This week we begin a new focus for Margin Monday. For the next few weeks we will examine the concept of “Calling” and how it relates to maintaining “margin.” Perhaps the most important factor in living with margin is focus. Since today’s society seems to specialize in distraction, we need a well-thought and well-executed strategy to achieve and maintain focus. How do we do this?
The answer, perhaps more than anything else, lies in understanding our “Calling.”
We lose our margin – our physical, mental, emotional, financial, and even spiritual reserves – when we try to focus on too many things. Our time and energies become dissipated. Those in professional ministry know this by experience. Pastors feel obligated to wear a variety of “hats” – those of the preacher, the counselor, the husband, the friend, the visionary, the organizer, the hospital chaplain, etc. Amidst the busyness and pressure, we can subtly lose focus on precisely WHY we are doing all these things, and on exactly WHAT God has designed us to do.
“Calling” restores our proper focus on both counts. Today we will define this concept, examine how it is presented in the Bible, and think through one application regarding “margin.”
As Christians, we believe that God has actually spoken to us in the scriptures. In the Bible God has revealed himself and his will to us. However, do you realize that God is continuing to speak to each of us today on an individual basis? This is not some mystical speaking. The doctrine of “calling” reveals precisely how God speaks to each of us everyday.
“Calling” is a doctrine introduced in Old Testament and amplified in the New. In the Old Testament “calling” (Hebrew, ‘qara’) is first and foremost seen as God’s special way of “speaking”. When God “calls” He is either providing a special identity or He summons some person(s) for a special purpose or mission. Regarding identity, we see in Genesis 1:5 that God “called” the light “day” and the darkness “night”. Here God gave each a title and a special function or identity within His creation (in chapter 2 Adam followed up on this, “naming” the animals, giving each a unique identity).
However the most significant use of “call” in the OT is found in two other ways. First, God “calls” people to Himself. In Genesis 3:9, God “called” Adam, asking him to account after his sin, bringing him back into fellowship with himself. God also “called” Israel to be His people (2 Chron 7:14; Isaiah 43:7 and 45:4). Secondly, God “calls” people to a specific service. He did this with Moses from the burning bush, giving him the task of liberating Israel from Egypt (Exodus 4:3ff), and with Samuel (three times) to be a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1ff). Thus, “calling” was originally seen in 2 ways – unto God (which we will call “purpose”) or unto service (“mission”). These two senses of “calling” – the vertical and the horizontal – are integrated. The first sense will inevitably lead to the second, and the second is at all times to be thought of in relation to the first.
In the New Testament these two senses of “calling” (‘kaleo’) are reiterated, yet they are personalized in such a way that every believer can understand their “calling.” Second Timothy 1:9 provides the first sense: “(God) saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” Our salvation occurred when we understood we were “called” or summonsed to God, to receive His “grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus.” This is also a “holy calling”, meaning that we were set apart with a special “purpose” – to know God and experience His grace! “Call” is used similarly in Romans 1:6-7, 2 Thess 2:12-13, 1 Cor 1:9, 1 Peter 1:5 and many other places.
The second sense of “calling”, unto service, is also personalized in the New Testament. In Romans 1:1 and 1 Cor 1:1 Paul says he was “called” to be an apostle. 1 Cor 7:17 seems to allude to a notion that we have been “called” or “assigned” to our current stations in life (i.e., single or married), though in verses 18-24 such a “call” is intimately connected to one’s call unto salvation.
In each case we encounter the “voice” of God, summonsing us to focus on Him or a particular service assigned by Him. So, how does one “hear” this voice? Herein lies the key to “margin.” We “hear” God by examining both the scriptures and our own personal histories. Through the Holy Spirit, God first takes his ancient message and “speaks” to us, providing our sense of identity as believers – our “purpose.” Then, as we consider the times God has employed our natural abilities, spiritual gifts, talents, and passions in our personal past, we can fine-tune our “mission.” We need to take time to ask others how they have specifically witnessed each of these in our lives.
This process of identifying our “calling” (in both senses) may seem tedius at first, but such inventories are critical for retaining margin. Our “purpose” allows us to stay close to God, experiencing His grace and empowerment, and knowing when we need to rest. Our “mission” creates boundaries, so that our energies are focused, directed primarily toward God’s “call” to a specific service.
Next week we will continue the discussion, examining how the doctrines of “calling” and “vocation” have been understood in Church history. Stay tuned!