The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose For Your Life by Os Guinness is the best book on calling for the Christian that I have read. The first time I read it was in Dr. Douglass’s wonderful “Spiritual and Ministry Formation” class at Covenant Seminary in 2013. In 2018, on the 20th anniversary of the book, Guinness published a revised and updated edition.
We’ll start by looking at a few quotes from the “Introduction” of the book:
- We’ll address two broad and crippling distortions from the start—the shrinking and the hollowing out of calling.
- To explore the truth of God’s call is to appreciate what is nothing less than God’s grand global project for the restoration and renewal of humanity and the earth—and our part in it.
- What follows in this book is a series of short reflections on the many-sided wonder of God’s call.
- I hope that what is here you will read slowly, always aware that you are in the presence of the One who calls us all, and always thinking things through in terms of your own life and your own calling in the world.
- Two words that have changed the world, the two words that are changing the world today, and the two words that can change each of us and our lives beyond our wildest dreams. Listen to the commanding invitation of Jesus that is both a call and a charge: “Follow me.”
Chapter 1: The Ultimate Why
- At some point every one of us confronts the question: How do I find and fulfill the central purpose of my life?
- Our passion is to know that we are fulfilling the purpose for which we are here on earth.
- Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.
- Answering the call of our Creator is “the ultimate why” for living, the highest source of purpose in human existence. Apart from such a calling, all hope of discovering purpose (as in the current talk of shifting “from success to significance”) will end in disappointment.
- Nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose.
- Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.
- Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life—God’s purpose for your life.
Chapter 2: Seekers Sought
- We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God—which is another way of saying that our seeking will always fall short unless God’s grace initiates the search and unless God’s call draws us to him and completes the search.
- What brings us home is not our discovery of the way home but the call of the Father who has been waiting there for us all along, whose presence there makes home home.
Chapter 3: Differences Make a Difference
- The differences are clear between the major answers to the search for purpose in life, and they lead in entirely different directions.
- The first is the Eastern answer, which includes Hinduism and Buddhism. If the final reality is an impersonal ground of being (the so-called “undifferentiated impersonal”), what is the purpose of life for each of us as individuals? The answer in brief is, “Forget it and forget yourself.”
- The second is the secularist answer, which includes atheists, most agnostics, naturalists in science, and a large number of humanists. If the final reality is chance and there is no God (or gods or the supernatural) to consider, then purpose is up to each of us to decide and achieve for ourselves by ourselves. We don’t discover it—we decide it.
- The third is the biblical answer, which is common to both Jews and Christians and is the main shaping force of the dynamic sense of purpose characteristic in Western civilizations. From this perspective, the final reality is neither chance nor an impersonal ground of being, but an infinite personal God who has created us in his image and calls us into relationship with himself. Our life-purpose therefore comes from two sources at once—who we are created to be and who we are called to be. Not only is the call of our Creator the source of the deepest self-discoveries and growth in life, it also gives our lives an inspiration and a dynamism that transforms them into an enterprise beyond any comparison.
- Count the cost, consider the risks, and set out each day on a venture to multiply your gifts and opportunities, bring glory to God, and add value to our world. Answering the call is the road to purpose and fulfillment in your life.
Chapter 4: Counterculture to the Core
- When Jesus calls us to follow him, all that contradicts his call, all that contradicts his Lordship over all our lives, has to go.
- We in the West are rarely a threat and hardly a challenge to our surrounding countries, and the major reason is that, for all our numbers, we are weak because we are worldly. At point after point after point, we have been almost assimilated to our surrounding cultures. We have therefore lost the distinctiveness that makes us the salt and light Jesus called us to be.
- It is time to make a break, not to retreat to any monastic option, but to break from the ways of the world in order to engage the world more faithfully and effectively.
- Christians have a duty to be different.
- The call to break is inherent in God’s call, and it provides a bracing challenge for all who take calling seriously.
Chapter 5: God’s Grand Global Project
- Abraham’s entire life was his response to the call of God, and as such, he is the prototype of God’s new humanity and God’s new way for humanity.
- Time after time, Abraham heard the call of God, and he responded, immediately, obediently, and unerringly.
- What marks him (Abraham) out as special, and lifts him above them all, was his faith—his quiet, unwavering trust in God, which led to his constant and immediate response to God’s call as the center and compass of his life.
