On Being Called…

A few weeks ago a friend and I were catching up over dinner (surprise, surprise). One thing led to another and we found ourselves in a discussion about “callings.” And I sheepishly confessed that I wasn’t sure I truly knew what it felt like to be called to something.

So…this brings me to a few questions that I would love for you to weigh in on.

Is there a time in your life when you have you felt “called” to do something or go someplace?

In that moment, what made you confident in the fact that your “calling” was God-given?

And have you ever felt “called” to something and then realized it was your own hopes and dreams that you conveniently positioned as God’s will? (Don’t ask me how I know that this happens from time to time. ;))

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Lindsey has a sincere love for her precious dogs Molly and Maisy, a good red wine and the Delta Sky Club.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I think adoption is a calling. Each of our journeys (we have walked it 4x) have been so inexplicably God driven… we couldn’t really do anything but follow Him. Fought it, denied it, refused it – but the calling was powerful enough to trump us every time.

    Orphan care is a mandate. Adoption is a calling.

    • Anonymous

      “fought it, denied it, refused it – but the calling was powerful enough to trump us every time.”

      yep. i get this for sure. we just started the process to adopt from ethiopia.

    • “Fought it, denied it, refused it – but the calling was powerful enough to trump us every time.” That’s exactly what I mean by compulsion. Yes, Tymm, I agree.

  • Oh, yes – in fact, I’m right smack dab in the middle of this right now, as I’m pretty sure that I’m about to quit my job, rent out my house, and sell my car to go live in Africa for a few months.

    I think it’s difficult to quantify what calling always looks like – it depends so much on each person and where they’re at and the nature of the calling, but these things are true for me, at least right now:

    1. There’s outside confirmation, particularly from godly friends who love Jesus and know me well.
    2. The sense of calling lasts over time (this is a big one for me, because I tend to make decisions quickly – sometimes too quickly).
    3. I have peace about the decision that is completely out of character for me. I’m a planner and a list-maker and I like to have all the information before committing to something. In this case, I don’t have very many answers at all – but I’m still at peace with it. It doesn’t quite make sense – and that’s why I think its of God.

    And yes, there have been times that I’ve mistaken my desires for God’s will – but usually there was something that should have sent up a red flag (I moved too quickly, or trusted friends had concerns that I conveniently overlooked). So glad that God redeems even that!

  • Anonymous

    I used to feel called to every black man over 6’2″ with a good job at church. Ha! I think that’s why we call it a “walk with Christ.” I used to run. So I learned some tough lessons. Now I take a step, watch & listen. I’m all about stepping out. Leaping on the other hand I would recommend against. This is why godly friends are important.

  • I have always shied away from the term “called.” I’m a girl who was raised in the Southern Baptist Convention. Girls don’t get called. Boys do.

    Every time I started to feel led to ministry, I turned away from it. I prayed for the desire to go away. I begged God to make me feel differently. I cried.

    One day, 1 Corinthians 9:16 started to feel personal. A calling isn’t a desire. A calling isn’t always pleasant. A calling is a compulsion.

    I am compelled to serve Christ. Even when it’s the last thing I want to do… Even when it’s the one thing that scares me more than anything else… Even when other people look at me like I’m crazy… I am *compelled* to serve Him. That’s how I know I’m called. And the times when I buck against it with all of my might…well, those are the times when I realize just exactly how much it’s from God and not me.

  • I have friends that feel called to adopt. That is how they state it. The husband says that he knows that God wants him to adopt a girl from China. This is no small thing because they already have a farm and 4 kids. They state their calling as confidently as predicting the sun will rise. I’m with you. I’m not sure I understand how that works. Is it because I have not heard God pull me in a direction or because I wasn’t listening?

  • Have you read John Eldredge’s book, Desire? His basic premise is that God reveals His will to us through our desires. I highly recommend it.

    • interesting! i keep hearing that about god putting desires in our hearts and that they are for that…i’ll have to check out the book–thanks for the recommendation!

  • ah, i wrestle with this too! because i hear of people saying they feel called or they feel that god is leading them a certain way and then it changes ten times before anything happens…and insert pride i don’t want to be that person so sometimes i am awfully hesitant with admitting any “calling” or absolutes until they happen. but then it is that mix of also hearing and seeing so many times that god has placed desires on my heart and so it’s like are they from god or are they just my own wishes…seems to me like more people tend to lean toward they are from god…but then i always get confused because it’s like okay isn’t the heart deceitful so uh what do you do with that one.
    i do know that when i went to africa the first time i didn’t necessarily feel called to “africa” but more to step out in those steps and that direction to see firsthand full-time missions. and after coming back…it’s that okay god, are you calling me back since i’m still here longing and missing and desiring to go or am i just being selfish.
    and that’s not even going there about thinking whether god “calls” us to be married or single. haibo.
    so yeah, i agree. i don’t really know about called.

