Perhaps one of the most helpful points to make when trying to figure out your calling is to define the differences between your “purpose” and your “calling.”
What’s the Difference Between Your Purpose and Your Calling?
Among Christians these two phrases are often used interchangeably, but I think this is a big mistake. In Scripture it becomes very clear that all Christians have the same purpose and this purpose never changes throughout our lives. Our main purpose is to glorify God. We do this in many ways – by loving God, by loving people, and by obeying God’s word – but our ultimate purpose is to always bring God glory.
Our calling, however, is something very specific to each individual person and each of our individual callings will often change many times throughout the course of our lives. The way I define a calling is “a specific mission or ministry God has commissioned you to do for his glory.” Additionally, I believe you can have multiple callings at the same time in life.
Some of you may feel your calling is to shine for Christ as a teacher in the public-school system. Some of you may feel your calling is to attend seminary and become a pastor. And some of you may feel your calling is to become a mom or dad one day. But as Christians all of our purpose must be to glorify God in all things, for as 1 Corinthians 10:31 states, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
So here are 3 helpful ways God will often reveal that he is leading you into a new calling in your life.
1. If Your Current Calling Was More “Mythic” Rather than “Specific”, This Is a Sign God Will Lead You Into a New Calling
I tried to do some research to remember where I first heard about this concept of a calling being “mythic” verses “specific” but I was unable to locate anything. I believe I heard some version of this concept from John Eldridge many years ago but here’s this idea put into my own words.
I’m using the word “mythic” not in the sense that it is fake or not real but more so that this type of calling symbolically represents a deep, inner desire you have to serve the Lord. However, a “specific” calling is something that is an actual job, ministry role, or role in life that uniquely aligns with your spiritual gifts and desires.
A “mythic” calling often happens earlier in our journeys with the Lord and it is often used to help us identify the deep longings of our hearts rather than help us find the exact expression of our desires that God will lead us to later. For example, perhaps in your early 20s you really felt called into full-time ministry. You imagined working at a church, preaching passionate sermons, or counseling people late into the night who were struggling with really hard issues. But as you matured in the Lord and got experience in this type of ministry field, you realized you don’t have a great gifting for preaching, you prefer more administrative work rather than counseling people, and the random schedule of working in a church frustrates you in ways you never would have imagined.
Does this mean you completely misunderstood your calling? Not necessarily. It could just mean that at that point in your life this calling into full-time ministry was more “mythic” than “specific.” In other words, it symbolically checked all the boxes you felt in your heart. In made you feel like you were serving the Lord, helping people, and doing something important. However, the specific details of the actual job really did not specifically align well with the gifting God gave you.
So rather than say this was not your calling, it is much wiser to say that this was more of “mythic” calling and as time goes on God will reveal his “specific” calling on your life. Perhaps being a teacher really seemed like the right road because you wanted to mentor and help kids. That inner desire did not change but as you grow you realize it was not the kids you specifically were called to but the mentoring. Perhaps later in life God shows you that counseling is actually the specific new calling God will lead you into.
My point is, if you are beginning to realize that your current calling is more mythic because it symbolically checks the boxes in your heart but it does not check the specific boxes in relation to your actual skills and abilities, this could be a sign God is leading you into a new calling that will be more specific to your spiritual gifts.
Remember, unlike your purpose or your ultimate calling in the Lord, your “callings” on earth will change as life goes on and God presents new opportunities. So no matter what happens, our first focus must be on our character in each season of life regardless of what that season is or is not. As Ephesians 4:1-3 explains:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
2. If Your Current Efforts Have Become a Lot Less Fruitful, This Is Often a Sign God Is Giving You a New Calling
We shouldn’t be led completely by what will give us the best results. Sometimes God will call you to serve a people that are less responsive but who still need to hear the gospel or receive the help God is calling you to offer.
With that said, many times in life God blesses a ministry or a certain activity with lots of fruit for a specific period of time. But then the fruitfulness starts to dry up. God could lead you to just keep plowing ahead. Often times this is exactly what God says. But at other times this lack of fruit is actually God telling you it’s time to enter into a new calling in life.
I think it is wise to use a loss of fruitfulness as a sign to at least revaluate if God wants you to continue here or move on to something new. You won’t know until you ask, and a lack of fruitfulness might be a sign God is telling you to ask him about this so he can move you on.
When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, one sign he gave them to know which town they were called to serve was that town’s receptiveness to their message. In Matthew 10:14 Jesus said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” Just as Jesus told the disciples to leave an unfruitful town to go and serve at a more fruitful town, God may lead you into a new calling by allowing the fruitfulness to dry up in your current calling.
3. If You Have a New Passion, Growing Ability, and an Opportunity for Fruitfulness Somewhere Else, This Could Be God Leading You Into a New Calling
As I’ve talked about before, one way to discover your calling is to seek to pair your desire and ability with a need in the world. In other words, if you have a desire to serve in a certain way but other people are not benefitted by this desire, this not a calling – this is a hobby. A hobby is good but it is only good because it is something you enjoy personally. A calling must help others (1 Peter 4:10).
However, if you are helping lots of people but you don’t enjoy this type of work, that is called a job. A job is also good and is often needed to make money and provide for yourself as a responsible adult.
But a calling is when you enjoy what you are doing, you are good at it, and other people are greatly benefited by it. You don’t have to be paid for your work for it be considered a calling. But other people do need to benefit.
So if your passions are changing, if your ability is growing in a new way, and there are new opportunities to serve others in a fruitful way, this could mean God is leading you into a new calling.