Recovering and keeping “margin” in our frenetic culture is next to impossible without a strong sense of mission. Knowing my mission gives me a strong filter for deciding what I will and will not do. But what does it mean to establish and specify my “personal mission”?
First, let’s define “mission.” Mission is one of 3 ingredients of “calling”:
1) Purpose. This is our vertical “calling”–to know God, to do all things unto his glory (1 Cor 10:31).
2) Mission. This has to do with our horizontal “callings.” It incorporates a sense of a personal “divine design,” which includes our God-given gifts (both natural and spiritual), talents (skills we have learned) and passions (needs in the world I am compelled to meet).
3) Vision. This has to do with the stations in life where God currently has placed us (personally, relationally, vocationally, and ministerially). I have a way of “seeing” each of these areas–the kind of life I envision, which compels me to move toward it.
The mission aspect of our calling is especially personal. This is the aspect of calling where God shows respect for, and even builds up, our individuality. Indeed God only “calls” individuals. Never do we actually find a consistent of “call” in the Bible being used with respect to Israel, the church, or any other group. Rather, it is always an individual that receives a “call” (and note that many of the “call” narratives in the Bible are NOT into professional ministry). Abraham is called by God to be a nation-builder. He is simply to go to the Promised Land and trust that a great nation will come forth from his seed. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:2). Moses is called to be a nation-mover! God literally “called” to Moses from a burning bush to perform this complex task (Exodus 3). Moses complained to God that he was not adequate for this mission, but God thought otherwise. As it turns out, Moses had survived a series of conflicts throughout his life which equipped him to be the perfect leader for this difficult job.
In each case we can find a match between the design / giftings of the individual being called and the mission they are to fulfill. In each case, also, the individual lived out and refined their mission within a community of believer. However, while this community context is vital, it always worked toward the development of a strong sense of one’s individuality.
In the present-day USA, however, we find two forces that work mightily against the discovery of a sense of an individual mission. The first is modernism, which tells each of us that we can choose what we do with our lives. Today we hear, “You can do whatever you want to do with your life; You’re an American!” With a biblical sense of calling, however, one doesn’t choose a call but responds to a summons.
The second force is postmodernism, which attempts to force us into broad groups. Today’s multi-culturalism attempts to define each person’s calling in a social sense. Your “calling” becomes the bolstering of the agenda of one’s society or subculture. According to Os Guinness,
Many of the categories people offer to explain or heal us today are too general. The Marxists interpret us by categories of class, Freud classified us by childhood neroroses, feminists by gender, and pop-commentators by all sorts of generational profiles, such as the “silent generation, the “baby boomers”, etc. In each case the perspectives may be relatively true or false, helpful or unhelpful, but they do not address the deepest question: Who am I? Why am I alive? Being general, the categories do not address us as individuals. At best, our individuality is lost in the generality. At worst, it is contradicted or denied. . . They trim the picture of our personalities to fit their mass-produced frames. . . We become “prisoners” of our categories, be it gender, class, race, generation, or ancestry (Guinness, The Call, 20-21).
Former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel discovered, while in a Communist prison in 1979, and not yet a Christian, that there is a “voice” calling each of us – something higher than conscience and more urgent than our close friends. Havel concluded it came from “someone eternal, who through himself makes me eternal as well . . . someone to whom I relate entirely and for whom, ultimately, I would do everything. At the same time, the ‘someone’ addresses me directly and personally” (See Guinness, The Call, 19).
This “voice” is first and foremost God’s summons to stand before Him as individuals, owing all we are to Him. However, God always sees to it that our vertical “calling” spills over into a horizontal one. God is “speaking” inside of me, enlightening my gifts, talents, and passions, and in doing so revealing the unique mission I am designed to do.
Once I throw off the modern or postmodern “voices” of our culture I am free to pursue God’s horizontal call at my own pace, with my own creative bent. I develop margin–a firm boundary between my inner-directed life (which indeed is motivated by service to my external “stations of life” or “visions”) and the society’s sense of obligation to fulfill its agenda.