  • Anonymous

    this just may be the hardest question i’ve faced as an adult.

  • Tina @ Life Without Pink

    Wow this is a great question…not sure I have an answer, still waiting for my calling 🙁

  • Almost 3 years ago we adopted a little girl from China. We truly learned what it was to be called. My wife really wrestled with the idea of adopting at first, but after much prayer, she felt the calling. I look at it like this. We are not all called to adopt, but we are all called to help adoption happen. Being called is just God’s way of letting us know what our next steps should be.
    “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” That to me is calling.

  • Yes! It’s why we are moving. To be honest, I can’t explain how we know in specifics…but to say that a series of events and deep convictions of changes needed in our lives happened over and over until we couldn’t ignore it anymore. They all seemed to culminate in a moment where we looked at each other and just “knew”. The journey to actually find a job/get connected online/find a job move was relatively easy, until we were forced to make a decision about that job that demanded we let go of one of our huge idols (money). And once we struggled through that and actually obeyed, perfect peace.

    The book Mr. Hyatt recommended sounds really interesting!

  • Mike

    We certainly felt called to adopt. It was simply what we were meant to do.

  • Lindsey – great question, and not one with easy answers. A few thoughts though…

    Our primary call is never to something, it’s to someone. Before that’s clear and accepted the rest is irrelevant. Our desires will only be useful indicators of our calling only when God’s desires become ours. Our secondary calling is often discerned by understanding how God has made us. The function of a hammer is seen in how it was designed by its creator; so it is with us. This includes our passions, but also our spiritual gifts, talents, personality and experiences. I think it has a lot more with being the person God designed us to be rather than a role or a place. God may mold us and call us as a person with the heart and skill to shepherd others, to see and be moved to meet their needs. There are many roles, titles and places that calling may be lived out – ‘pastor’ is just one. Every single person was created by God uniquely and with a plan to do wonderful things to bless others and build his kingdom – His call (or calls) on our life are for all followers of Christ, not ministers and missionaries, and absolutely not just boys 🙂

    Your questions are good too, so I’ll answer them directly. My earliest sense of being called to something/someplace was to spend a year in India, a tentmaker doing research and discipling young believers. I wasn’t confident at the time this was God-given, but felt it might be. My colleagues all thought I was nuts. It’s only in hindsight I can see the powerful fingerprints of God in that decision – the huge impact it had on me and my wife, the lasting influence it has had on several Indians, and through God lining up a dream job on my return utterly beyond what I deserved (showing my colleagues wrong). I haven’t felt “called to something that wasn’t” simply because I always assumed a call was only for certain people, was unmistakeably clear, and probably would be to do something I didn’t want to do 😉 None of that is true. My current best understanding of my call is to encourage and equip believers to step up to all that God has called them to be and do all that He has called them do to. Honestly, I don’t have a clue if I will ever have an influential role in which I can do that frequently, but I’m looking for every opportunity to encourage and help others that I can, in all areas of my life.

    Lindsey, I guarantee you have a God ordained purpose, and believe that over time that will become more clear. Along the way God is more concerned with having a passionate love relationship with you and growing your character than in what you do. Eph 2:10 (NLT) declares you are God’s masterpiece! I don’t know you personally, but from the heart and skills you’ve shown through your blog I would affirm this to be true 🙂 You’re a special individual and God’s call for you is to be the most Christ-like and loving Lindsey you can be. As you do this and understand what He has made you good at and given you a passion to do, you will find yourself living in the center of your calling, whether you see that in a thunderbolt or only in hindsight.

    (Sorry for the long post, but I had to respond due to a real irony in your post that made me laugh out loud. Just this weekend I was writing out an outline for a book on calling and looking at the WestBow site. I was virtually in tears battling two feelings: this is something God may want me to do, versus the fact I have no right to think anyone would want to hear what I would have to say on this subject- no credentials, no title, and still trying to figure this all out in my own life. Yet I know that despite many scholarly books on calling this remains a topic of profound misunderstanding for the average Christian.)

  • Jen

    There is one time (and I think I must drive my friends crazy because when we talk about clearly hearing from God, I always reference this time) when I knew that I knew that I KNEW God was calling me to go to China for 2 weeks with a local foundation that sponsors Chinese College & University students who are learning English and how to teach English. I think I knew that God was calling me to go partly because it never was a desire of mine to go to China. Oh, sure, I’ve had the desire to travel and such but China wasn’t necessarily on my to-do list. (Now, if I had the opportunity to go to Ireland, I’d jump at the chance no questions asked because I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go to Ireland.) I have to say, there were challenged to my going (mainly, my mother) but, in the end, I am so glad that I “stuck to my guns” and went where God was calling me to go in that moment.

