Finding your calling
Of all the works of God’s creation, I think ecosystems are the most beautiful. Ecosystems bring together the living and the non-living into complex relationships that are balanced precariously but exquisitely. I live in what ecologists here in California call the South Coast Bioregion, sometimes referred to as the chaparral biome, though that name can be misleading because the chaparral ecosystem is only one of many here. A biome is simply a collection of ecosystems in an area that share some things in common. The South Coast Bioregion is made up of several identifiably distinct ecosystems including chaparral, coastal sage scrub, oak woodland, riparian woodland, coastal wetlands, and a few scattered coastal Torrey pine forests. Scientists claim that the coastal sage scrub, which dominates this biome, is among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.
An ecosystem is first defined by a particular climate (primarily precipitation and temperature patterns) followed by soil type. These two together then determine the plant species that can colonize the land. Combined, climate, soil, and plant associations dictate what insects and larger animals can live in the particular habitat. We used to think of the living things in an ecosystem in terms of a food chain – who eats who. We know now, however, that a web is a better way of expressing the smorgasbord that is an ecosystem. And because of the interconnectedness of everything in the web, any change in one piece has a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem. Tug here, see a response over there. Not a bad metaphor for our lives.
One of the striking features of an ecosystem is the requirement that every member, every plant or animal, has a role to play, what we often call a niche. The leaves of a plant might provide food for a particular herbivorous animal, while the roots might be exuding chemical signals that attract the appropriate bacterial communities in the soil to maintain high levels of nitrogen. If the herbivore decided to stop eating the leaves, that plant might overgrow, which would exclude other plant species whose niches would be disrupted as well. If the plant decided to stop secreting its chemical beacons for nitrogen-fixing bacteria, the soil quality would deteriorate and all of the neighboring plants would suffer. Each member of the ecosystem has multiple critical roles that all of the other members rely on, either directly or indirectly, for the ecosystem to survive.
Much like the members of an ecosystem, you and I have multiple roles to play in God’s kingdom, roles that were designed for us and on which the whole kingdom depends. We are all intended to be ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mat 28:19-20). We are all made to love one another (1 John 4:7). And we were all made to worship the Creator (Ephesians 1:11-12). Sometimes that can feel a bit vague, but maybe the Lord is just leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work in each of our lives to determine the specifics of how all of these roles are lived out.
But the Scriptures seem to indicate that the Father has specific jobs for each of us to do as well, what you might think of as your calling. I like to think of it more like an assignment. One of our tasks here on earth is to discover that assignment (or, more likely, those assignments).
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul tells us that God planned good works for each of us to do long ago, before the world was created.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
God’s handiwork – what amazing imagery! I’m an amateur carpenter (very amateur). I’ve built a few pieces of furniture and other items from wood. I’ve even attempted to create tools for my shop (code for half of the garage). I love the picture painted in Ephesians of God handcrafting us using Jesus as the tool to shape us into something not only beautiful, but also useful. And like the bench I just built in my shop, it has a purpose. I have specific jobs in mind for that bench. In fact, I added particular features to it that will enable me to better miter long baseboards and to more easily store some of my larger gear. God’s good works may be very specific for you and me as well.
I have good works planned in advance for my bench. God has good works planned in advance for us to do and we’re designed with those specific good works in mind. Our challenge, then, is to discover not only our skills and gifts, but the good works they were intended for.
Take-home point: The Father has specific assignments for each of us to do.
Take-home verse: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
Questions for thought
What is your favorite outdoor place? How are our lives in the church similar to all of the pieces that make up that beautiful ecosystem you love so much?
Have you discovered any of the specific assignments God created you for?
If you’re not sure about your calling, maybe start by asking a friend or family member what they think you are good at. How is God calling you to use those gifts for His kingdom?
Creator God, you have given us all universal purposes: evangelism, love, and worship, among others. But you have also prepared good works for each of us to do. Help us to discover our assignments in life and pursue them as if our very lives depended on it. May you be glorified and honored in all of our work. Amen.