First, when the New Testament speaks of a Christian being “called,” it usually means called to obey the gospel. On the other hand, when Jesus calls James and John to follow him (Matt. 4:21 ff), they are being called to “be fishers of men,” a very specific task.
Second, although we have many examples of God calling an individual to a very particular task–Abraham, Moses, Gideon, the Apostles, among many others–I can find no doctrine that Christians are, as a body, each called to a very specific task.
On the other hand, there’s no reason to suppose that God no longer wishes particular people to take on particular tasks. For example, we know that the Spirit gives particular spiritual gifts to us, and we are called to use those gifts in God’s service. If my gift is encouraging, then I’m called to be an encourager. In this very real sense, as everyone has at least one gift, everyone has at least one calling.
However, I know many people who feel called to a very particular task, and know of no reason to doubt the reality of what they are feeling. It would be very consistent with God’s nature to sometimes appoint specific people to specific tasks.
I personally feel very strongly called to do some of the things I do. I knew I’d be an elder for decades before I was ordained. I know I’m supposed to teach. I also think I’m supposed to help fight legalism in the Churches of Christ–hence I’ve had The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace published, I speak at the lectureships, and I maintain this web site. In fact, I feel driven to do these things.But I don’t think that everyone has such particular callings — or at least, not all the time. I don’t have much in the way of scriptures to support this, but here’s how I’ve got it figured. How do I know what God wants me to do?
* Pray for discernment. If God has a specific (or more general) task for you, he’ll lay it on your heart. Spend time in prayer asking, and if God has something special in mind, he may just be waiting for you to ask. Ask.
Some deny that God communicates in this way, and I can only say that I’m sorry they’ve never experienced it. Maybe if they were to ask in faith they’d learn otherwise.
* Ask yourself what you’re good at.
You may be like Gideon or Moses and not feel up to what God wants out of you–and so it’s good to ask Godly people what they see in you, too. Many churches do gifts assessments, and part of a good program is to have others in the class tell you what they think you’re good at. Many people are surprised at what they’re told!
* You may have to train for the task given you. You may be gifted to teach but need training in Bible study or lesson preparation. Don’t confuse lack of preparation with the absence of a gift.
* It’s easy to fool yourself. I know people who feel they are called to teach, but they have NO gift of teaching. God gifts those he calls.
Seek outside advice to be sure you haven’t turned a personal wish into a mission from God.
Gifted people generally enjoy using their gifts. But some few people enjoy things they are very poor at. Ask an honest person.
* You may need help from others (Moses needed Aaron). Don’t be afraid to recruit others to help–God doesn’t necessarily call you to go it alone. Jesus sent his missionaries out two by two. He gave Gideon a small army. Paul traveled with a group of missionaries.
* Don’t be afraid of pushing for things outside your or the church’s comfort zone. Sometimes God wants a change.
* On the other hand, never, ever despise the ordinary.
(Luke 9:48) Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all–he is the greatest.”
Simply caring for a child can be the Lord’s calling. My wife oversees our cradle roll class on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. She recruits and trains the teachers. She prepares the lessons. She buys the toys she uses as props. It’s a gift, an obsession–and it’s a calling.
* Pray a lot. If you feel God has something in mind for you, then you aren’t through praying. Rather, like Jesus, it’s time to get serious about your prayer life.
* Expect to have a hard time at times. Paul got beaten, shipwrecked, rejected … . Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses. David was nearly killed by Saul and spent years in the wilderness before he took the throne. Be patient. Persevere.
* Study hard to be sure what you’re doing is true to the word. God never calls you to violate his word.
* Some among us will never accept the idea that God is alive and active today by any means other than his word. It’s tragic that some think this way, as they miss out on so many blessings. Don’t worry about it. Just do what you’re supposed to do.
* And if at times you feel a little driven–even obsessed–even when you can’t figure out your next step or things are going badly. Well, that’s very likely the Spirit pushing. Let him push.
(Gal. 5:25) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
* Oh, and did I mention that it’s important to pray? That’s really important.