  • I have felt “called” a couple of times in my life. One I can remember more vividly is from this past winter. I have been involved with a nonprofit organization called Interlink Resources since my junior year of high school. Well, this past winter I felt called to give a certain amount of money in support of the new team of people we will be sending over to Kazakhstan in 2012. I knew I was called because most of the time I don’t just want to give away my hard earned money. I like to keep it in my bank account where it belongs. But a couple of different times I felt the tuge to give to this team.

  • Anonymous

    I thought I was called to be a court reporter. I had the super-fast typing skills, and everything was lining up in that direction…or was I lining it up? Or was it a calling? I don’t know. After seven of the darkest years of my life while in that field, I still couldn’t tell you the answer. After three years working in a job I love for half the pay and zero benefits, I still can’t tell you the answer.

    While I may or may not have been called to be a court reporter, God has used those “dark years” mightily in my life. I’m reminded every day of where I once was, and I realize that this job is really where I was supposed to be. Was I called back home? I think so. It was a calling that’s made me rely more on God than I ever had during those seven horrible years. The pay or the hours aren’t great, but I’m thrilled to go to work every day. I totally think I was called back home as much as I fought it.

  • This comes at a time in my life where I am asking the same things. Thanks for the great thoughts!

    I don’t know if there is a particular “thing” that I feel called to. There are desires and dreams I have. I want to see how those match up with where God takes me.

    I am much more of the type to live my life open handed, use the gifts I have, find the things I am passionate about and then let God direct the path. He has made it pretty clear to me when he is directing and when I am. 🙂

    The other aspect of this is using the phrase “called” as a trump card. I think we have to be careful with that. People sometimes get the impression that if they feel called then the waters should part and everything will work out perfectly, when that usually just isn’t the case.

  • Allison Rivers

    This is an excellent series of questions, and i’m asking the same ones right now, too. I’m enjoying reading all of the comments and hearing all of the personal stories from people. I’d like to add my own question, though, too. And that is this: it seems like in all of these stories, a calling is some huge move, some giant decision that involves africa or adoption or giving away everything you have. Can it also be something quiet? Something subtle? Does it always involve your whole life turning upside down?

    Thanks for starting this conversation!

  • I think a calling can be as much a ‘lining up’ as it can be an out of the blue. I got an actual phone call from a woman at church who asked me to fill in as a choir leader to a class of 4-5 year olds. For me I knew it was a calling from God because I wanted to say ‘no’ out of fear. ‘Yes’ was the hard answer. I had the time and I was already there just teaching at a more sub-level. When God calls on me, it is generally something that I could make excuses to get out of, that would challenge me, and that I would describe on first glance as ‘hard.’ For me it’s something where I could use my time and talents in his name. Though if it were up to me, I’d just be an observer.

  • Anonymous

    Super interesting. Life for example the call to adopt. I feel called to adopt…totally. But my husband does not. So does that mean I’m not really being called? Wish I knew.

    I definitely felt called to marry my husband. Long story but it was the first time I ever “tested” God and the answer was so loud there was no denying it.

    • When I was at Idea Camp – someone gave a statistic, i wish i could remember it now, about how many more women lead the conversation, feel the calling, about adoption. just know that you are not alone in that. maybe your husband will feel the calling later? or maybe God will open both your eyes to something entirely different that you can’t see now.

  • Anonymous

    Man, this is what I’ve felt like for so long.. Lol. For years I felt like I wasn’t called to anything. Then last summer, I helped take a group of high school students to New York for a missions trip. We spent the entire week helping people, doing whatever they needed. We worked at a clothing bank, loaded boxes into the basement of a mission, and praying on street corners in Harlem. Ever since that week, I’ve felt more called than ever to “help people”. And it’s a feeling that isn’t going away. The really tough part for me now is that I don’t really know how that translates into more action for me. I just know that my heart has been unsettled for a long time, and I guess until God reveals more what that means, I’m kinda just hanging out. Haha.

    So I know what you’re going through. Hang in there!

  • Kelly Combs

    An older woman from church who was known for her brusque manner told me I should try to get my articles published. Others had suggested it, but until someone who wasn’t known for gushy nice comments told me, I never believed it. So I sent in the most horrible cover letter ever, with no hook, to a magazine and my story got published. Published on the first try. I’ve sense learned that is very rare. That encouraged me to keep writing and seeking publication.

    I attended conferences and am learning the craft, and am seeing small successes along the way. Every time I think I might quit, I get another little success to encourage me on. That is why I think I am called to write.

    My latest little success? A devotion that will appear in Gary Chapman’s next book, Love is a Verb. I’m not a great writer. But I am a good writer, called by God. And that is why I keep writing.

