God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.
Giftedness does not stand alone in helping us discern our callings.It lines up in response to God’s call alongside other factors, such as family heritage, our own life opportunities, God’s guidance, and our unquestioning readiness to do what he shows.
But to focus on giftedness as a central way to discern calling reverses the way most people think. Usually when we meet someone for the first time, it isn’t long before we ask, “What do you do?” And the answer comes, “I’m a lawyer,” “I’m a truck driver,” “I’m a teacher,” or whatever. Far more than a name or a place of birth, a job helps us place a person on the map in our minds. After all, work, for most of us, determines a great part of our opportunity for significance and the amount of good we are able to produce in a lifetime. Besides, work takes up so many of our waking hours that our jobs come to define us and give us our identities. We become what we do.
Calling reverses such thinking.
A sense of calling should precede a choice of job and career, and the main way to discover calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be. Instead of, “You are what you do,” calling says: “Do what you are.”
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As the great Christian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his poem about kingfishers and dragonflies, “What I do is me: for that I came.” Albert Einstein, even as a teenager, had theoretical physics and mathematics in his sights. He wrote in a homework essay in Aarau, Switzerland, “That is quite natural; one always likes to do the things for which one has ability.”
There is, to be fair, a growing trend toward fitting jobs to people. “Suit yourself— the secret of career satisfaction” one book promises. But many of these approaches are inadequate compared to calling.
#1. Be cautious of general personality traits
First, the more secular approaches tend to use very general “personality types” in their testing. So the results are too broad to be specific for individuals, and they are more about general personality traits than about the specific gifts of individuals.
#2. Don’t focus on spiritual gifts
Second, even the more clearly Christian approaches often suffer from weaknesses. Some use testing that concentrates on spiritual gifts and ignores natural gifts. This allows the testers, usually large churches, to use the results to direct people to employ their discovered gifts in their churches— thus diverting them from their callings in secular life and deepening the Catholic distortion further.
#3. Worship God with your gifts and talents
Others broaden the testing to discover both spiritual and natural gifts, but they divorce the discovery of giftedness from the worship and listening that is essential to calling— thus deepening the Protestant distortion further. The result is a heightened awareness of giftedness, but the emphasis on giftedness leads toward selfishness rather than stewardship. Archbishop William Temple underscored this danger sternly. To make the choice of career or profession on selfish grounds, without a true sense of calling, is “probably the greatest single sin any young person can commit, for it is the deliberate withdrawal from allegiance to God of the greatest part of time and strength.”
Your gifts are not your own
In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts are never really ours or for ourselves. We have nothing that was not given us. Our gifts are ultimately God’s, and we are only “stewards”— responsible for the prudent management of property that is not our own. This is why our gifts are always “ours for others,” whether in the community of Christ or the broader society outside, especially the neighbor in need.
This is also why it is wrong to treat God as a grand employment agency, a celestial executive searcher to find perfect fits for our perfect gifts. The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing— and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.
Editor’s Note: Taken from The Call by Os Guinness, used by permission of Thomas Nelson. Copyright © 2018.