I remember the first time I visited the home of one of my high school friends. A corner of his family room housed a music section with a baby grand piano, some brass instruments, and a beautiful old guitar lying on a shelf.
The guitar looked like something special. I took it down from the shelf, dusted it off, tuned it up, and strummed it. I thought I was in love.
I asked my friend about its history. The guitar has been given to his mother when she was young. She had never learned to play it, but she had a sentimental attachment to it, and she loved seeing it sit in their music corner.
I wrote down the model and serial number and visited my favorite guitar store to discover its roots. It was a customized 1940’s Gibson guitar with rare Indian Rosewood sides, real ivory inlay, and a custom fingerboard. It was a literal treasure.
Years before some unknown master craftsman had fashioned this custom guitar using special woods, saws, braces and glues, to make a masterpiece. Now it sat on a shelf gathering dust. My friend’s mom thought, “It added atmosphere.”
I think this is the common picture of Christian calling: to look good on the pews—maybe a little dusty—while missing the God-designed purpose: releasing our music.
God’s plans and our plans
The Ultimate master craftsman crafted us. He custom made each of us. He had a plan in mind, and it wasn’t just to look good on a shelf. He made us for a purpose.
There is something God wants each of us to bring to this world; something each of us is uniquely qualified to do. Jesus says, “We must do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4); that is, God made us and then sent us for a particular purpose.
This is true for Jesus (of course); he was the Son of God whose purpose was to save all of creation. It’s also true for us. God himself designed something particular for us to do.
We must do the works God designed for us. In Ephesians, Paul explains the why of our salvation, why we are brought from spiritual death to a spiritual life,
For we are God’s masterpiece, created in the Christ Jesus to do the good works that God prepared long ago for us to walk in. (Eph. 2:10)
We are not merely meant to be good; we are meant to be good for something.
Two opposite errors
C. S. Lewis says that Satan “always sends errors into the world in … pairs of opposites” (Mere Christianity). This is certainly true with the way Christians approach calling.
On one hand we sometimes see people who are so singular about their calling that they refuse to do anything else. They say, “I’m a prophet; I can’t set up chairs or teach a class.” This is the same type of error as the man who says, “I love my wife and I love candlelight dinners, but I refuse to take out the trash.”
Some services are needed regardless of calling, just to keep things running.
On the other hand we sometimes see the “I’m just a servant” calling-error. Some Christians say, “My calling is to be a servant.” This error is harder to spot because it reeks of religious jargon, and besides, we are designed to serve.
But it doesn’t mean we should take a custom-made guitar and use it to hammer a nail.
The religion of “duty” can—perversely—make an idol of serving in services we are unfit for. It’s possible to say to ourselves, “I must be laying down my life … because I hate every moment of this service.”
Would God really ask us to be accountants simply because we hated math?
Our choice: discontent or delight
When we live in the “I’m just a servant” calling-error,
We become one of those people who “live for others” but always in a discontented, grumbling way— always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of ourselves. (Mere Christianity)
When we walk in our purpose—the design God had in mind when he made us—we find we actually enjoy the work itself. Dorothy Sayers wrote,
When a job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment. Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that unpleasant sacrifice is more admirable because the moralist has far more respect for pride than for love….
I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. (The Mind of the Maker, slightly edited)
There is a deep spiritual mystery here; we are meant to delight to do his will. Not just duty, delight; and not just for “goodness,” good for “something-ness.” As Eric Liddell said, “God made me fast … and when I run, I feel his pleasure” (Chariots of Fire).
Freedom to walk into God’s design
I said earlier that the “I’m just a servant” calling-error is hard to spot because of its religious overtones, but it’s still spottable.
When we find our service is mostly mere duty and drudgery—month after month and year after year—God might be saying, “I didn’t make you for this. I’ve got someone else who will love it. Let it go. Get down off the shelf.”
The dusty guitar on the shelf doesn’t add that much atmosphere after all. Let’s take it down, dust it off, and strum it.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll make some music.