The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Os Guiness, 1998)

Several books have been published recently that take as their topic one of the great, liberating teachings of grace, a topic that has been sadly muddled and ignored by the church for much too long. The topic is calling, and it is difficult to think of anything more needed at a time when the press of busyness tends to squeeze out of our souls whatever remnants of significance we sense in our fragmented lives. Growing up, my understanding of calling basically came down to three simple—but totally incorrect and unbiblical—assumptions: only people in the ministry received a call, everyone else’s work was far less important, and if God called me, I wouldn’t like it.

The truth of the matter is that the biblical doctrine of calling defines the “why” for our lives, and provides a deep sense of meaning that transforms the ordinary and routine of our existence into faithfulness before our heavenly Father who has called us to himself. Our calling from God defines what we should say Yes to, so we can also know what we can and should say No to—without feeling yanked around by guilt, or the expectations and needs of others. God’s call to us will not harm us. It is related to who we are, and to all of our life, since the same God who calls us also made us. Rather than finding God’s call a distasteful interruption, it is the only possible path to fulfillment. “The place God calls you to,” novelist Frederick Buechner says, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.” And when we find ourselves in dark times, uncertain times, or periods of endless tedium, a sense of calling can provide the encouragement to face another day.

“The Christian understanding of motivation is one of the deepest, richest, and most distinctive parts of the faith,” Os Guinness writes. “Partly expressed in such notions as serving God, pleasing God, and glorifying God, it is developed most fully in the biblical doctrine of ‘calling.’ The Christian notion of calling, or vocation, is the conviction that human existence contains a life-purpose and a life task, namely that all we are and all we do—our identities, gifts, and responsibilities—have a direction and dynamic because they are lived out as a response to a calling, or summons, from God.”

In The Call, Guinness develops a series of 26 beautifully written meditations that are designed to be read one day at a time. Thoughtful yet devotional, each chapter helps unfold the biblical doctrine of calling within the specific challenges we face in our postmodern world. Most books this stimulating and rich in teaching do not necessarily lend themselves to devotional reading, but The Call begs to be read aloud, savored, and prayed over, as well as discussed.

In Courage and Calling, Dr. Smith, academic dean of Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., is primarily concerned with helping Christians actually find and live out their particular calling before the Lord. Certainly not a “how-to” in the crass sense of that label, it is intensely practical, so that the ordinary Christian can both understand the biblical teaching as well as begin the pilgrimage of finding and living out their calling or vocation. “We must be both realistic and idealistic. We need to discern our vocations, and we must also discern how God would have us fulfill that vocation within the complexities and brokenness of this world,” Smith writes. “This means that if we are going to thrive in this world, in the social, economic and ministry context in which we live, our only hope is to live a life that is congruent with who we are, with whom God has made us to be and how God has gifted us, graced us, and thus called us. If we are going to be all we are meant to be, this is where we must begin. Ultimately, we are only true and faithful to God our Creator when we seek this congruence.”

We commend both The Call and Courage and Calling to you. Both are excellent, and the two books complement one another well. Read them, give them as gifts, discuss them in small groups, and use them in family devotions. They restore to the church an area of teaching the loss of which has not only wreaked havoc in the lives of many, but has cheapened the gospel before a watching world.


The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing; 1998) 247 pp
Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential by Gordon T. Smith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1999) 197 pp. + notes + suggestions for further reading.