Rethinking Christian Calling

Recently I read a very distressing article about the reasons Christians voluntarily choose childlessness as a respectable Christian calling on par with the call to singleness or the call to ministry. My intention here isn’t to debate whether or not there are good reasons for choosing childlessness. But I am here to dialogue with this article’s rationale, because it reflects a larger pattern in Christianity that is disturbing and worthy of reflection.

The argument essentially follows a pattern I’ve noticed in many blogs and books written by young Christians in the past decade, and many conversations I hear quite regularly. This pattern essentially conflates what I want to do (which may or may not be prohibited by Scripture) with what God is calling me to do. Of course, when I hear a young person talk about feeling “called” to choose a certain college or date a certain person, I chuckle a bit. But when I hear someone saying they felt called to never have children (when they are in a great situation to have children), or to abort a child, or to divorce their spouse, or to do some other destructive thing to themselves or others, I begin to see that our understanding of God’s “calling” has gotten way out of hand.

The Bible has a very small category called “calling.” Certain significant people throughout Scripture were verbally called by God to do certain things: Moses, Isaiah, David, Paul, the disciples. That’s a certain miraculous calling that most people never hear. Other people are called to be in ordained ministry (pastor/elder, missionary). The rest of us are called to be Christians. That’s pretty much it as far as God’s calling goes.

Unfortunately, Christians have found that this leaves us in a precarious place when it comes to many decisions that are morally ambiguous. Very few people probably feel the need to justify their choice of chocolate ice cream by saying “I feel called by God.” They’ll just admit that they chose chocolate ice cream because they wanted it. But if they decide to make a choice that others think is wrong, they feel they need some extra justification beyond “I want to do this” or “I think this is right for these Biblical reasons.” Often their added justification becomes some sort of appeal to feeling “called by God.” It could just as well be indigestion.

This doesn’t discount the fact that sometimes the Holy Spirit can make us feel a deep urge to do something, and we would do well to listen to this. But just as often, we can easily conflate our own feelings of fear, selfishness, discontent, greed, and pride as God’s calling on our life. Sometimes we have to just make a choice to do something we think is right, and we might end up being wrong. That’s ok. But it’s not ok to conflate our own momentary desires with God’s will or calling. When we do this, we’ve actually replaced God with ourselves and we become our own arbiter of truth and virtue.

The Bible gives every Christian a “big picture” calling: love God, love others. Live a life of service and obedience and thanksgiving. Walk in faithfulness, repentance, and joy. This is our calling as “little people.” It’s up to us–through prayer, community, and courageous choices–to decide how our lives will reflect this calling in everyday choices. And we might make some bad decisions along the way, bad decisions we can learn from and instruct others to avoid.

In the end, Christian young people would do much better to seek to cultivate what Scripture calls wisdom, rather than seeking to chase what our hearts call God’s calling. Wisdom comes through reading God’s word and observing God’s world, listening to other’s advice and putting our own desires to the test, and making thoughtful choices that we admit could be wrong and are willing to take responsibility for. The life in pursuit of wisdom will ultimately be in pursuit of God’s calling. The life spent chasing God’s illusory “calling” might ultimately find itself merely in pursuit of our own fleeting desires.

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