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Understanding the Difference between Work, Purpose, and Calling

After I posted this article, I began to think, "This may be the most important article I will ever write.”

Moving past that delusion, then I thought, “No—this may be the most relevant article you read in a long time.”

Nonetheless—this is an article that will evolve as we discuss work, purpose, calling, and vocation— and the interplay between them.

Every Friday morning, I attend a gathering where 100 men meet to talk about living the abundant life.

I listen to their questions as they struggle to connect their work and their faith.

Why does it seem so difficult at times to understand that God promised to guide you along the best pathway for your life? I often pray through Psalm 32:7: “The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life, I will advise you and watch over you."

If God redeemed your whole person, why do you think calling is separate from your day-to-day life?

It is fulfilling to the human soul when we pursue a career or opportunity to serve that aligns with our calling, passion, and purpose.

I wonder why people remain frustrated working or serving in roles for which they have competency but no passion. Are you wondering where your career fits into God’s purpose?

Could it be we don’t understand the difference between vocation, purpose, and calling?

Too many of us learn that our calling and vocation are separate; that vocation is something we’re forced to do and calling is to a higher, more noble purpose:

Calling vs vocation

The problem in this model is that there's no way for vocation and calling to intersect. This idea may be suitable for people who are not in relationship with God through Christ, but not for the Christ-follower. 

When you understand Christ's calling to himself and that he has a pathway for your life, he invites you to join him where he is at work.  A beautiful inversion occurs in how you can think about your career (or vocation) and calling:

Where Calling and Vocation meet Purpose

God is inviting you to find purpose where your life and calling to Christ intersect.

Excited, a friend challenged me: “Ask me about my day!”

I could tell she was holding back the biggest smile I had seen her in a long time; that she had something exciting to share with me.

Her expression was one of unbridled joy; she had a received a job offer. She already held a position as the vice president of a small business.

The job offer was for a part-time administrative position that aligned perfectly with her passion for helping people and her spiritual gifts of serving, administration, and hospitality.

Before this opportunity came along, she was wondering, “Lord, where do I fit? What’s next for me?”

Her children were grown; her marriage thriving. She was asking, “Lord, where do you want me to serve?”

She understands what many people don’t: Her calling is to Christ and her choice of vocation is wide open. She knows there is equal value to serving in ministry or to serving in business. God invites her to join him where he is at work.

Instead of thinking of her calling and vocation as separate paths in life, now her calling to Christ and passion for serving intersect:

Find purpose for life where God is at work

The difference between calling and vocation is best understood when we acknowledge that our calling is first and foremost to Christ in all its dimensions.

God expects us to obey him, and while he chooses some people for specific roles (For example, when he chose David to be Israel’s king), he chose you to be part of his family (Ephesians 1) and allows you the freedom to choose a vocation that aligns with your passion. He promises to guide you.

Where You Find Purpose

When you see where God is working and discover an opportunity where your passion intersects with your calling to Christ, you discover purpose.

In the familiar sense of the word, it's where you find your calling, and where you will experience the most impact.

Find purpose at the intersection of calling, passion, and career.

In a world consumed with “leaving a legacy,” this understanding of work, purpose, and calling gives you the potential for impact on today and for eternity.

How freeing this is: to live a life worthy of his calling, filled with joy in serving where your gifts, abilities, and passion intersects with God’s grand plan: reconciling people to himself through Christ.

Think of the impact God can make through you!

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