[real-time connections] chapter 2: hearing God’s call

Written by Marcus Goodyear

Marcus Goodyear lives in the Texas hill country with his wife and two children. He is Senior Editor for TheHighCalling.org, HighCallingBlogs.com, and Christianity Today's FaithInTheWorkplace.com.

March 2, 2010

Alternate title: Some Unholy Questions About Work

In Chapter 2 of Real Time Connections, Bob Roberts, Jr., talks about “Hearing God’s Call.” As Senior Editor for TheHighCalling.org and HighCallingBlogs.com, I thought this would be a good chapter for me.

Bob Roberts tells the story of his own calling to ministry. As an eight-year-old kid, he decided to become a missionary during children’s camp. And this call stayed with him into college, so much that he gave his college girlfriend an ultimatum: if you marry me, you have to be willing to be a missionary. Together they agreed to go wherever God called them.

Christians People Can Be Seriously Dense

I confess these portions of the book were painful to me. I’m deeply entrenched in the faith and work movement. I’ve internalized Elton Trueblood’s observation from many years ago that Christians are called into all the world—into the world of nations and governments, business and nonprofit, churches and parachurches, medicine and science and art and entertainment and education. Christina Meyer summarized it well yesterday, but I am still saddened to see Christians retreading this ground unable to move on to a deeper understanding of commission and calling.

In Real Time Connections, Bob Roberts, Jr., does a great job gently walking his reader down this path again. My frustration isn’t with him. It is with the #&*?^@#! Christian audience. I mean, seriously. We don’t get this yet? Do we still believe some parts of life are more sacred than others? Do we still believe that Sunday church work is holier than Monday morning work?

Then I take a deep breath and dive in again with Bob. He does a good job telling his discovery of the limitations of church work:

“…it bothered me that among those who accepted Christ, many of the conversions didn’t stick. I wondered why.”


“The biggest problem we had in making disciples was that we weren’t making them!”

Why Aren’t You Blessing Me?

Finally, Bob has a dark night of the soul when he hikes up a hill until he can see his entire community. That community includes two large successful churches where the pastors lack personal integrity. Bob feels he has been faithful, but his own church is struggling.

“Why aren’t you blessing me?” he asks God in frustration.

We’ve all asked this question. It may not be a holy question, but it is an honest human question.

Most of us, if we want Jesus at all, we want him and something else. Bob wanted traditional success. Large attendance numbers. Large offerings. Influence and good feelings about the numbers of people getting saved and experiencing the power of God.

In fact, Bob’s greatest strength—and the book’s greatest strength—is its relentless honesty. There are no easy answers here. The chapter’s conclusion on “occupation, passion, and vocation” includes four catchy bullet points, but even those answers require a tremendous amount of faith.

God help our lack of faith. Ah heck, I’m not going to pin this on anyone else. God help my lack of faith.

Occupation, Passion, and Vocation

To conclude the chapter, Bob wisely separates occupation and vocation.

At Laity Lodge and TheHighCalling.org and HighCallingBlogs.com, we talk a lot about the high calling of our daily work. For some of our readers, this creates a disconnect. They email and comment and call to say, “I am just a cog in the machine. My work has no meaning. It is not a high calling.”

Bob’s basic approach to occupation and vocation would be helpful to those readers. He says, “Your occupation grows out of your interests, giftings, and skills. You follow those interests and gifts into a trade or profession, which gives you a job or career by which you earn your living.”

Bob even steps back and confronts the vocational heresy that still permeates the church. Most people still act like God’s calling is always a call to a religious occupation—like being a pastor or a missionary. Just google “vocation” or “Christian vocation” and you’ll see what I mean. At our worst, Christians are totally off base in our theology of work, dividing the world into platonic higher and lower planes where abstract things of the spirit are holy and physical, and practical work is not holy. At our worst, we degrade our work with dismissive comments like, “It’s all going to burn anyway.”

But even at our best, we protest too much. Even books like Bob’s make me want to scream, why is this so hard? I’m not screaming about Bob’s book, you understand, but the continued need for his book and others like it. Why is the church so broken? Why don’t we get it?

While I’m screaming, Bob is offering some thoughts to help fix the problem. To start, he offers a healthy definition of vocation:

“Every follower of Christ has a deep longing that comes from God, a passion that we need to identify. When you identify that longing as a call from God, you will merge it with your skills and gifting, which will provide you with the means of meeting his call. At that point you have your vocation.”