- From Abraham on, the life of faith in answer to the call of God is a matter of being guided only by a Voice.
- Listening to God’s Word, rather than obeying visually triggered desires, lies at the heart of our faithfulness in following God’s call.
- All who follow the life of faith in answer to God’s call must prize and protect the primacy of words, all words, but God’s Word above all.
- Those who follow God’s call listen for his voice and to his voice.
- God is love, and because of who God is, the call of God is a call to love and to live a life of love.
Chapter 6: The Haunting Question
- There is no calling unless there is a Caller.
- The notion of calling, or vocation, is vital to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis for individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.
- The Caller sees and addresses us as individuals—as unique, exceptional, precious, significant, and free to respond.
- God leads forward as we respond to his call. Following his call, we become what we are constituted to be by creation. We also become what we are not yet, and can only become by re-creation as called people.
- We may refuse the call and remain stunted—unresponsive and irresponsible. Or, we may respond to the call and rise to become the magnificent creatures only one Caller can call us to be.
- Only when we respond to Christ and follow his call do we become our real selves and come to have personalities of our own.
Chapter 7: Everyone, Everywhere, Everything
- First, calling has a simple and straightforward meaning. When you “call” on the phone, for example, you catch someone’s ear for a season.
- Second, calling has another important meaning in the Old Testament. To call means to name, and to name means to call into being or to make. Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.
- Third, calling gains a further characteristic meaning in the New Testament. It is almost a synonym for salvation. In this context, calling is overwhelmingly God’s calling people to himself as followers of Christ.
- Fourth, calling has a vital, extended meaning in the New Testament that flowers more fully in the later history of the church. in the New Testament, as Jesus calls his followers to himself, he also calls them to other things and tasks: to peace, to fellowship, to eternal life, to suffering, and to service.
- Calling in the Bible is a central and dynamic theme that becomes a metaphor for the life of faith itself.
- Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him
- We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history. But these and other things are always the secondary, never the primary calling. They are “callings” rather than the “calling.”
- Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.
- If we understand calling, we must make sure that first things remain first and the primary calling always comes before the secondary calling. But we must also make sure that the primary calling leads without fail to the secondary calling.
- The church’s failure to meet these challenges has led to the two grand distortions that have crippled the truth of calling – the “Catholic distortion” and the “Protestant distortion”.
- The “Catholic distortion” is a form of dualism that elevates the spiritual at the expense of the secular. The “Protestant distortion” is even worse. This is a form of dualism in a secular direction that not only elevates the secular at the expense of the spiritual but also cuts it off from the spiritual altogether.
- If all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished. There is no higher/lower, sacred/secular, perfect/permitted, contemplative/active, or first class/second class.
- Calling means that everyone, everywhere, and in everything fulfills his or her (secondary) callings in response to God’s (primary) calling.
Chapter 8 “By Him, To Him, For Him”
- Neither work nor career can be fully satisfying without a deeper sense of calling—but “calling” itself is empty and indistinguishable from work unless there is Someone who calls.
- We must resolutely refuse to play the word games that pretend calling means anything without a Caller—and we must not allow people to play such games on us.
- If there is no Caller, there are no callings—only work.
- We must restore the primary calling to its primary place by restoring the worship that is its setting and the dedication to Jesus that is its heart.
- We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone.
- We are not called first to special work but to God.
- 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.
Chapter 9 “Do What You Are”
- Somehow, we human beings are never happier than when we are expressing the deepest gifts that are truly us.
- God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.
- 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.
- 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.”
- The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing—and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.
- We are only truly “ourselves” and can only truly “do what we are” when we follow God’s call.
- To find work that perfectly fits our callings is not a right, but a blessing.
- In many cases a clear sense of calling comes only through a time of searching, including trial and error. And what may be clear to us in our twenties may be far more mysterious in our fifties because God’s complete designs for us are never fully understood, let alone fulfilled, in this life.
Chapter 10 “A Time to Stand”
- Calling is indispensable to the integrity and effectiveness of the church in this momentous hour.
- Calling is more than purely cultural, but it is also more than purely personal.
- Discover the meaning of calling and you discover the heart of the gospel itself.
- Many followers of Jesus today have not begun to wrestle with the full dimensions of the truth of calling because they have not been stretched by the real challenges of today’s world and by the momentousness of the present hour.
- The truth of calling is more than personal. It is one of the strongest grounds for an unshakable confidence that the good news of Jesus will prevail.
