The truth is, God is only doing one thing, and when you find out what it is, your calling within that will become apparent to you.
That’s right. God only has one work-in-progress. Like bees.
All those buzzing, busy bees you see working hard on a flower have the same single motivating purpose. Bees don’t spend their days doing what they do to make you honey for your toast, or even to pollinate crops–as noble as these wonderful bee-work by-products are.
Their constant work-in-progress is to build a hive around the queen. Busy, busy, busy, but doing always only one thing. They live and die for it.
The bees don’t wonder what their “calling” is. They’re bees! This is what they were created to do! They don’t need a special invitation or a personal epiphany. They just need to get to work. Every day of busy work toward the ultimate goal confirms in each little bee-brain that building that hive around that queen is exactly what needs to be done.
Their purpose–seeing the queen healthy in her hive–is remarkably similar to God’s own purpose for this creation, for history, and for you.
The one thing God is doing
In several places in the New Testament, we get wide-angle shots like this one, purpose statements telling us what God is doing in the world:
…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth… (Ephesians 1:9-10)
Here’s another one I’ll bet you’re familiar with:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)
Check out Paul’s big-picture motivation for his own ministry:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord… (Ephesians 3:8-11)
And perhaps most intriguing, Jesus’ own mission statement, articulated with striking clarity at a time when, by all outward appearances, his life seemed to be coming apart:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”….Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:27-28, 30-32),
These passages all give us insight into what it is exactly that God is doing. Here it is in a nutshell:
God is creating a universe around his Son, Jesus Christ.
That’s it. God’s one and only work-in-progress. Go back and read through the passages above and see it for yourself. It’s the only thing God is doing, and it’s the only thing he has ever been doing since the creation of the heavens and the earth. Maybe even longer.
If, when you look at the world of humanity, you see a zillion things going on, and you want to know what single unifying purpose lies behind it all–the meaning of life, if you want to call it that–remember this one simple name: Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is God’s Plan A
Sometimes, because of the nature of the gospel, we get into the habit of thinking of Jesus as the solution to the world’s problem–and he is. But that doesn’t make him God’s Plan B.
Did you ever wonder why God didn’t just prevent the sin problem in the first place? Why would God put a tree in the middle of the garden that would pose a potential threat to the “very-goodness” of what he had made (Genesis 2:9, 17)? Why would God let the serpent into the garden when he must have known (as he did in Job’s case) what the serpent’s intentions were? (For that matter, why did God create the serpent in the first place?)
The Bible’s singular answer to these hard-hitting questions is Jesus Christ. More specifically, that God is (and was, way back in Genesis 1) working in all things to create a universe around Jesus Christ. We know that his plan to send Christ into the world and to unite all things in him was an eternal plan. Jesus Christ is Plan A.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18b)
The first creation was “very good.” That is, there was nothing wrong with it because every single aspect of the way God set up the creation would play a part in his revelation and exaltation of his Son, for whom and through whom all things were made (Colossians 1:16). Wisdom trees, serpents, and all.
The fact that everything broke didn’t frustrate God’s plans in the slightest. God’s enemies played right into his hand, which they were bound by their wickedness to do, and the brokenness became, as it was intended to, the platform for God’s final work in Christ (Romans 9:17, 22-23). No wonder he didn’t destroy them sooner.
What’s new in the universe of Christ
In the final, eternal creation which has been God’s handiwork from the beginning, God will be “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). What does this mean? It means, as Isaiah put it, that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). And in Isaiah’s vision of this coming God-filled world, the Messiah would stand as the center piece, the signal, the neon sign. He would be the fruitful branch of whom the nations would “inquire.” His wisdom and righteousness would be the source of eternal life, peace, harmony, unity, and rest which would permeate every aspect of the new creation.
That man has come, and his universe is already being created.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)
In the universe of Christ there is a new adam.
The name means “man” or “humankind.” Passages like Romans 5 and Hebrews 2 explain the significance of Christ’s humanity, namely, that he stands as the representative and head of all who are “in him.” But the critical underlying reality behind his headship in the new creation is that he’s the perfect man. He perfectly fulfills God’s purpose for the creature man (though Christ, as God, is not created), which was, of course, to portray God’s image in creation (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15). In the universe God is creating under Christ, human creatures are being restored to God’s image by being conformed to the image of Christ.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In the universe of Christ, there is a new race of humanity, what Paul calls “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15).
We fixate so often on the damage sin did inside us that we forget about the damage it did between us. Yet the Bible makes no small thing of how sin broke us apart as a human race, describing its effects in concentric circles. It wreaked havoc between Cain and Abel. Then came the wicked violence of Noah’s time and the near-destruction of the creation under man’s headship. Finally, the man-centered, self-worshipping “unity” between nations at Babel which God ended by permanently scattering them–geographically, culturally, and racially.
Even the ray of hope that shines in Genesis 12 results in a God-imposed “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) between Abraham’s descendants and the rest of the world: Jews and Gentiles. But in Christ God is creating “one new man in place of the two, so making peace…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:15, 18). In the universe God is creating under Christ, human creatures of every nation are being restored to God-centered unity with one another.