In America, we tend to expect great things from our own faithfulness. We answer God’s call and expect his blessing to follow in a particular way. I want Jesus, plus the high def flat screen and surround sound gaming system. As if God is just a holier version of Santa Claus.

But that’s not the promise of Scripture, and it’s not Bob’s promise either. Financially, we will be blessed with the means to meet God’s call. That’s it. It might be pretty humble. It might not be more than a simple non-profit salary with a few simple luxuries for the family. It might be less.

But when we find our vocation, the place where our deepest longings find some small bit of sustainable market value, we can be content no matter what the circumstances.

Getting Practical

I still have questions, of course. I have to be honest. I’m not always sure I’ve found my vocation. On dark nights, I hike up hills like Bob did. I survey the land, and I get jealous of where God is using others.

Everyone has those dark nights.

Bob Roberts’ reminds us of four places where we can go to hear God’s call today:

  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture
  3. Counselors
  4. Divine Intersections

I admit that last one is a bit hazy for me. I’ve never seen a burning bush like Moses did. I’ve never met a talking donkey. I’ve never even had an angel escort me out of prison in the dead of night. And yet, I know what he means and have even experienced something like a divine intersection before.

So where does this leave us?

Personally, I’m challenged to try a strengths assessment. I’m wanting to write a core purpose for my vocational life to see where I’m thinking God may want to use me. I want some definitive answers from God.

But most of all, I’m challenged to seek God himself regularly—through prayer and Scripture and community.

I’d love to hear stories from the community here. Does your occupation feel like a calling? Does your calling exist outside your occupation? How do you find meaning in your daily work?




  1. Heidi Mann

    Phenomenal post, Mark! Which probably also means it's a phenomenal chapter and book! (Can't wait to read it!) Your insights and reflections mirror many of my own. I don't just want to tweet a 140-character blurb/link; I want to send this all over the cyber-world, to all my friends and clients and colleagues and connections! It *really* strikes a chord with me! (in case you couldn't tell 🙂 ). Thank you!

  2. L.L. Barkat

    You probably aren't going to believe me, but…

    I don't think about this stuff much. I just live and see God in the moments (and sometimes not). And that feels okay to me.

  3. renewaltalent

    This post is very moving! Thank you for your openness!

    I don't know how to explain how what I do now is so different than before. But it took a lot of surrender to God and His Will…being changed by looking at everything with an eternal perspective…with a Kingdom lens. Really, truly looking at my current life, actions, and thoughts in light of eternity. Seeing my God as bigger than I was making Him out to be (as if I could make out His size at all).

    I actually quit a job that paid well with great benefits because I absolutely hated that job. It took me really trusting God to seek a job I didn't hate but one I could excel in and enjoy more even at the expense of being paid less if that's what it meant. The journey has been amazing ever since.

    I went from growing up only thinking nuns and priests served God…to totally being in line with the thoughts in a book such as Real-Time Connections. God is a Sovereign God and He's going to transform people with His gospel. It's an honor to join Him in helping others grow!

  4. Billy Coffey

    That was an amazing and thought-provoking post! I'm learning to be content in my circumstances here at work. Some days are easier than others. But I'm working on it…

  5. goodwordediting

    Thanks, Heidi. The book is really worth your time–especially if you are new to this discussion of calling or if you are working with people who are new to this discussion.

  6. goodwordediting

    Before it was my job, I'm not sure I thought about it that much either. I was a teacher for ten years, and somehow I just knew that my job and my calling and my service to God was simply to help the kids learn how to write better. I didn't hide my faith, but I didn't use my classroom as a bully pulpit either. At least I tried hard not to. Sometimes, I think my personality may have intimidated some kids without my meaning to.

  7. goodwordediting

    I turned down a pretty big money making job recently myself. It was hard decision.

    I've become convinced that financial peace has more to do with spending than income. Thinking that way helped me evaluate where I wanted to spend my time–without being distracted by the market value of the different options.

  8. goodwordediting

    Here's a confession, Billy. I still struggle to find meaning and contentment in my work–and I'm supposed to be helping others do exactly that. For all of my frustration, I think the real issue is simply that this is hard stuff. It doesn't come naturally to us.

  9. Heidi Mann

    To L.L.Barkat & renewaltalent:
    Last fall, I left off serving as a pastor — not exactly “big bucks,” but the type of profession people often do think is *the* way to really serve God — to take up what I fully believe is God's calling upon my life at present: freelance copyediting. Sometimes I think, in response to Mark's response, that people see God *more* clearly in us when our life of faith *isn't* so obvious — and definitely when we don't use our role (whatever it may be) as a bully pulpit.