Chapter 11: “Let God Be God”
- Words are the deepest, fullest expression in which God now discloses himself to us, beginning with his calling us.
- So, it is in listening to him, trusting him, and obeying him when he calls that we “let God be God” in all of his awe and majesty.
- God’s primary call, his address to us, always has two dimensions: summons and invitation, law and grace, demand and offer.
- Do you know only the soft-gospel invitation of our convenience-loving age, or have you been mastered by the no-concession summons of God’s call?
- At its heart, the modern world is a decisive challenge to the authority of God outside our private lives.
Chapter 12 “The Audience of One”
- A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One.
- 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.
- To live before the Audience of One truly makes a demonstrable difference.
- Like all for whom God’s call is decisive, it could be said of him, “I live before the Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.”
Chapter 13: “Our Utmost for His Highest Still”
- Search as you will, there is no higher or more ultimate passion than a human being ablaze with a desire for God.
- God’s calling is the key to igniting a passion for the deepest growth and highest heroism in life.
- God’s call always challenges us directly to rise to our full stature as human beings.
- As we respond to the call of our Creator, we rise to our feet, not only physically but also in every sense of the word, to be the people he alone knows we are capable of being.
- God’s call resonates in us at depths no other call can reach and draws us on and out and up to heights no other call can scale or see.
- The imitation of Christ that is integral to following him means that, when he calls us, he enables us to do what he calls us to do.
Chapter 14: “Where the Buck Stops, There I Stand”
- The notion of calling is vital to the modern search for a basis for moral responsibility and to an understanding of ethics itself.
- For modern, secular, freedom-loving people responsibility to God is out of the picture and responsibility to society is out of the question.
- When we are called to be responsible for too much and responsible to no one, then responsibility itself collapses.
- The truth of calling provides a profound basis for responsibility.
- Answering the call by its very nature is a stepping forward to responsibility.
- We are responsible to God, and our calling is where we exercise that responsibility.
- Responsibility is most difficult when we are anonymous or invisible to everyone but God.
- Traditional morality was closely tied to accountability. In the modern world, however, anonymity has risen sharply.
- Humanly anonymous and invisible, we must consciously hold ourselves responsible to the one audience—the Audience of One—or succumb to irresponsibility.
- What we do then, when no one sees but God, is the test of our true responsibility.
- Apart from the call there is no responding and no responsibility.
Chapter 15: People of the Call
- The call of Jesus is personal but not purely individual; Jesus summons his followers not only to an individual calling but also to a corporate calling.
- The called-out assembly of God’s people, which is subordinated to Christ as its head and coordinated with its fellow members of the body, lives its life by its practical obedience to God’s call in Christ.
- There now stands a new community composed of willing members—the assembly of God’s called-out ones. These are bound together by a covenant and living out a corporate calling that both complements and transcends their callings as individuals.
Chapter 16: Followers of the Way
- Calling reminds Christians ceaselessly that, far from having arrived, a Christian is someone who in this life is always on the road as “a follower of Jesus” and a follower of “the Way.”
- Christians who contradict Christ are Christians who are not following his call.
- For those who live life as a journey and see faith as a journey, calling has an obvious implication. It reminds us that we are all at different stages on the way and none of us alive has yet arrived.
- Until Christ identifies and welcomes home the disciples he has called, we his followers can expect to be as unfinished and unvarnished as we are unlikely—but we are on the road, and we are followers of the Way.
Chapter 17: The Signs of the Times
- Having heard God’s call and responded, our task is to seek to listen to God’s call, to follow God’s call and way of life, and to act on behalf of God’s great purposes of justice and freedom in righting the wrongs of the world.
- There can be no question that discerning the times in which we live is to be part of our task in following God’s call.
- Our calling and desire is to be like King David, a person after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). And thus, to so think and live, and to read the signs of our times, that in some small way it might be said of us, too, that we have served God’s purpose in our generation.
Chapter 18: There But for the Grace of God Goes God
- (There is) a darker side of calling we must face: The reverse side of calling is the temptation of conceit.
- Chosenness and conceit have grown so close that many people confuse the two.
- Conceit twists calling in two characteristic ways. First, people who are called are especially vulnerable to pride because of the very nobility of calling. Second, we who are called are vulnerable to a special form of pride because of our desire to wean ourselves from human audiences and live before the Audience of One.
