GuiCall 98-9-67 

The Call

Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life


Os Guinness

Word, 1998, 249 pp.


God’s Call impacts all areas of life and society.  This is not a superficial book.  It covers a broad scope and includes many gems of wisdom.  It provides a penetrating analysis of modern society and Christianity and includes penetrating personal questions at the end of each chapter.   


“As modern people we are all on a search for significance.  We desire to make a difference.  We long to leave a legacy.”  “Our passion is to know that we are fulfilling the purpose for which we are here on earth.”  1  Deep in our hearts, we all want to find a fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.”  3


As modern people, “we have too much to live with and too little to live for.”  “…in the midst of material plenty, we have spiritual poverty.”  4 


“Answering the call of our Creator is ‘the ultimate why’ for living, the highest source of purpose in human existence.”  4


“Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”  4


“Calling is the most comprehensive reorientation and the most profound motivation in human experience – the ultimate Why for living in all history.”  “Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life.”  7


“Part of our contemporary crisis of identity can be summed up by saying that modern people are haunted by an inescapable question of biography: Who am I?” 20


“In the secular view the body is all we have and all we are.”  “The absurdity of this position is obvious for all but the rich, the strong, the wealthy, the young, and the fanatical.”  “So, ironically, we have the greatest capacity when we have the least clue what it is for.”  22


“The Caller sees and addresses us as individuals – as unique, exceptional, precious, significant, and free to respond.  He who calls us is personal as well as infinite and personal in himself, not just to us.  So we who are called are addressed as individuals and invited into a relationship.  We are known with an intimacy that is a source of gratitude and soul-shivering wonder.  24


“The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires.  In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I c never started and which I cannot stop.”  Quoting C. S. Lewis  25


“Only when we respond to Christ and follow his call do we become our real selves and come to have personalities of our own.”  25


“Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.”  It is almost a synonym for salvation.  In this context, calling is overwhelmingly God’s calling people to himself as followers of Christ.”  30


“In short, calling in the Bible is a central and dynamic theme that becomes a metaphor for the life of faith itself.”  31


“Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.  Our secondary calling, considering who God is a sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.”  31


“If we understand calling, we must make sure that first things remain first and the primary calling always comes before the secondary calling.  But we must also make sure that the primary calling leads without fail to the secondary calling. 31


“Do you want to accept a challenge that will be the integrating dynamic of your whole life?  35


“Most people…live somewhere between a grudging acceptance of their job and an active dislike of it.”  (Studs Terkel, Working)  37


“First, we must resolutely refuse to play the word games that pretend calling means anything without a Caller – and we must not allow people to play such games on us.”  42


“If there is no Caller, there are no callings – only work.”  42


“The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him."” Oswald Chambers  42


“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone.”  43


“God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”  46


“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.’”  46”


“In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts are never really ours or for ourselves.  Our gifts are ultimately God’s, and we are only ‘stewards’….”  47


“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….”  47


“…there is not a single instance in the New Testament of God’s special call to anyone into a paid occupation or into the role of a religious professional.”  50


“…‘tentmaking’ at worst is work that frustrates us because it takes time we wish to spend on things more central.  But at best it is work that frees us to get to that which is central.  By contrast, whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our deepest gifts.”  52


“In many cases a clear sense of calling comes only through a time of searching, including trial and error.”  52


“Life is lived forward but understood backward.”  Quoting Kierkegaard.  53


The church of Jesus Christ confronts the greatest challenge it has ever faced.  On the one hand, modern culture, the world’s most powerful so far, has tremendous power to shape behavior and has already damaged faith far more than the malice and destruction of all the Christ-hating persecutors in history.  On the other hand Christians confront the followers of new gods and newly awakened old gods in competition for guiding the course of the modern world.  57-8


“Having given rise to the modern world, the Jewish and Christian faiths have now been reduced to ruins by the modern world.”  Quoting an Asian economist.  58


“Many followers of Jesus today have not begun to wrestle with the full dimensions of the truth of calling because they have not been stretched by the real challenges of today’s world and by the momentousness of the present hour.”  60


“Do you know only the soft-gospel invitation of our convenience-loving age, or have you been mastered by the no-concession summons of God’s call?”  68


“Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other.  The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have.  A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.”  73


