For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10)
Every person is a unique creation of God. Besides outward physical differences, each person inwardly reflects the image of God uniquely, in the combination of personality traits, gifts, motivations and talents they have received. God does not allot His gifts arbitrarily, and the way He puts each one together has purpose. He means for each individual He has called to Himself to fulfill certain God-given works, and accordingly, in His design of each person, He bestows gifts and talents that will enable each to fulfill their God-given callings.
At the same time, God’s purposes in and through mankind are not realized through individuals working alone and separately. God has called us to Himself as His body. When each member of the body plays the part he or she is designed to be and do, the entire body benefits and the purposes of God are achieved (1 Corinthians 12). In writing about Christian calling and vocation, Os Guinness has differentiated between "a primary call, which is by the Lord, to the Lord, for the Lord" and a "secondary call, which is what we do as we follow the Lord- meaning, we do everything as unto him. And, of course, the secondary should never become the primary." In this article I am in agreement with Guinness' definition of calling-- that first, we are called by the Lord to Himself, and that what we do for Him is important but secondary.
If we lived in an ideal world that had not fallen into sin, God’s distribution of gifts among His people would likely have produced a harmonious working together according to God’s purpose. But we live in a fallen world, and so the fulfillment of God’s purpose in His people and through His people involves not only, as we have briefly discussed, gifting them with various natural and spiritual talents, and binding them together in community, but also, the spiritual transformation of the character of each person. This process, called sanctification, involves everything God brings into one’s life, which God uses to test our faith and to perfect our souls in the image of Jesus Christ. We are called to be a holy people, and someday God will complete the work He has begun in His people, bringing us to full maturity and glory (1 Peter 1:3-25, James 1:2-4, Eph 4:1-16). In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes about the marvelous privileges the children of God have through Jesus Christ, that we have been forgiven of our sins and adopted by God, all as part of His marvelous plan of redemption through Jesus Christ:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10)
In searching out the will of God for our life’s vocation, and seeking to fulfill the role(s) God calls us to play, several questions should be asked. One might begin by asking, "What are my unique talents, gifts and motivational patterns? What am I naturally good at doing? What do I like to do most? Also, what kinds of needs in the world drive me? What am I motivated by?" The answers to these questions reflect things about us that are not accidental, but are indicators and clues to one’s God-given calling, because they are within us by design.
But how do we develop and use these God-given gifts in a God-honoring way? Does He hand out gifts and talents just so that we can pursue "self-actualization" and maximize our own potential? Certainly as we have been saying, God gives gifts that He means for us to enjoy, develop and use. But to what end? The Bible states that "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)." Likewise, we will find the fulfillment of our gifts when we use them to serve others, and not only for our own benefit.
We must remember too that our identity in God is made up of more than just the sum of our gifts. Our value is not in what we achieve, but in who we are and to whom we belong– for we are people made in the image of God; and we are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are being transformed into Christ-likeness by the mighty hand of God working in us by His very own Spirit, and we have nothing in life that we have not received by God’s provision. Anything that we are able to achieve in this life is from God, who gives the talent, the opportunity and the strength. We belong to God, and we are called to the staggeringly amazing privilege of being not only His servants, but friends of the living God, because He knows us and we may know Him (Philippians 1:6, 2:13; 1 Corinthians 4:7, 6:19-20, 2 Cor 3:18, Ecclesiastes 2:24, John 15:15).
Keeping in mind all these wonderful biblical truths, we recognize that to discover our particular callings we must get busy using and developing our gifts in service to others. For whether or not we have a specific career or arena of service, we already have a commission: to preach the gospel and to teach everything that Jesus commanded, to make disciples and to be ambassadors for Christ (Matthew 18:19-20; 2 Cor 5:20). So in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we can take action through which we'll gain real-life experiences that will provide useful feedback, confirming and encouraging the talents we possess. We'll discover through this valuable process which gifts and talents are our best and strongest, and this will give us direction as to which gifts ought to be further developed. At the same time, we will be blessing others by using our gifts, rather than just trying to figure out what they are in a theoretical vacuum.
So the process of discovering one’s particular calling involves being a good steward of that which God has given, and remembering that in our service our ultimate purpose is to exalt and glorify God, and not ourselves (1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:13). For this reason it may be that although God has given us certain gifts that we enjoy using, sometimes the needs of the kingdom may outweigh one’s particular preferences for the "where, what and whom" of our service. The Lord may "close a door", and open a new path of opportunity in its place. As we see from various examples in Scripture Moses, Jonah, etc.), we may be challenged by needs God presents, to go and serve in ways we would not have expected nor would we have chosen. Even then, with the call comes an equipping that comes from the Lord. Generally however, we can still expect that the gifts and talents, the inner motivations and burdens we find consistently within us over time, are good indicators of the direction God has designed for our lives.
Let us get busy then, developing the gifts we’ve discovered, through training (school and study if necessary) and through practice, that we may grow those gifts in fruitful service and gain confirmation of our calling. Let us remain confident that God is overseeing our lives, reigning over past, present and future circumstances. We may feel frustration that we are not achieving more, or that we can only do so much at present, but let us be faithful in the little things, that the Lord may increase our opportunities. Our ability to truly bless others in a lasting way is in proportion to who and what we are as people. Remember that being a godly man or woman is the highest priority in a life of service to the Lord. Let us not then, neglect our personal walk with God as we seek to serve in His kingdom. The Lord will faithfully reward each one for his service to Him, and the reward will be just and fair, measured out on the Lord’s scale of perfect wisdom and righteousness. We may not be as gifted as others, but we can serve with a heart that is pure in its devotion to the Lord, and this is what the Lord really desires from us. Serve with excellence, and to the best of your ability, and never stop striving to improve. But remember that your godly character, reflected in service to God and man that is motivated by love, is the most important thing to God. So whether in your service to God you are granted the opportunity to touch many lives or just a few, the critical component is humble dependence upon God for the love and power to serve Him rightly.
The Way of Love
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13)
For further reading and study:
Calling, Postmodernism, and Chastened Liberals/A Conversation with Os Guinness
Thank God For Work, Pt 1 by Justin Taylor
Thank God For Work, Pt 2 by Justin Taylor
Misc links on Vocation -Insights from Gene Veith
Teachings and links on Vocation at Monergism.com