Writing a Christian life plan is about discerning God’s call on your life. Yet, we have to be careful when thinking about our calling. Three cultural lies must be avoided.
The Voice That Thunders
God has called you to do something, to be something. This thought ought to quake the very foundation of your soul. Geologist warn us that one day San Francisco will lie in rubble due to straddling the San Andreas Fault. Christians should fare no better when they are told that God has purposefully created them. We are not accidents like a puddle of milk spilt by a careless child. We are instruments crafted in the forge of heaven for specific and non-negotiable tasks.
Yet, few Christian men seem to have felt the aftershock of this truth. The reason for this is that there are three cultural distortions that insulate our minds from understanding what it means to be summoned into existence.
The Medieval Distortion
During the Middle Ages Christians were taught that a religious calling was the privilege of the few, not the many. To have a calling was to copy the hairline of Friar Tuck and enter a monastery. Of course, this belief had and has no Scriptural basis. Throughout the New Testament the clear teaching of Christ and the apostles is that all believers are drafted by God in order to serve in His infantry. Whether we like it or not, to be a follower of Christ is to be given standing orders. We need to feel the thrilling absurdity of this revelation: that Jerry Popper, who flips burgers at MacDonalds in Minneapolis, has every bit as much of a spiritual calling as John Piper, who writes Christian books for a global audience.
The Modern Distortion
This second error takes a little bit more work to see than the first. The lie is subtle, like the sour taste of a glass of wine a day too old. Protestants often preach the message that every life is a spiritual calling - that being a teacher, or a doctor, or an accountant, or a mom, has value before God. As near as this statement is to the truth it is in fact separated from reality by an infinite chasm. Here is the vital difference to appreciate: any life can be lived as a spiritual vocation, but no life is automatically a spiritual vocation. In other words, a teacher can teach for the glory of God; however, God is not glorified by the mere act of teaching. An accountant can serve God by doing tax returns, but doing tax returns is not in itself a service to God. Here is the point: a life must be lived for the glory of God if God is to be glorified. Intent and resolve are required for the raw ingredients of life to be cooked into a spiritual calling. Yes, we all have the potential of living our lives as a spiritual calling (assuming, that is, you are neither a prostitute nor assassin), but for this to happen, a choice must be made - a purpose must be owned, adopted, and applied.
The Postmodern Distortion
We children of the current age love to navel gaze. We delight in imagining that our hearts are a gold mine, and that if we dig deep enough, eventually we will find a treasury of hidden meaning, unique purpose, inexhaustible passion, and personal fulfillment. Thus, like Don Quixote, we go on a fool’s errand wasting our lives looking for a lost grail that might or might not exist.
The truth is that for Christians there are always two sides of our calling, the specific and the general. Yet, whereas our culture places the weight of the burden on trying to discern what is specific and unique about my life, the Bible does the opposite. The New Testament wastes no time exhorting us to discover the True Me. Instead, the focus of the apostles is always on describing the general job description that all share in Christ. In fact, one of the great tragedies of the modern quest for meaning is that Christians waste so much time trying to figure out a unique purpose that they never get the stuff done that God has clearly asked them to do.
My advice to guys searching for purpose is to read Matt. 5-7, Matt. 28:18-20, I Cor. 13, and Rom. 12. Once they master this job description they can come back and ask for more. So far I’ve never had a second visit.
Questions for Small Groups and Self-Reflection
1. How have you been influenced by the medieval distortion?
2. How have you been influenced by the modern distortion?
3. How have you been influenced by the postmodern distortion?
4. What difference does it make to your sense of calling if you read, for example, Matt. 5-7 as a job description?
Note: for more on the first two distortions, see Os Guinness’s book, The Call.