- The practical outcome of such conceit in Christian organizations today is lack of genuine accountability for leaders. All too often such leaders have no tough-minded peers to hold them to account.
- Do you think you are worthy of God’s call? Do you act as if calling was for you alone, designed exclusively for your wishes, dreams, plans, titles, and achievements? Or do you know yourself so well that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt calling is all a gift and all of grace?
Chapter 19: What is That to You?
- The truth of calling touches closely on the link between giftedness and desire and the almost inescapable temptation of envy.
- Envy strikes at the place where our giftedness and our deepest desires are intertwined with our sense of calling.
- Envy corrupts calling by introducing the element of competition.
- Envy attacks calling especially because calling goes back directly to God and envy is essentially profane.
- We are always most vulnerable to envying those closest to our own gifts and callings.
- There are many counterpoints to envy in the Scriptures, but there is no skirting the uncomfortable fact that Jesus deals with the roots of calling-envy severely and summarily.
- When Jesus calls, he calls us one by one. Comparisons are idle, speculations about others a waste of time, and envy as silly as it is evil. We are each called individually, accountable to God alone, to please him alone, and eventually to be approved by him alone. If ever we are tempted to look around, compare notes, and use the progress of others to judge the success of our own calling, we will hear what Peter heard: “What is that to you? Follow me!”
Chapter 20: More, More, Faster, Faster
- Calling, which played a key role in the rise of modern capitalism, is one of the few truths capable of guiding and restraining it now.
- This in turn requires us to remove two modern myths that form roadblocks to understanding money. One is the myth that the making of money matters more than the meaning of money, as thousands of salespeople, schemes, and seminars trumpet daily. The other is the myth that money is simply neutral, merely a medium of exchange. The truth is that money is much more than a monetary issue. It was, and is, a spiritual issue.
- Throughout history the most universally acknowledged problem with money is that its pursuit is insatiable.
- The line drawn between “For Sale” and “Not for Sale” is a prime indication of a nation’s or group’s values. The sign of a good society is the level and number of things acknowledged to be beyond market values—and thus appreciated for their own sake and not for extrinsic, especially financial, rewards.
- The overall lesson of insatiability is that money alone cannot buy the deepest things we desire. Money never purchases love, or eternity, or God. It is the wrong means, the wrong road, the wrong search. That is why the pursuit is vanity.
- Jesus challenged his hearers to choose one master or another—God or Mammon. Either we serve God and use money or we serve money and use God.
- The crass heresy of the prosperity doctrines and the “health and wealth gospel” is the bastard child of corrupted calling.
- Certainly, no truth is more manipulable than calling when it is corrupted. But certainly, too, no truth is more potent than calling when it is reformed.
- Calling means that, for the follower of Christ, there is a decisive, immediate, and moment-by-moment authority above money and the market. The choice between Masters has been made.
- Calling introduces into society a different style of operating that directly counters the market mentality. We do what we do in life because we are called to it rather than because we get paid for it.
- Thus, there are, if you like, two economies—a “calling economy” as well as a “commercial economy”—and for followers of Christ the former, not the latter, is supreme.
- Calling means that life is lived for God’s sake or for its own sake under God. Intrinsic satisfaction outweighs external rewards, such as pay, advancement, and recognition.
Chapter 21: Combating the Noonday Demon
- Calling is the best antidote to the deadly sin of sloth.
- Any contradiction between our callings and our careers condemns us to be square pegs in round holes.
- Careers that express calling are as fulfilling as careers that contradict calling are frustrating.
- Challenged, inspired, rebuked, and encouraged by God’s call, we cannot for a moment settle down to the comfortable, the mediocre, the banal, and the boring. The call is always to the higher, the deeper, and the farther.
- Awakened to our deepest gifts and aspirations, we know that consideration of calling always has to precede considerations of career and that we can seek the deepest satisfaction in work only within the perspectives of calling.
Chapter 22: A World With Windows
- Calling directly counters the great modern pressure toward secularization because the call of Jesus includes a summons to the exercise of the spiritual disciplines and the experience of supernatural realities.
- Secularization is the process through which the decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions has been neutralized in successive sectors of society and culture, making religious ideas less meaningful and religious institutions more marginal. In particular, it refers to how our modern consciousness and ways of thinking are restricted to the world of the five senses.