  10. Goannatree

    Such an encouraging and thought-provoking post. This is something i've been dealing with for years and something my family just don't understand about me. I love what i do…

  11. @bibledude

    This really is an amazing post, and is one that people who consider themselves Christians should definitely read! So I couldn't agree more with you that Marcus nailed it with this one! Thanks for dropping by an joining the conversation!

  12. @bibledude

    I love the process of discovery that is going on here, both past and present. This book really seems to be putting some things into perspective for a bunch of us. So I really appreciate you asking the tough questions, putting yourself out there like this, and allowing yourself to be teachable. Thanks dude!

  13. Glynn

    What I will never understand is why so many of us are totally uncomfortable with seeing our work as something God called us to, yet we eagerly embrace everything the culture, especially the business culture, has to offer the church – vision and mission statements, marketing programs, outreach “platforms,” and quantitative measurements of success. We’re not called to be “successful;” we’re called to be salt and light.

  14. @bibledude

    I'm kinda in the opposite position. I'm in a secular, corporate-type job now, but have felt the 'call' into full-time ministry for many years. I think that I might actually be close to seeing that become a reality. However, I definitely understand the value that I've had while serving in my 'mission field' of the secular workplace. I believe that much of my 'value' in a ministry role will come from my experience in building people up and equipping them for ministry in the real world.

    I'm loving this discussion! Thanks again for jumping in!

  15. Heidi Mann

    (Sorry, Marcus, for calling you Mark!)

  16. @bibledude

    I'm with Marcus on this… the idea that it doesn't come naturally for us. But the good news (I think) is that once you recognize the importance of this stuff, it seems to get easier. Working through questions like Marcus is asking (and this book is challenging us to think about) helps us to get the proper focus and set appropriate priorities.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Billy! I feel blessed that you are coming back for more at bibledude.net! If you do it again, then I'm going to have to officially give you the title of being a 'bibledude'…

  17. @bibledude

    This is exactly why I love running these types of projects here! The different perspectives that everyone brings to the table really get us thinking about important stuff like this. So I'm glad that you were able to connect with this. I'm looking forward to the rest of this discussion as we work through this book!

  18. @bibledude

    That is a GREAT point Glynn! Dude… that is something that I need to chew on for a while, but I couldn't agree more…

    We are quick to adapt the church to what is happening outside, but not as good at being the church in the 'outside' world. I'm glad that this project is talking about these things…

  19. Bryant Neal

    Wow…yet another challenging post that, this time, speaks to our calling; not as professional ministers and church leaders, which some of us are, but as the people of God. In doing some reading for another project I'm working on I had to come up with a definition of the Christian calling and this is what I came up with….

    The best way to develop an understanding of the religious concept of calling is to realize that service means serving, but not only on behalf of those that the individual might know, like, or have the desire to like. Religious calling means an alliance with the Lord Himself for the benefit of people who might be completely unknown, and/or unfriendly. Service was not an avocation or something done to fulfill a psychological need, not an action that would earn any great reward. Religious calling is connected to a moment in life with a larger ideal and the process of learning to regard one’s self as a servant, a person called to serve.

    It is hard to see the caste system that has developed within the church as it cripples the greater part of what the church has been called to be.

  20. goodwordediting

    You bet, Dan. Thanks for inviting me to the party.

  21. nancy davis rosback

    what i understand to be “blessing” is probably very limited. i use to consider blessing to be only good things, and things i might want. now, i am starting to think that it might involve much more than than this, even things that are hard, ugly, and things i would not necessarily want to go through.

  22. nancy davis rosback


    my writing probably drives you up a wall.
    i can just imagine all the editoral mistakes you could find in it.
    like a cop watching me drive.
    but, i did just learn that i should not have used “use to” in this sentence.
    i should have used “used to”.

    an old dog can still learn a few things…woof.
    but, probably make other mistakes to make up for it.

  23. laraj

    I've felt that frustration you express with this issue, Marcus, that Why don't we get this? question.

    Sometimes, I think we take it for granted, and therefore just allow those boxes in our lives to perpetuate. I'm trying to make a deliberate effort to carry my faith with me into my work relationships. It gets very difficult at times, I'm tempted to throw my hands up and ask, why am I trying so hard when the people don't care?

