When trying to define the term “calling,” it seems that it is much easier to distinguish it by what it is not. “Calling” is distinct from “speaking” or “telling,” since calling invokes a response, while speaking or telling is done with the expectation that the recipient is (hopefully) listening. Calling is also distinct from “asking,” since asking, in essence, leaves the response up to the addressee. In actuality, comparatively few will think about what calling might mean—most are more concerned with its identity, particularly in his or her own life. Believers and non-believers, theists and atheists alike live with their perception of their reason for existing—because, as the thought might go, “Well, I’m here (for whatever reason, though one may hold that there is no reason).” And, as working creatures, naturally, “What should I do?” As intelligent creatures, “Why should I do it?” As intelligent, forward-looking creatures, perhaps the question “What should I do next, next, and next?” takes on a more sophisticated, “What is my calling?”

Before reading on, come up with your own definition for the term “calling.” If you can, write it down.

Recently, I did the same. For Christians, the “What should I do?” question tends to take on the form of “What does God want me to do?” Similarly, this summer I’m taking “What is my calling?” and asking “What is God calling me to do?” In seeking an answer to this question, I have been reading Charles Drew’s A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World. At the end of chapter 1, Drew asks his readers to define calling.

In chapter 2, he provides his definition of calling.


Calling takes on three levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary Calling: God calls us to himself and to people.

-God calls us to love him “with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

-According to the Bible, life at its deepest level is relational (biblical word: covenantal).

-The primary calling encompasses and gives life to the other two.

Secondary Calling: Calling to self-discovery (the faithful and joyful expression of one’s identity).

-“God wants me to know myself so that I can bring all that I am—my abilities, my enthusiasms, my loves…to the business of living…to time, to space, to thinking, to possessions, to relationships…in short, to be a faithful steward.”

-Secondary calling is not synonymous to “career,” though the two may be related.

-This calling is identified with our God-given “name.”  Drew asserts that our secondary calling is a part of the Lord’s work in giving us glimpses of the new, unique name that is promised (Rev. 2:17).

Tertiary Calling- “a calling to do certain necessary tasks that, in a fallen and imperfect world, simply need to be done.”

-This calling may not obviously correspond to one’s secondary calling or gifts.

-This calling has the potential of either getting in the way of secondary calling or frustrating the individual.

While it sounds redundant, the primary calling is primary. To love the Lord and to love those around us. Also, while “tertiary” sounds less significant, God is in the tertiary tasks as well as the primary and secondary. To my chagrin, God reminded me yet again, that the waiting period I am in, as I seek a clearer idea of my secondary calling, is a time for me to advance my primary calling with even more fervor.

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
–1 Corinthians 10:31(KJV)

So I submit to you: answer your primary calling. He knocks daily at the door of your heart. The heavens rejoice when even one returns. Seek him in the tertiary tasks and do them with joy. And as for your secondary calling, well…

“God did not direct His call to Isaiah— Isaiah overheard God saying, “. . . who will go for Us?” The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.”

— Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest: Traditional Updated Edition)