Calling vs. vocation—for many years, I had those two mixed up. Actually, I thought my vocation was my calling. I had known from my teens that God wanted me to be a missionary. In my mid-twenties, my wife and I narrowed that “call” to Austria.
So, we worked hard, sold everything we owned in the States and moved our young family to Austria in 1982. As a man, I accepted the hardships of living abroad, learning a new language, and sharing Christ with people in this foreign land as part of our “calling.”
God was pleased to use us there to help plant two churches—no, let me rephrase that. We were privileged to watch God plant two churches while we fumbled through our life and work. We grew to love the Austrians and Austria. In fact, I was so intent on living in Austria for the rest of my life that for the past six years I had conducted my quiet time with the Lord exclusively in German. I was committed for the long-term.
Then, at the height of a growing work and ministry, God clearly led us back to the US. I was devastated. I thought I had lost my “calling,” a calling I had nurtured for two decades. If I wasn’t a missionary, I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be doing.
If you haven’t personally experienced something like this, you may think I’m exaggerating, but I was emotionally crushed. I floundered, wrestling with my identity. This period lasted a full two years. (God graciously and patiently waited for me to trust Him with my “calling” during this time. I always had work and was able to provide for my family.)
Then one day, out of the blue, I was reading Acts 14. There, Paul and Barnabas were returning home to their sending church after spending a couple years on their first missionary journey. It says in Acts 14:26, that Paul and Barnabas “sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.”
And as I read that passage, I heard the Holy Spirit say to me, “Rob, you completed the work I gave you to do. Now, trust Me and move on to the next task I have for you.” I cannot adequately describe the sense of relief and joy I felt from the Lord as I heard this! That’s also when I began to grasp the difference between calling and vocation.
I realize now that our calling is to the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:6). Jesus calls us to Himself. He is our calling. He calls us to follow Him, imitate Him, obey Him, and become more and more like Him.
Our vocation, whether we’re a missionary, a plumber, an insurance agent, or whatever, comes under Jesus’ Lordship and His calling in our lives. This is very freeing. It doesn’t matter what our vocation is, God can use us powerfully to represent Him to others whatever we’re doing.
Also, in this regard, there is no higher calling than to be a child of God. This means that there is no hierarchy of vocations in God’s Kingdom. Being a pastor or missionary is no more noble than being an electrician or an accountant or any other vocation. This also underscores what I said in the previous blog post: we get our identity in Christ, not in our vocation.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)