Part of the confusion comes about because some people use these terms interchangeably, while others define them in specific ways. Things get muddled even more when we throw in the words vocation, ministry and career.
We can sort things out if we accept this basic definition of calling: "A calling is God's personal, individual invitation to carry out the unique task he has for you."
That sounds simple enough. But how do you know when God is calling you, and is there any way you can be sure you're doing the task he has assigned you?
The First Part of Your CallingBefore you can discover God's calling for you specifically, you must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus offers salvation to every person, and he wants to have an intimate friendship with each of his followers, but God reveals a calling only to those who accept him as their Savior.
This may put many people off, but Jesus himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6, NIV)
Throughout your life, God's calling for you will bring great challenges, often distress and frustration. You can't succeed at this task on your own. Only through the constant guidance and help of the Holy Spirit will you be able to carry out your God-appointed mission. A personal relationship with Jesus guarantees that the Holy Spirit will live within you, giving you power and direction.
Unless you are born again, you'll be guessing at what your calling is. You'll rely on your own wisdom, and you'll be wrong.
Your Job is Not Your CallingYou may be surprised to learn that your job is not your calling, and here's why. Most of us change jobs during the course of our life. We may even change careers. If you're in a church-sponsored ministry, even that ministry can end. We will all retire some day. Your job is not your calling, no matter how much it may allow you to serve other people.
Your job is an instrument that helps you carry out your calling. A mechanic may have tools that help him change a set of spark plugs, but if those tools break or get stolen, he gets another set so he can get back to work. Your job may be closely wrapped up in your calling or it may not. Sometimes all your job does is put food on the table, which gives you the freedom to go about your calling in a separate area.
We often use our job or career to measure our success. If we make a lot of money, we consider ourselves successful. But God is not concerned with money. He is concerned with how you're doing at the task he has given you.
As you're playing your part in advancing the kingdom of heaven, you may be financially rich or poor. You may be just getting by in paying your bills, but God will give you everything you need to accomplish your calling.
Here's the important thing to remember: Jobs and careers come and go. Your calling, your God-appointed mission in life, stays with you until the moment you are called home to heaven.
How Can You Be Sure of God's Calling?Do you open your mailbox one day and find a mysterious letter with your calling written on it? Is God's calling spoken to you in a booming voice from heaven, telling you exactly what to do? How do you discover it? How can you be sure of it?
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
We don't recognize our calling overnight; rather, God reveals it to us gradually over the years. As we use our talents and gifts to serve others, we discover certain types of works that feel right. They bring us a deep sense of fulfillment and happiness. They feel so natural and good that we know this is what we were meant to do.
Sometimes we can put God's calling into words, or it may be as simple as saying, "I feel led to help people."
Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…" (Mark 10:45, NIV).
If you take that attitude, you'll not only discover your calling, but you'll do it passionately for the rest of your life.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and guest contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.