- If our supernatural experience is not to become an end in itself and a source of indulgence and pride, we must resolutely descend from the mountain peaks of vision to the valley of ordinary life where our callings take us. The New Testament knows no monasteries or monks, only spiritually disciplined disciples in a demanding, everyday world.
- The modern world has scrambled things so badly that today we worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.
Chapter 23: Locked Out and Staying There
- Calling directly counters the great modern pressure toward privatization because of its insistence that Jesus Christ is Lord of every sphere of life.
- The problem with Western Christians is not that they aren’t where they should be but that they aren’t what they should be where they are.
- Christian engagement in politics should always be marked by tension between allegiance to Christ and identification with any party, movement, platform, or agenda. If that tension is ever lacking, if Christian identification with a political movement is so close that there is not any clear remainder, then the church has fallen for a particularly deadly captivity.
- When Christians concentrate their time and energy on their own separate spheres and their own institutions—whether all-absorbing megachurches, Christian businesses, or womb-to-tomb Christian cultural ghettos—they lose the outward thrusting, transforming power that is at the heart of the gospel.
- Calling resists privatization by insisting on the totality of faith. Calling resists politicization by demanding a tension with every human allegiance and association. Calling resists pillarization by requiring an attitude toward, and action in, society that is inevitably transforming because it is constantly engaged.
Chapter 24: A Focused Life
- Calling directly counters the great modern pressure toward pluralization because the call of Jesus provides the priorities and perspectives that are essential for a focused life in an overloaded age.
- The very character of calling counters the fragmentation and overload at key points and opens up the secret of a focused life in a saturated world.
- Follow the call of Christ despite the uncertainty and chaos of modern circumstances, and you have the story line of your life.
Chapter 25: Dreamers of the Day
- Calling, by breaking through with an outside perspective on the present, is a prime source of Christian vision and Christian visionaries.
- The Caller may be unseen and the destination unknown, but those who follow his call have a voice above and vision ahead that subverts every status quo and unsettles every resting place.
- Hebrews 11 is the great honors list of visionary faith, a stirring catalogue of men and women whose vision of God called them to live and work against the customs, values, and priorities of their generation.
- Dreamers of the day come into their own and stay on course when they follow the calling of Christ.
Chapter 26: Patches of Godlight
- Calling transforms life so that even the commonplace and menial are invested with the splendor of the ordinary.
- Calling transforms things by reminding us once again of our audience. Drudgery done for ourselves or for other human audiences will always be drudgery. But drudgery done for God is lifted and changed.
- Calling transforms things by reminding us that drudgery is part of the cost of discipleship.
- For those who answer the call, everything under God has its own importance, though the final respect is not ours to bestow. If it is ever to be ours, it will come from the “well done” of the Caller. But before the eventual “well done,” our task today is to do well—by loving people, things, and work for their sake and his.
Chapter 27: Let All Your Thinks Be Thanks
- Calling is a reminder for followers of Christ that nothing in life should be taken for granted; everything in life must be received with gratitude.
- Calling contributes to faith its own sense of wonder and gratitude because of its insistence on God’s sovereign initiative and grace in the call.
- The motive, the initiative, and the action of calling are entirely God’s and all of grace.
- The link between calling and gratitude, chosenness and wonder touches our lives practically in two main places. First, it reminds us that with so much grace given to us, we should be givers of grace to others. Second, the link between calling and grace reminds us that gratitude must be our first and constant response to God.
- Adapting G. K. Chesterton, we may state the motto of every follower of Christ moved to wonder by the mystery and grace of God’s calling: “Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace.”
Chapter 28: Everybody’s Fools
- Calling entails the cost of discipleship. The deepest challenge is to renounce self and identify with Jesus in his sufferings and rejection.
- Foolbearing is essential to calling because it is the true way to count the cost of identifying with Jesus. It is the price of obeying his call, renouncing self, and taking up the cross to follow him.
- All followers of Christ are called to be fools for Christ, but some are made to be more foolish than others. Regardless, the internal cost is always the same: death to self.
- Foolbearing is essential to calling because it positions us unmistakably before the world as a counterculture, antithetical to the world’s very being.
- Foolbearing is essential to calling because it is Christ’s way of responding to injury. Nothing in the Gospels is more revolutionary than Jesus’ call to respond to injury in a new way.
- When all is said and done, foolbearing is simply faithfulness.