A few years ago, I was attending a conference with a bunch of college students, and the speaker on stage asked the crowd if anyone in the room had trouble with decision-making. A vast majority of the people in the room raised their hands, and then he asked if any over-analyzers were in the room. Again, a lot of hands went up, this time coupled with some nervous laughter. Finally, the speaker asked if any of us had trouble making a decision about whether or not to raise our hand, and we all laughed.
I’ll admit my hand went up when he asked about decision-making. I’m a huge over-analyzer. I mentally debate the pros and cons of both big and little decisions all the time because I want to make sure I’m making the best choice. And naturally, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I want my choices to fall in line nicely with God’s will.
The angst of going against the Lord’s will for my life has been a constant companion since the day I first said yes to Jesus. I’ve consistently battled creeping thoughts that I might be doing or saying or thinking something that might be displeasing to him, and that battle has made me nervous. No doubt you’ve probably had the same problem from time to time in your walk with God.
As Christians, we experience the unique struggle of wanting to please our King because we value more than just our own happiness. We value what he values, and if we begin to think for a moment that our values aren’t in line with his, frustration can infiltrate our hearts and overtake us.
My goal here is to explore the biblical way to make decisions about our directions in life and to expose some inaccurate ways of thinking about why we do what we do. Living by faith means you can make decisions, depending on God, his words to you, and the help of others.
I Feel Called
To start, let’s talk about the word “calling.” It’s probably fair to say Christians use the word liberally when it comes to conversations about decision-making and God’s will.
“I believe God called me to apply for this job.”
“I’m pretty sure God is calling me to text her back.”
“I think God is calling me to leave this church.”
“I’m feeling called to break up with you.”
“I just really felt called to buy that new $90,000 sports car.”
You get what I’m saying, right? Inevitably, you’ve mentioned that God has called you to something at some point in your Christian life to justify a certain decision. And while I’m somewhat poking fun right now at how Christians can abuse the term “calling,” most of the time our hearts are probably in the right place when we say it. However, the Bible doesn’t necessarily define the word in the same way we might define it, and we need to be careful about using the word as a blanket excuse for doing whatever we want while we tack God’s name onto our own personal desires.
Our True Calling
The Greek word for “call” (kaleó) is used 147 times in the New Testament, and when it’s used, most of the references have to do with our calling to salvation or toward sanctification. Very few times is it used in reference to purposeful functions or actionable calling, such as the specific how-tos of life. Therefore, we can clearly understand from the way it’s predominantly used in Scripture that our primary calling as Christians is to the lordship of Christ.
By means of God the Holy Spirit, he calls us to himself, and that irresistible call draws us into an eternal relationship with God the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. Additionally, we are called to sanctification under God’s lordship that we might become transformed into the image of Christ as we grow in our relationship with him (Romans 6:19, 22; 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 1:2). Salvation and sanctification define the lordship of Christ in our lives, and both involve God’s authoritative rule in the life of a Christian.
God’s rule over our lives should always be the main thing, and secondary to it is our calling to service. The subplot of our stories as believers is figuring out how to live on mission for Christ, and the subplot (by its own nature) should never trump our first priority of a life in submission to God. As my mom used to say, “Never put the cart before the horse.” Lordship drives how we serve, not the other way around.
A Calling Isn’t a Thing You Do
Calling is different than what we might at first think. It’s not a thing I do, per se, but really more of who I am. My calling is a reflection of my fundamental identity that comes from God and remains the same throughout my entire life. A calling is not the same as certain specific responsibilities, but more of the way my life is lived out in my church, my job, my connections, and my relationships. My life is a way I express my calling via my passions, my giftedness, and the way God has wired me. My calling is not a specific task, but who I am in Christ.
When we understand that our calling is about who we are in Christ, this significantly changes the way we go about life in our culture today. The consistent worry about whether or not “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing” withers away in light of the fact that my call is to live under the authority of Jesus and to walk with him each day.
As I spend time reading the Bible and meditating on its truths, I’m able to easily comprehend what it means to be refined by the power of the Holy Spirit, and I’m consequently able to rest in my salvation and sanctification instead of worrying about some specific “calling.” There is no concern about the assurance of my salvation because I remember and think about Christ’s work on the cross for me. There’s no room for anxious wondering when I see that it is his responsibility to do the work in my heart to make me like him. Where “calling” perhaps used to carry with it a lot of baggage that made me believe I always had to get it right, an understanding of the true biblical definition helps me see that I can drop my baggage at the door.
This is especially important in light of our modern age. I’ve seen countless online posts in various formats from my Christian friends talking about calling and what the Lord has led them to in their decision-making. And therein lies my point. I’ve seen so many posts about what people feel the Lord is telling them to do, I’ve sometimes felt “out of the loop” as if I’ve missed some special revelation from God on what I should be doing in my day-to-day decisions. When I read all about what Jesus is telling my friends and family to do, the subtext for me is, “Uh, why am I not hearing from the Lord the way other people do? How are they so confident the Almighty has given them personal instruction when I can’t even figure out what clothes to put on and what cereal to eat in the morning?”
The prevalence of social media and online instruction (either intended or unintended) can in many ways cause the average person to feel as though he is the only one who lacks God’s contact information in his phone. When seemingly everyone around him has direct access to the will of God for their lives and he doesn’t, confusion and frustration are never too far behind.
Our Calling is Our Identity
But we should all be cautious about what we label publicly as “calling” when it comes to our decision-making. Once we understand that it is less about the nitty-gritty of life and more about our new identity in Christ, we have a clear biblical awareness of the term and can use it correctly. To make the error of misusing our “calling” for all to see on social media and the like is to potentially cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. There is true blessing in knowing your calling as a child of God. The Bible calls us to walk humbly with Christ, and as we do, it gives us confidence that all of our decisions large or small will be led by God’s Spirit.
Questions for Reflection
1. In what ways have you previously misused the word “calling” when it comes to your decision-making?
2. What do you think it means that Jesus is our Lord? If our calling is to the lordship of Jesus, what does lordship look like?
3. How has social media and Christian posting affected your view of God and his specific instruction in your life? Has it encouraged you or discouraged you?
Excerpted adapted from Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress ©2019 by Shelby Abbott. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
PRESSURE POINTS: A GUIDE TO NAVIGATING STUDENT STRESS
From navigating failure, roadblocks, and spiritual warfare to tackling relevant, hard-hitting topics such as drinking, sex, dating, pornography, and the fear of missing out, Pressure Points encourages college students to consider Jesus in the midst of everyday struggles.