  • I believe I have experienced both.

    When I experienced God truly calling me to something, honestly, it wasn’t fun. It was scary and overwhelming and I didn’t really want to do it, but I kept feeling this gut feeling that I couldn’t deny that said GO. GO. GO. GO. GO. Afterwards I have seen fruit in my life in visible ways and in the ways my heart has been transformed and to me that’s further confirmation that, yes, God really was calling me to do that.

    When I try to disguise my will as His will it usually ends up feelings stressful and ugly and it’s always for my own benefit and it’s not all that scary because I feel like I’m in control and usually ends with me crying and feeling angry with God.

    Lately I’ve been praying that the Lord would refine the desires of my heart to match His desires for my life and then help me as a I pursue those God-given desires.

    Life lived in surrender and faith is not easy.

    • Melanie, You have defined a distinction very well here. Thanks it helped bring clarity to my own thinking.

  • I definitely felt called to go to seminary. Friends had suggested the school to me in the past but I shrugged it off. Then one day I could not sit still with a insatiable itch to learn Greek. I had been interested in the original languages, but at that point I was completely consumed with that one desire.

    So I called the school to ask about just taking the Greek class. In talking with the admissions guy, he told me there was a new cohort starting the next week. I thought and prayed about it over the weekend, and started the Master’s program before the paperwork had even been processed.

    The entire 2 1/2 years was so much more than I ever could have imagined it would be. Theology, spiritual formation, history, etc. God did so many amazing things during that time.

    p.s. – In my second year I did take the Greek class. Loved it and still working on learning the language. 🙂

  • Yes…I have experienced that many times. I however do think there things we can be called to that we do not necessarily desire. Many times it’s about what God desires and what will glorify Him. In 2008 I certainly did not desire to ride my bike across the US…who does that? However it became very apparent I was called to go and the repercussions of doing it continue to reverberate years later. You will know if it is God and you will know if it is you…there’s a HUGE difference…

  • This is something I’ve wrestled with! In the past, I felt called to do this or that but in recent years I figure that God has given me a mind and I need to use it. With that in mind, I take more risks now than I did when I felt I needed to be called to go on a mission trip, take this job, etc.

  • One way that I’ve seen it in my life is when seemingly all of a sudden I have all the reasons why I shouldn’t do something, go somewhere etc. Then it hits me “Who am I arguing with?”. Obviously me, myself, and I are in agreement, so why the need to defend my position? Then begins the process of surrender and taking steps of faith all the while praying that God would continue to make His plan known to me.

    It’s fun reading all the comments and seeing how God calls us all in different ways!

  • Have you read Kevin DeYoung’s book, “Just Do Something”. It is a bit convicting regarding expectation that God should plan our every move. Ms. Nobles you really do seem like a “doer” already.

  • I would suggest “Just Do Something” by Kevin DeYoung. It is a good encouragement to move to act on the main and plain things….love God, love people where you are.

  • Robert Bly said – “Where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” I love that quote. It hangs in my office. I’ve found that every time I peel back the layers from my wounds – God opens up a door – it may be a small one, but he offers a glimpse to what is unfolding. What He’s calling me to.

  • “The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). That is, few prove that they are the chosen ones. The chosen ones are those who have come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and have had their spiritual condition changed and their ears opened.” Sorry to comment with a quote from Oswald Chambers, but I read this some time ago and never have forgotten it. Seems to explain it all to me!

  • Sarahraymondcunningham

    Lindsey, for me I feel God’s promptings on the smaller daily stuff. Like go try again with that student who blew you off 18 times. The nebulous “calling” is more of something that, for me, appears when I look at how my life has evolved to this point and which places felt most affirming. I talk a little about it here: http://www.sarahcunningham.org/faith-ideas/the-right-place-at-the-right-time

  • Sarah

    I’m glad I’m not the only one trying to figure it out by the way. =)

  • There’s a great book on calling by Robert Benson – The Echo Within, that I found hugely helpful in simply shaping my thoughts on calling – what it looks like, how to figure it out, that sort of thing, without being really prescriptive… it was more reflective and I think definitely worth reading.

  • There are some things that every (yes, every) Christian is called to do in Scripture. These things are non-negotiable. Love God. Meet together regularly. Look out for widows and orphans. Make disciples. Then there are others where you are called to do something because it is something that will help you love Christ more and cherish Him more and I think those things do come in the form of “callings” and you may not know how you are going to grow until you are in them. I’m scatterbrained right now so that may not flow correctly.

  • I experienced being “called.” It felt sort of like God’s hand on my shoulder?? I didn’t understand it completely… didn’t know exactly what to do with it. It has led to 21 years in ministry. 🙂