“We have moved from the ‘inner directed’ world of the Puritans, in which calling acted as an inner compass, to the ‘other directed’ world of modern society, in which our contemporaries are our real guides….”  74  “The Puritans lived as if they had swallowed gyroscopes; we modern Christians live as if we have swallowed Gallup polls” 76


“Curiously, the twentieth century, which began with some of the strongest leaders in all history…ended with a weak style of leadership codependent on followership: the leader as panderer.”  75


“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt.”  Quoting Harry Truman, p. 75


“Part of my calling, as I have discovered it and tried to fulfill it, has been to make sense of the gospel to the world (as an apologist) and to make sense of the world to the church (as an analyst).”  76


“I live before the Audience of One.  Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.”  77


“God’s calling is the key to igniting a passion for the deepest growth and highest heroism in life.”  82


“Modern responsibility, contradicting its origins, is all ‘responsibility for’ and no ‘responsibility to.’”  “For modern, secular, freedom-loving people responsibility to God is out of the picture and responsibility to society is out of the question.”  “Thus we are living in a time when leaders ‘take full responsibility’ for mistakes and solemnly intone that ‘the buck stops here’ – but never resign or appear to acknowledge any guilt.  In practice responsibility seems little different from irresponsibility.”  91-2


“More of us today are more anonymous in more situations than any generation in human history.  Humanly anonymous and invisible, we must consciously hold ourselves responsible to the one audience – the Audience of One – or succumb to irresponsibility.” 93


“The call of Jesus is personal but not purely individual; Jesus summons his followers not only to an individual calling but also to a corporate calling.”  98  But we are not summoned to be a bunch of individual believers, rather to be a community of faith.  In the New Testament, it is not so much that there are different churches in different places as that there is one church in many places.”  101


“‘The Way’ is for traveling.  Either we progress, however slowly and unsurely, or we are not on the Way.  Anything purely theoretical, anything that is only good intentions, anything merely static and settled, let alone exclusive, hidebound, and hypocritical, is out of the question for those for whom one person, Jesus, is everything and all that matters is progress – pilgrim’s progress – toward him and in his steps.”  110


“The reverse side of calling is the temptation of conceit.  All truth in a fallen world is vulnerable to distortion.  In fact, each truth has its own foreseeable distortions that are its shadow side.”  Chosenness and conceit have grown so close that many people confuse the two.”  118


Henry Fairlie (The Seven Deadly Sins) suggests “that the motto for our times might be ‘The Revenge of Failure.’  If we cannot paint well, we destroy the canons of painting and pass ourselves as painters.  If we cannot or will not read, we dismiss linear thinking as irrelevant and dispense with reading.  In area after area, if we are not inclined to submit to the rigors of the discipline, we destroy the standards and pass ourselves off as acceptable.”  129


“The decisive question for the West is its capacity to direct and discipline capitalism with an ethic strong enough to do so.  I myself don’t believe the West can do it.”  134


Capitalism may undermine itself by its very success.  “In 18th-century America, for example, Cotton Mather warned that unless there was vigilance, a sense of calling would bring forth prosperity, only to result in prosperity’s destroying the sense of calling.”  134


Originally the menace of unrestrained economic impulse was held in check by the Protestant ethic.  (Harvard professor). 


“Capitalism, having defeated all challenges, such as socialism, now faces its greatest challenge – itself, because it devours the very virtues it needs to thrive.”  135


“No one can master money without mastering the meaning of money.  The truth is that money is much more than a monetary issue.”  135


“Throughout history the most universally acknowledged problem with money is that its pursuit is insatiable.”  136


“The sign of a good society is the level and number of things acknowledged to be beyond market values – and thus appreciated for their own sake and not for extrinsic, especially financial, rewards.” 137


“ ‘Religion brought forth prosperity and the daughter destroyed the mother.’  (Mather)  In other words, there was a disastrous shift between the early Puritans, whose calling gave them an edge in success because it made them ‘diligent in the world but dead to it’ and the later Puritans, of whom it was said that ‘they came to do good and did well.’”  140


“…calling introduces into society a different style of operating that directly counters the market mentality.  We do what we do in life because we are called to it rather than because we get paid for it.” 141  “We do it gratis pro deo (‘free and for God’)….”  142


“Ironically, a ‘free market’ does not create a society as free as many think….  we eventually cannot afford what we most desire – deep relationships.  For if ‘time is money’ and people take time, then the ‘opportunity costs’ of relationships … will be prohibitive and intimate friendships will be few.  ‘Spending’ time with friends is costly; we could ‘invest’ it better elsewhere.”  141


