Another important teaching in the book is the two distortions that Guinness states have crippled the truth of calling – the “Catholic distortion” (The “perfect life” is spiritual, dedicated to contemplation and reserved for priests, monks, and nuns; the “permitted life” is secular, dedicated to action and open to such tasks as soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families), and the “Protestant distortion” (a secular form of dualism, elevating the secular at the expense of the spiritual. This distortion severed the secular from the spiritual altogether and reduces vocation to an alternative word for work).
Guinness writes that we must avoid the two distortions by keeping the two callings together, stressing the primary calling to counter the Protestant distortion and secondary callings to counter the Catholic distortion.
Guinness writes “Work takes up so many of our waking hours that our jobs come to define us and give us our identities. We become what we do. Calling reverses such thinking. A sense of calling should precede a choice of job and career, and the main way to discover calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be. Instead of, “You are what you do,” calling says: “Do what you are.”
Throughout the book, Guinness share important features of calling. He states that to follow the call of God is therefore to live before the heart of God. It is to live life Coram Deo (before the heart of God) and thus to shift our awareness of audiences to the point where only the last and highest—God—counts. I also appreciated his discussion of the concept of an Audience of One.
If you are looking for a good Christian approach to calling, I would highly recommend this short book by Guinness as well as his full-length The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life.