What Do You Do
“What do you do?”
If not, “How about that weather,” the what-do-you-do question is the go-to when you first meet someone or you’re standing around at some gathering, looking for something to say. “What do you do” gets at the biblical doctrine of calling. Calling is one of those things that is as important as it is misunderstood.
The Importance of Calling
What’s your purpose? What’s the goal of your life? What are you living for? What, if it were removed, would leave an unbearable void in your life?
These questions are just a few that get after a functional outworking of calling. The inability to answer these have left many people on the brink of suicide or experiencing gut-wrenching despair.
The primary way calling is used in the scriptures refers to God’s call upon an individual to know and love Him. Os Guinness, defines it this way:
Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to His summons and service.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The death Bonhoeffer refers to is life as we knew it when we lived as enemies of God. When Christ calls, we become new creations in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). The call of Christ is like the call to Lazarus when Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). Had Jesus not called Lazarus, he would have remained in the tomb. Spiritually, dead men and women do not make themselves alive. Unless and until that call from Jesus comes, we remain dead in our trespasses and sins. Therefore, no greater call exists than the one that makes us Christians who are wholeheartedly ready and willing to follow Jesus.
This call orders everything else. Every other kind of call is subordinate to our identity in Jesus. When this call is embraced, understood, and shapes the core of who we are, we hold the “what we do” part of us loosely. We say, with Paul, “for to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, stock broker, or student, YOU ARE CHRIST’S, and you just so happen to be caring for children, investing money, or studying at this point in your life. These things are important, and they are from God, but they can and likely will change. Who you ARE will not.
When I use the term secondary call, I’m talking now about the answer to “what do you do?” Being a parent or spouse is certainly not off the table, but the ordinary use of the term brings to mind a job or preeminent passion of the heart.
Tim Keller helpfully dissects this kind of call into 3 parts: affinity, ability, and opportunity. Affinity asks, “What do I want/desire to do?” Ability asks, “What am I able to do?” And opportunity asks, “What doors have been opened to me?”
Each of these 3 parts play a significant role in our calling. How many American Idol auditions began and ended with some hopeful young man or woman, whose voice would make dogs bark, belting out all the wrong notes to a Whitney Houston song? Sure, they had the desire to sing. In that moment they were given the opportunity to sing. Unfortunately for them, the ability to sing was not theirs.
Chris Norman, an All-American outside linebacker for the Michigan State Spartans, turned down the NFL to go to seminary to become a pastor. He had what many dream about (ability and opportunity), but his desire was for ministry.
Many people can do something (ability) and want to do that thing (affinity), but for 100 different reasons are never given the opportunity. When desire, ability, and opportunity come together the sweet spot of a call has presented itself.
Intuitively, we know that if God shuts a door no one can open it. Scripture specifically says that God stands behind all things that happen and that nothing happens outside of His will (Isaiah 46:9-11; Ephesians 1:11). We also know that, like Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-5), God gifts people with specific and unique abilities. Everything that we have comes from Him (1 Corinthians 4:7), including the bodies, time, experience, training, and education that He uses to open doors for employment, provision, and service to our neighbors.
Where we jump off track most often is with our feelings. In our current cultural atmosphere, our emotions dictate reality. If we feel deeply enough about something, then it must be right. Feelings legitimize everything. No matter how wrong the belief, if our feelings are strong enough we give credence to it. Here lies the most common error regarding calling.
Too many people assume that because they’re passionate about something or want to do it then they are called. This idea of calling operates on the assumption that our feelings were left unaffected by the fall of Adam and they are impervious to our own sin nature. If we feel like someone wronged us, then surely, they must have wronged us. If we feel like we should be able to do something, then woe to the person who tries to stop us.
Discerning a Call
Hindsight is 20/20. We plan our futures, but God course-corrects those plans with the path he’s designed for us (Proverbs 16:9). Here are just a few steps that may help to discern a call:
· Cast your net wide – Get involved in a variety of activities. Very often passions and skills only rise to the surface once you’ve jumped into a project, job, activity, or event. You will likely do something that you realize you were not cut out for. On the flip side, you may get involved in something that you’re lukewarm going into, only to discover that you’re very good at it and enjoy doing it.
· Look around – observe the needs of the people around you. Martin Luther said that God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does. The gifts/abilities God’s given you are not just for you. Seeing a need in your broader community may be the beginning of hearing a call.
· Connect to a local church – Wisdom and discernment are gifts from God (James 1:5). Discerning and embracing a call are inseparable from growth in Christ. Spiritual growth is stagnate and anemic when we are not deeply connected to Christ’s body, the church, or shifty in our involvement – jumping from one church to the next. God designed His church to be a conduit for growing His people. Pastors are called to shepherd – to help direct the sheep. Connecting to the local church is a prerequisite for the next step...
· Ask others – Just as the New Testament church commissioned the apostles, we need the honest affirmation and assessment from our church family, along with our close friends and family. There will always be those people who tell you what you want to hear, but if we open ourselves to receive input from others we will begin to get a clearer picture of that for which we’re wired.
 Os Guinness, The Call, (W Publishing Group: Nashville, TN, 2003) 4.
 Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (Macmillan Co, New York, NY, 1973) 99.