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The two blessings I described above are happening already, even as we speak, in us and among us. This is why Jesus can say in the present tense, “I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) He’s already started. But the work in and among us won’t be complete until he has also restored everything around us: the creation that is his.
In the universe of Christ, there will be a new material world that functions according to its purpose.
This creation–the earth, the sky, the trees–is a prototype of the new creation which God is building around Christ. And it has a purpose: to sustain and showcase life. Not just life as we know it, but life as it was, should be, and will be: delightful, purposeful, and long. Life that is unthreatened by any fear of death, disease, sorrow, or loss. Life that is full of God. One critically important aspect of the material world is the human body, made from the dust of the ground, and inseparably bound to the material world. All of creation, from the rocks to the human body, awaits redemption with sure hope, because the adam of new life has already himself been raised from the dead! In the universe God is creating under Christ, the creation itself will be restored to its purpose: to sustain life in the presence of God eternally.
…the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-20, 23)
But doesn’t my life have a specific calling?
Of course each of our lives is sovereignly governed by God; the years, months, days, and even moments he has for each of us are marked out already beforehand. He knows the specific purposes for which he has called and gifted us. But I don’t believe God always lets us in on that information. I don’t really believe we need him to. We already know all we need to know to fulfill his purpose for us, if we know Jesus Christ.
When we speak of God’s “calling” on our lives, we often mean it in the sense of a special message, like a phone “call.” I’ve even heard Christians chuckle that they would find their life in Christ so much easier if God actually would just call them on the phone and lay it all out for them–who they should marry, what job they should pursue, where they should live, etc.
But what if our perception of “calling” had more to do with the name by which he has called us and less to do with telephones? The Bible is clear: if you believe the gospel, you are called by the name of Christ. His name is your power, your identity, your security, and your future. And when God “calls” someone into service, he is simply calling them to participate in the work of building a universe around Christ, in their hearts and in their world.
Believer, you are
…sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
He is your calling.
If you long to live out your calling, then you need to earnestly live in him, in the universe that he is creating. You don’t need a phone call. You just need…
- …to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he transforms you daily into the image of Christ through the purification of your sinful habits and mindsets…
- …to strive for doctrinal, relational, and real-life unity with others who are called by the same name of Christ that you are…
- …to set your mind on the hope of Christ’s return, forsaking the world and responding to all of life’s trials in the light of that hope.
Listen to the song I’m sharing this month from Ephesians 3:8-20 (at the top of this post). Paul had a sense of calling because he knew whose name he was called by (Eph. 3:15). He also understood what the big purpose of God is (Eph. 1:10; 2:15; 3:6) and did what he did with his eyes fixed on Christ who is the beginning and end of it all (Eph. 2:20-22). After a blinding glimpse of Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22) Paul got right to work preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (Eph 3:8). No navel-gazing. No phone calls. No spiritual-gift tests.
I know what you’re thinking. Paul got a special message. It’s true, Paul’s account definitely confirms that some people really do get that phone-callish type of “calling” that many of us long for. I’m not saying God can’t do it that way, or even that he won’t. Just that he doesn’t have to. Some of the apostles got told exactly what their special calling was (John 21:15-19), and some of them didn’t (John 21:20-23). But when it came time to do what they had been created, called, and prepared to do, they all knew what they had to do.
Want to see exactly how confident they were in what they had to do? Just read Acts 2.
What about spiritual gifts?
Each of us will live out our common calling–that is, our common name of Christ–in unique ways. Like the bees, God equips each of us with different tasks to do in order to build the universe around his Son. The Bible calls them spiritual gifts. Gifts are simply what God has enabled you to do for the sake of the overall goal. They’re different than talents; a talent is something you can do well. A gift is something you can do well for the sake of the body of Christ.
That’s why it’s called a gift. It’s not a gift to you. It’s a gift to Christ–specifically, to his body–to build up each believer as “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Spiritual gifts are meant to achieve the purpose for which God saved us: to make us like Christ, so that the universe God is building around him will be full of him (Romans 8:29).
If you are called into Christ, you will have a gift to bring to him by way of his body of believers. But if you aren’t in the body, functioning, working, living, actively and intentionally growing together with them, you may not be too sure what your gift is.
The solution is simple: return to the hive where the main work of God is being carried out. Be with Christ by being with his body, his church, which is his universe-on-earth for the time being. Buzz around a while. Get to know people. Give a gift; take a gift, and don’t ever stop doing both.
Before you know it, you’ll realize you’ve stopped looking for your calling altogether. With your eyes on Christ, you’ll be way too busy–and far too happy–to wonder.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love…Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-7,10-11)
Check out my Study Guide for this month’s passage to explore how the callings of four different Old Testament men were really just another piece of God’s work-in-progress, to build a universe around his son. You can print the Study Guide here.
And do learn (and sing) the song from Ephesians 3:8-21 that I shared at the top of this post. I go back to this one over and over again to remind me what God is doing when I need a kick in the pants.
I’d love to send you my free 21-day Bible study, Tuning Your Ears: How Memorization Trains Your Ears To Hear the Voice of God.