Calling is our chief definite aim, and it is always to a divine-human partnership. When we're called, we get caught up in the unfolding drama of God's plan for history. God's call turns a self-serving agenda into a noble cause.
Calling is indistinguishable from mission. Webster's dictionary defines mission as a sending out to perform a spiritual duty. Our calling is God's assignment to those special duties.
Calling answers the question of what God wants me to do and for whom. What we have come to talk about as a calling is a refining and specifying of the general call that God gives to all Christians to leave all and follow him.
In keeping with the biblical paradox, we both lose ourselves and find ourselves in the same act of obedience. We relinquish our aspirations and values to the refining fires of Christ's transforming work in our lives. But in that refining process, we come to experience his workmanship and discover the call for which we were ultimately created.
Our call typically catches us up in something that provides unique and enduring value for Christ's kingdom. God calls us uniquely-in all our weakness and limitations. That does not make us indispensable, because where there is failure to obey the call, God will raise up another.
If we acknowledge that there is often continuity between our calling and our gifts, values, and experiences, it is legitimate to consider what gives us meaning, fulfillment, and significance. If those things line up with God's Word, if there is a growing sense of interest in and fulfillment from using our unique abilities for God's work in the world, then there is a good chance that God is clarifying the nature of the call.
God's call does not violate our gifting, experience, and style, but it does transform them and point them into service of the kingdom. The apostle Paul's blinding intellect was used no longer to refute Christians but to write books. His rugged determination was no longer used to persecute Christians but to spread the gospel.
Calling transforms abilities that are effective on a natural level into those that are effective on a spiritual and kingdom level. Under God's call, selfish ambition is translated into godly aspiration. Determination is translated into passion, intellect into wisdom, honesty into moral authority, and emotional well-being into a sense of blessedness.
A call to ministry typically comes to us in the context of community. Though Paul had a highly personalized and dramatic conversion, his calling to preach to the Gentiles was in the context of community. In Acts 13 we read that the church at Antioch laid hands on Paul and sent him out to minister. Community has a confirming role in the call. It does this by affirming and validating the call and gifting.
The call of God draws from us our highest and best contribution. Our calling is our North Star. It is not so much a destination as it is a point by which we set the compass of our lives.
Mark W. McCloskey is director of the Center for Transformational Leadership at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. A staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ since 1974, he is the author of the evangelism textbook Tell It Often, Tell It Well.