Most people long for a clear sense of calling—a vision of their purpose in life—but the difficulty in discerning what exactly that is leaves many paralysed and spiritually frustrated.
Part of the problem is that we often tend to reduce “calling” or “vocation” to “career.” We thus tend to think that, if we have a calling at all, it is to a particular job, university pathway, or place of work…and we expect God to tell us what that is. After all, He spoke to Moses quite clearly through a burning bush, and He guided figures like Abraham, Samuel and Paul very directly. Why, then, does God not always give each of us as well straightforward career and educational marching orders?
For an answer, my friend Os Guinness points to the parable of the talents in Matthew’s gospel. A master called to himself three servants and gave each of them a certain number of talents (a form of money). Then he went away. Upon returning to settle accounts with them, the master praised those servants who put the talents to use in ways that generated more talents, saying to each, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The master, however, scolded the lazy servant who merely buried his talent in the ground rather than putting it to productive use.
As in the parable, God has given each of us resources (in the form of skills, abilities, interests, etc.) that He desires we steward wisely and for good purposes. But Guinness draws particular attention to those four often overlooked words: “Then he went away.” Guinness does not claim that God physically leaves us or ignores us, but he does suggest that God often refrains from imposing specific instructions about what to do with His provisions. Instead, God gives us the freedom to act as entrepreneurs of our gifts—to be creative in how we employ our resources.
No Christian is without a calling, says Guinness. “We all have an original calling [to follow Christ and steward the gifts we’ve been given], even if we do not all have a later, special calling [like Moses did with the burning bush]. And, of course, some people have both.”
God does summon some people very directly to specific places and tasks. But we should not confuse this extra-ordinary approach with His normal modus operandi. There may not be just one pre-ordained career for us. God may be able to use us in a variety of settings and pursuits, allowing us to decide the particulars according to our interests and opportunities (as long as they align with our primary calling to Him). According to Guinness, those who wait passively until they receive a “special” call risk "burying their real talent … in the ground."
In the absence of special, direct instructions, we should be thankful for the freedom—and responsibility—to determine how we can best steward our gifts and abilities. That is, we need to get on with our calling to be entrepreneurs—not entrepreneurs of corporate ventures, necessarily, but “entrepreneurs of life.”
This is where good universities can help students grapple well with the issue of calling or vocation. At the Millis Institute, we take seriously the responsibility to help cultivate students’ capabilities (to think, communicate, and understand the world in which they live) and utilise them faithfully toward the common good.
Our goal is to equip students to steward well what the Master has entrusted to them and to hear Him say in the end, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”