“Loss of faith in God, and therefore in eternity and immortality, leads inexorably to an erosion of vitality in life itself.”  147


“We think of the rise of the modern world as the story of dynamism, energy, progress, and achievement – which it is.  But we often overlook its other side.  The world produced by such dynamism is a world of convenience, comfort, and consumerism.  And when life I safe, easy, sanitized, climate-controlled, and lush, sloth is close.”   “The flip side of dynamic optimism is corrosive boredom.  The flip side of consumerism is complacency.  The most compulsive of shoppers and channel-surfers move from feeling good to feeling nothing.”  149 


“Few things are more ignominious than failing at something that was not worth doing in the first place.”  150


“Midlife crises that are genuine and not simply fashionable are generally due to the tensions between three very different desires: for successful careers, for satisfying work, and for rich personal lives.”  150


“For when we set out in youth and choose careers for external reasons – such as the lure of the salary, the prestige of the position, or pressure from parents and peers – we are setting ourselves up for frustration later in life if the work does not equally suit us for internal reasons, namely our giftedness and calling.  ‘Success’ may then flatter us on the outside as ‘significance’ eludes us from the inside.”  151


“In traditional societies most human beings were open to a world beyond the natural, visible, and tangible.”  156  Secularization has changed all that.  …secularization ensures that ordinary reality is not just the official reality of the modern world but the only reality.  Traditionally human life was lived in a house with windows to other worlds….  [but we live in] a world without windows.’  (Peter Berger).  157


“…secularization affects religious believers just as much as it does atheists and agnostics.  …the modern world quite literally ‘manages’ without God.  We can do so much so well by ourselves that there is no need for God, even in his church.  Which explains why so many modern Christian believers are atheists unawares.  Professing to be believers in supernatural realities, they are virtual atheists; whatever they say the believe, they show in practice that they function without practical recourse to the supernatural.”  157


“The call to follow Jesus Christ runs directly counter to this deadly modern pressure toward secularization.”  158


“It is quite common for people to trumpet that they have been ‘born again’ yet exhibit no signs of living in the supernatural dimensions of the reality they have been born into.”  158


“The modern world has scrambled things so badly that today we worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.”  160


“Privatization is the process by which modernization produces a cleavage between the public and private spheres of life and reinforces the private sphere as the special arena for individual freedom, fulfillment – and faith.”  165


“Many people fail to see that private life in the modern world is a harmless play area for believers.”  166  Why is this a problem?  What privatized faith lacks, in one word, is totality.  People may say and sing that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ but what they demonstrate is something else.  Lordship is reduced to pocket size.  Total life norms have become part-time values.”   The problem with Western Christians is not that they aren’t where they should be but that they aren’t what they should be where they are.”  “Jesus is not a ‘religious leader’ but Lord of all of life.”  166-67


“…the call of Jesus provides the priorities and perspectives that are essential for a focused life in an overloaded age.”  174


“Life has become a smorgasbord with an endless array of dishes.  And more important still, choice is no longer just a state of mind.  Choice has become a value, a priority, a right.  To be modern is to be addicted to choice and change.  There are the unquestioned essence of modern life.”  “The increase in choice and change leads to a decrease in commitment and continuity – to everyone and everything.  Thus obligation melts into option and givenness into choice.  …choice and change lead quickly to a sense of fragmentation, saturation, and overload.”  175


“Choice for modern people is a right that overwhelms both responsibility and rationality.  Witness how arguments against abortion on demand are shipwrecked on the rocks of choice.  The label ‘pro-choice’ attempts to settle the argument by seizing the unchallengeable term.”  177


“But ultimately only one thing can conquer choice – being chosen.  Thus, for followers of Christ, calling neutralizes the fundamental poison of choice in modern life.  ‘I have chosen you,’ Jesus said, ‘you have not chosen me.’  We are not our own; we have been bought with a price.  We have no rights, only responsibilities.  Following Christ is not our initiative, merely our response, in obedience.  Once we have been called, we literally ‘have no choice.’”  177


“…calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world.”  177  Life itself is a state of siege.  But a sense of calling helps because it provides the bull’s-eye at the center of the widening concentric circles that are life’s possibilities.”  179


“Calling is central to the challenge and privilege of finishing well in life.”  240