Calling is one of those ambiguous words. The idea starts when we are very small with What do you want to be when you grow up? As the time ticks along, we include more introspective questions like Who do you want to be in the course of your life? If you keep on this course of growth and questioning, you will also ask How (and who) do I want to serve in my lifetime?
So, what really is calling?
Calling is the standing God gave you as his child with a purpose and mission to live out in the service of others.
You are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Ephesians 2:10
Despite the many opinions you may have of yourself, yes, that’s you. A Masterpiece. Just in case you are figuratively trying to hide from the mirror right now, the word “you” doesn’t refer to humans collectively or mankind in general. You [Insert your name] are a work of art, masterfully and perfectly made.
Not only are you an outstanding work of art, but you were also made to do good things that were planned for you before time began. This is the moment where calling arrives. You have an undeniable passion and a purpose to live out in a way that blesses others.
In order to break down the mystical side of calling, it’s important to note its practical side. Calling isn’t just how you were created or who you were meant to be or serve. Your passion and purpose comes with a roadmap and action steps.
The word of God is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.Psalm 119:105
Practically speaking, we can see just far enough ahead to take intentional, daily action steps (that’s the lamp by your feet). We can also see the larger vision of the path (that’s the flashlight in your hand). With God, you have the ability to walk with the knowledge of your next steps and have the greater vision of the path ahead of you. Calling is in fact practical.
For that reason, calling can be organized into four categories. As you consider your passion and purpose, you can filter your calling through this framework. That way, you can intelligently organize your thoughts and, eventually, design the action steps to follow your calling.
Category One: INWARD > OUTWARD PROJECTS
Calling often begins inward. When we are led to start on the inside, we usually don’t consider it calling. However, inward projects have great potential to become outward projects. Let me give you an example.
About two years ago, my friend Susan recognized that she was behind and disorganized in some major areas of her personal and family life. She also realized that this was, in part, due to the overexertion she was directing towards her very needy and dysfunctional extended family.
She began by taking stock of her time, setting goals of prioritizing and simplifying her home and work life. She closed a twelve year running business. She opted out of her bible study for a time. She set healthy boundaries with her direct and extended family. Not once did she take action with bitterness or scarcity. She narrowed her path and tasks with love and kindness, especially towards those who were most impacted by her personal or inward project.
As she comes upon her third year of seeking God to minimize the baggage in her life and maximize her impact within her family and work life, a very inward project has the potential of becoming outward. Susan can take what she’s learned, spend some time refining the good work God has done and design a plan to share it with others with the same needs.
With personal projects, the inward has great potential to become outward. Both are worthy and fall squarely into the definition of calling.
Category Two: NONPROFIT CORPORATIONS
Nonprofits are often a spring board to growing your project and pursuing your calling. A nonprofit is an entity that is formed to benefit others. The organization is tax exempt and offers tax benefits to its contributors and donors.
So, what’s the connection between calling and nonprofit entities? Let me give you an example.
My friend Ashely collects and delivers special needs equipment to families in third world countries that don’t have the same access or resources that she does. Ashely does the good things that God prepared for her in a very casual way. She’s a busy mom with passion for her own special needs son. She may balk at the idea of taking the time and spending the money to establish a nonprofit.
But here’s what I know. Ashely is a passionate woman loved by many. As her access to special needs equipment grows, the need for donors to help with shipping costs will grow. Eventually, she may need someone to deliver the equipment and train the family to use it. As others grow a passion for Ashely’s calling, she may find it beneficial to offer tax exempt receipts for gifts to her donors. The growth potential is endless.
The bottom line is: Don’t be intimidated by your dreams. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of formalizing your project and creating a nonprofit. Do the work you are called to do at the pace you are called to do it. You will know your next step as the doors open and close in the path of pursuing your calling.
Category Three: COMMUNITY ORIENTED BUSINESS
If you are reading this, you probably fall into one of the following three categories:
- You are a business owner.
- You have a role in your current position where you could or do have a voice.
- You are the spouse of #1 or #2 above.
There is a huge opportunity for service projects rolled out of your current business or position. The example closest to my heart is my law firm.
My central legal work is to help people buy, sell and refinance residential and commercial properties. Ten years ago, 4KIDS of South Florida gave me the idea to give a one time charitable gift at the time of each real estate closing. I liked that idea and began giving a gift at each closing. God worked with that concept. Let me tell you about our advocate program at the firm now.
Each quarter our firm supports one nonprofit that centers around empowering women and girls at home and around the world. My clients are aware of the giving and some of them get excited and give too. Not only that, but my office gets involved in the service projects of the four organizations. We’ve cooked dinner for foster kids who were just removed from their homes. We’ve bought and collected from our clients and vendors holiday gifts for teenage foster kids. We bring our colleagues and friends to events to raise awareness for at risk women and girls. For a time, we employed a young foster woman who needed job experience.
When you roll community projects out of your current business, your workplace lights up as you add a layer of service to everyday tasks and responsibilities. Don’t underestimate how you can impact your community through your current business or role. And, if you are the spouse, you just may be the catalyst for bringing the good things prepared before time to the business.
Category Four: FOR PROFIT (Yes, I said For Profit)
In my view, for profit projects are also ministry. Just because a project is profitable to your family, it is not disqualified from calling or ministry. Let me give you an example.
My friend Monica and her girlfriend started a new project out of a heart cry that modern women are just too busy. As they defined their passion for busy women, they identified the need for women to pause. As a result, they created exclusive, small group trips to Colombia to personally minister to each woman on the trip. Their project is a Christian based business that seeks to infiltrate our too busy culture by bringing women to healthy pauses in their lives.
That sounds like ministry to me.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have a framework in which to consider your calling, here is how the analysis works.
My friend Sage has been exploring the idea of a mentoring program for women who need practical help moving their lives in a positive direction. Sage currently has a successful financial firm where she has decision making power. In her case, Sage could decide to roll out the mentoring program as a service project within her business. On the other hand, she could start first with mentoring on her own time to get a better idea of whether this really is a God calling over her life. Or, if Sage already sees available resources and donors on board with this project, she could decide to create a nonprofit corporation. Finally, she could decide to start a second mentoring business that is for profit.
It is worthwhile to understand these four categories so that as you hear the whispers of God in your own life, you can organize your next steps in a very practical way. As long as Susan, Ashely, Monica and Sage are following God’s call over their lives, I believe they are engaging in ministry. Each woman recognizes her position as a child of God with a purpose and mission to live out in the service of others. She is following God’s call over her life.