So What Is My Calling?
“Each and all of God’s people are called to live as followers of Jesus and to let it show in who we are and in what we do.” – Mark Labberton
“Each and all.” Do you believe that? Really? As we come the end of this book and this study, I want to encourage you to consider your own calling. Do you believe that you, each of you, that we, all of us, are called by God? And if we are, how do we discern that calling in both its grand shared universal sense and its scary and stunning particularity?
Christian vocation or “calling” is indeed woven through the great biblical narrative. From the moment that God kissed the figures formed of the dust and charged them to “cultivate and keep” creation, to the final summons to the nations of the world to enter the new Jerusalem, the invitation of God became the call that becomes the charge that transforms us all. From the nomad Abram who left his country and kindred to follow a voice, to the boy Samuel who was awakened by a whisper in the night, to some fishermen who left their family business behind to follow an itinerant rabbi, to an angry Pharisee who was knocked blind from his horse, to the countless women and men through the ages who heard something, felt something—just knew that someone—was calling them by name and inviting them into a life that they couldn’t imagine, the mystery has been not only that God calls us, but how.
For centuries this has been the question of the young entering adulthood. In a rapidly changing world, it is now the question being asked repeatedly throughout life. It can be as ordinary as a morning spent searching help-wanted ads or as aching as a prayer: “Lord, what am I to do?” The wish that seems promised in the biblical stories is that it will be a one-time, hopefully once-for-all announcement like a proposal for marriage. But more like marriage itself, one’s calling in life is not so much found as formed. Or to say it even more clearly, our vocation is not truly found until we are fit for it.
Discerning calling is the long, complicated combination of convictions and context, of passion and prayer, of knowledge and need that seems to tap us on the shoulder and call forth from us an invitation into a process of self-discovery and humility, of taking up and laying down, of embracing and letting go that over time forms a deep, confident conviction that of all the things there are to do in the world, “This is mine to do.”1 At Fuller Seminary, we have embarked on an ambitious endeavor to recast the entire work of the seminary around this concept of formation for vocation. Our shared conviction is that the God who calls our names and offers us life and partnership in his own redemptive purposes fits us for the call. That calling is an expression of identity, and our ultimate calling is to express that identity in losing ourselves in something greater than us.2 And that requires us to grow, to be transformed—to become the people God intended us to be.
Through this series, we have considered together what it means to be called by God and what it means for us to continue to hear the voice of God that continually calls us. As we come to the end of this series, we are rounding the corner from one academic year into the next. Even as our graduates go into the world, and our new students look forward to a season of formation for their vocations, all of us—each of us—are offered the opportunity to consider our own callings again.
As you live in response to God’s love and grace, what do you—yes, you—sense the call of God to be? What do you sense is yours to do?
Praying and discerning with you,
1 Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (InterVarsity Press, 2008).
2 Philippians 2, Romans 12:1
Why Do We Suffer?
“The love of God in Jesus Christ is the supreme first thing; no one and nothing rivals or surpasses this.” – Mark Labberton
In the study guide to Called, we are asked to consider this most troubling question: “If someone asked you, ‘If we’re made to flourish, why do we suffer?’ how would you answer?” Mark Labberton takes us to the very crux of the Christian faith. How come the beloved by God suffer? For some this is the question (usually on the heels of a terrible experience) that makes us turn away from God. For others, the cognitive dissonance makes us do huge mental gymnastics to make sense of it. Some of us blame the victims of suffering; others of us blame God. But rarely are we given an answer that satisfies. Instead we are summoned to enter into the suffering of the world from a place that will ultimately bring healing.
If we are to answer the call to follow the Son into the fallen world, then we must be able, like Jesus, to claim our belovedness (Matthew 3:17) and embrace his suffering for the world as our call too (John 15:20). This way of Beloved Suffering is the way of Jesus, and it becomes our way also when we say “yes” in faith to his invitation. We experience and express this way of Beloved Suffering in two embodied practices: communion and empathy.
Labberton reminds us, “We come to the table out of need, because our belovedness is slippery. It can fall through our fingers or leave our minds. . . . We come to the table together and leave together, remembering that our vocation starts and ends as the beloved community.” In the communion that shares communion, we remember Christ, renew our connection to the grace that calls us “beloved,” and recommit ourselves to each other as a community that shares each other’s and the world’s sorrows. We feel deeply and broadly; we experience life that is beyond our individual experiences; we lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves.
Paul reminds us of the empathy that is both inspired and required, and that the very heart of the Christian community is an action: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” he charges, “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
In a community that is filled with both “like and unlike folks” we experience the depth of this communion and the reality that is being formed by the Spirit of God and not ourselves. It is, as Labberton reminds us, “a communion that we didn’t make and can’t sustain.” It is a grace, offered in love and expressed in suffering. It is a call that includes us and is beyond us.
To be called to Jesus is to be called to the way of Jesus and the communion of Jesus. It is to enter into the belovedness of our existence and the brokenness of the world. It is not to give an answer to the problem of suffering, but to embody one.
The "Powerful Play": Calling as Enactment
“The Christian life is to be an incarnational life. The essence of the Christian gospel is the demonstration, the enactment of God’s redeeming love.” – Mark Labberton
In the movie The Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams plays an English teacher at a wealthy and privileged boys boarding school in mid-20th-century New England. Determined to elevate his students to think beyond the making of money or the pursuit of ambitions, he gathers them together and quotes from Walt Whitman, “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” And then he fixes his gaze on the boys and asks, “What will your verse be?”
While a “verse” conjures up images of spoken words, a “play” reminds us that the spoken word always comes within the enactment of a drama. Not only are there lines to read, but marks to hit, and props to use, and nonverbal actions that convey the meaning and move the story forward.
In a similar manner, Mark Labberton asks us to consider Christian calling as enactment. In the same way that God so loved the world that he didn't just send a book, those who believe the message of the good news are to “incarnate” that good news in action.
Citing Jeremiah 29, Labberton reminds all of us that the circumstances of the “powerful play” may become quite dire; but our responsibility as “actors” continues on. We may be in exile, but we are summoned to live as a demonstration of God’s redeeming love even there.
In the same way that Jeremiah instructed the Israelites heading into captivity that they should bless their captors and seek the welfare of their entire city, Labberton reminds us that whatever the circumstances of our social location, whatever the challenges that we face each day, whatever the unique pieces of our life circumstances or condition, we are called to embody, incarnate, enact, live out, demonstrate, the good news of God’s present, loving, and redeeming reign.
In the study guide to Called, we are reminded,
The supreme example of this is, of course, Jesus. He was clearly an exilic leader. As one without stature or role, whose life was lived with those at the margins, Jesus led. His hope-filled vision of the kingdom invited his disciples to join in the commitment and energy of faith needed to seek God’s provision of a new creation.
As those who are called to follow Jesus into the world, we look to his example and find a model for our own living. Let the words of both prophets and poets fill your mind this day as you consider, “In exile, called to enact the redeeming love of God, the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be today—here, now?”