What is a calling?
It’s a term we hear tossed around frequently, but what does it mean, really?
The dictionary defines calling as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.”
Leadership expert Michael Hyatt asserts that it is comprised of four factors: It comes from outside yourself, it’s unique to you, it’s something you want to do, and it’s optional.
And writer and theologian Frederick Beuchner eloquently says it is “the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
I think all these definitions touch on important elements of what a calling is. Today I’m going to add my two cents to the conversation and offer my thoughts on what calling and purpose are. I include variations on Michael Hyatt’s four factors, but I also add a few more aspects based on my own experience and observations.
This list is by no means exhaustive. I'm sure there is so much that could be added to describe the wonderful phenomenon of calling.
That said, here are what I believe to be 10 key attributes of a calling:
- It comes from God, and He reveals it as we seek him and explore our lives.
- It’s a gift—not a burden. It’s something we are drawn too. We may not always understand how we’re going to accomplish it (that’s part of the adventure!), and it may be challenging at times, but it’s something we desire to do and perceive as deeply fulfilling.
- It’s an invitation—we can accept it or not. God’s not in the business of forcing anyone to do anything. He gave us our free will for a reason, and it is up to us to either accept or reject our calling.
- It’s an assignment designed especially for you. There’s work to be done that only you can accomplish; there is an aspect of Himself that God has planted in you that only you can portray to the world.
- It helps people in some way. It satisfies a need and meets “the world’s deep hunger.”
- It’s rooted on your ultimate purpose, which I believe is to experience God’s love, to know and love God, and share that love with others in a unique way.
- It’s intricately intertwined with your core identity—who are you on an essential level. For example, I am compassionate and affectionate, and I am a thinker and an encourager. These are aspects of who I am, but also aspects of what I am called to do.
- It’s not static. Rather, it’s organic and may contain multiple parts that grow and unfold over time.
- It feels right. We may not fully understand it or be able to explain it, but we have the sense that it fits
- It’s more than a job. I believe if it’s a true calling, you can find ways to fulfill it whether or not you are employed.
What about purpose? We often use these words synonymously. Is there a difference between the two?
I think purpose and calling are more or less the same thing, and I see no problem with using them interchangeably.
But if we wanted to delineate them, I think purpose is a bit broader of a term. Purpose is more closely aligned with my core identify, the core themes of my life, the essence of who I am. My calling is more the action side of my purpose—what I do to fulfill and bring my purpose to fruition.
So, to use myself as an example, I believe part of my purpose is to encourage people (women in particular) grow in faith, live with passion, and pursue their purpose. One way I’m called to fulfill my purpose is to write about these things.
Our purpose and our calling are what we were created for. It incorporates aspects of both who are and what we do. I think one of the most exciting things life is discovering our purpose and then walking hand in hand with God to fulfill it.
No matter what your purpose and calling, He is with you and is faithful to help you accomplish it!
Where are you on the journey to discovering and walking out your purpose and calling? I’d love to hear about it!
Note: What I’m talking about here, and what most people mean when they use the word calling, is really vocational calling—one’s life’s work. I believe we have a primary vocational calling, but we may have other types of callings as well: the call to be a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter. These are all important callings, but differ in some ways from a vocational calling, which is more work or assignment focused.
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