How to Discern Your God-Given Call
Understanding God's personal call is an important part of living fulfilled and productive lives as Christians (see Why Understanding Your Personal Calling is Important blog). Of course, Scripture describes God’s moral calling for every Christian―biblical principles guide us and help us know how we should live. Yet, it seems that God also has a more specific calling for each person―a job for them to do. Ephesians 2:10 says that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. What "good works" does God want us to do in our lifetime? Let’s look at three steps for discerning God’s calling.
Simply stated, our life purpose is the reason we exist. It’s what gives our lives meaning. I’m sure we can think of many people who had a strong sense of purpose. Mahatma Gandhi sought to promote peace and equality in non-violent ways. Mother Teresa devoted her life to loving the least of these; to touch the dying, the poor, the lonely, and the unwanted. A Canadian hero, Terry Fox, set out to run across Canada on one leg to raise money for cancer research.
To discern your life purpose, prayerfully identify 6-10 Scriptures that are meaningful to you. Why do you think that God has emphasized these verses in your life? How do they connect with activities that give your life deep meaning? Write down single words or themes that stand out to you from these passages. Now, use those ideas to create a one-sentence purpose statement that captures at least something of why you believe God created you (see the Three Steps to Understand Your Life Purpose in a Deeper Way blog for a more detailed description of this process).
My life purpose is to build capacity in myself and others so that we can love God deeply and serve Him more effectively. My purpose statement went through numerous revisions, so don’t feel that you have to figure it all out at the start.
Our core values are deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs that continuously influence our decisions. They are extremely important! They will either support or hinder the living out of our life purpose.
We can identify our core values in several different ways. Sometimes, it’s helpful to look at a list of core values and pick out those that clearly describe us (see a 50-word list or a 500-word list if you want to give it a try). You can also reflect on questions like:
- What are the character traits that I value most?
- What are some of the ultimate values that I believe God wants all Christians to demonstrate in increasing measure?
- If I were to describe my passion in life in one sentence, it would be...
My core values are courage, wisdom, love, determination, holiness, humility, justice, and improvement. To give you an example of a core value description, here my statement on wisdom: How can I love, pursue holiness, and act justly without God’s wisdom? To be wise, I must fear the Lord by adopting a humble posture of reverent submission to Him and His ways.
As you anticipate writing your vision, it is important to think about the major areas of your life (I call these life domains). Make a list of three to five major life domains that are important to you (e.g. family, work, relationship with God, volunteer activities, friends, yourself). For my vision, I focused on four key relationships (God, my wife, my children, and others).
The next step is to develop a rich, visionary description of how you would like to live out your life purpose and core values in each life domain. Each domain description should be at least three sentences. You may want to include a picture for each area that captures something of your vision (this can be very inspiring and makes the vision more memorable). Here’s part of my personal vision that describes my dream for serving others:
I see people, including myself, who need to take steps closer to God. I see myself as a courageous, loving and prayerful disciple-maker for Christ, seeing people take faith steps regularly. I see myself as a transformational servant leader who constantly builds capacity in other people, teams, organizations and myself, so that we can serve God more effectively for His glory.
Notice how this vision for serving others clearly reflects my life purpose and some of my core values. As you work on the three elements of personal calling, you should notice how your vision and core values help you live out your overarching life purpose. You may also recognize that you will need to build other values that are not core values yet to support your vision (you can add these preferred core values to your list of core values with the intention of making them central to your life―see Five Strategies for Growing Your Character for ideas on how to grow preferred core values).
I have found this process of discerning personal calling incredibly helpful for myself and others whom I have had the privilege of leading through the process. Understanding and living out our God-given calling ignites our passion, gives us a strong sense of purpose and helps us to focus our efforts in a consistent and concerted way on that which is most important for us to accomplish for God.
Note: You can download the free Understanding Your Personal Calling Workbook that guides you through this entire process of discerning your personal calling.
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.