    But God cares. Like, L.L., I've been in the types of jobs where I didn't have to think about this. My work fed my soul and God was very evident in various moments throughout the day. My current job can be like living in Babylon at times. If I am not clear on my beliefs and purpose, I will be lost.

    Anyway, great post, Marcus. Really enjoyed your honesty.

  24. charlesfosterjohnson

    Marcus, you raise a profound question that has captured the imagination spiritual thinkers for centuries. I'm glad God has called you to explore this question on behalf of your readers; you do so at TheHighCalling with honesty, wit, and grace. As the literary critic Harold Bloom has suggested, our real American religion is gnosticism. We have fallen prey to a bifurcated, dualistic view of the sacred and secular. Sunday=God. Monday-Saturday=humans. The Spirit is breaking this wall down more and more with the decline of the institutional church and the rise of innovative models of Christian community. (Of course, even this is dangerous and categorical language that entails an inaccuracy: all gatherings of persons are necessarily organizational, social, and therefore hierarchial and institutional in some way.) These new models will increasingly incorporate leaders who are not bound exclusively by a “church” occupational identity. Their vocation may be Christian ministry, but their occupation may be one of banker or janitor.

    Paul struggled with this tension in his charismatic and dynamic structure of community. On the one hand, he didn't wish to re-create the empty institutionalism of temple culture. To do so would be to cut the new community of Christ off from the world and thereby negate the Spirit of the very Christ they sought to embody in their new community. But on the other hand, he knew that every community needed some kind of office and official character in order to give it replicatability and sustainability. 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 and his epistles hold this tension creatively. Our structures today do not, thus we lose the integrated, wholistic model of the secular being infused with the sacred.

    Your work is helping to erase this gnostic dualism, but it is a slow erasure.

  25. renewaltalent

    That's awesome! Yeah, it's kinda funny because right now I'm in the interview process for a church job whereas I've been in the “regular” work force most my life.

    I've felt the call to “full-time ministry” for about 3 years now and I think God has just taken me on this amazing journey to discover what that really means. This book really sums it all up! We are servants no matter where we are!

  26. @bibledude

    I think that he's totally cool with 'Mark'… but you might be crossing the line if you call him 'Marky Mark'! LOL!

  27. @bibledude

    Cool… I think that the important disctinction (as we see in later chapters) is that 'full-time ministry' includes our 'secular' work. For me, I feel like the focus of my ministry is shifting.

    This book is really making me think a lot about making this kind of jump in my life, but I know that just as it is important for there to be people like me in the workplace, we also need teachers/preachers in the church that can effectively prepare others for ministry in the workplace (etc.). And I have always felt like that is where I'm called to be… someday.

  28. @bibledude

    Dude… that was awesome! I love that idea of being a servant as you've applied it here. That's one thing that I've started to realize more and more recently… that I am most effective in anything that I do when I act as a servant (even when I am in a leadership role/postition).

    Great points Bryant!

  29. @bibledude

    hmmm… that's an interesting take on this. Personally, I'm not sure that I get the same thing. But related to what you share, I think that I feel like it is more about realizing our purpose in whatever we do. I think that while it could be the hard, ugly things, it doesn't HAVE to be hard and ugly.

    I appreciate your thoughts Nancy! You've certainly given me more to think about with this!

  30. @bibledude

    I can TOTALLY identify with you here Laura! I've been in that position many times where I've asked myself, “Why am I wasting my breath?” But you are totally right when you say that “God cares.”

    I'm not convinced that how people respond is our greatest concern; possibly it is what God thinks of our efforts even in the face of indifference.

  31. @bibledude

    I'm glad that you brough up this point about the dualism between the secular and the spiritual. I have a Christian friend who used to work with me several years ago and we talked about this idea of not being an employee of our company who goes to church on Sundays, but rather being a Christian (who just so happens to work at our company).

    You are right that it is slow shifting that kind of think, but it couldn't be more important.

    thanks for sharing!

  32. Debbie Simler-Goff

    Marcus, this post really resonated with me! Just this morning, I was feeling the need to re-evaluate my calling to the workplace. I don't know why this need to be re-affirmed hits me, but always God uses others to reassure me I'm in the center for His will. Almost daily, I pray with other staff members at work as needs in their lives arise. Often, an opportunity arises for me to share a scripture or a Biblical perspective. Is it any wonder that God has called me to my particular sphere of influence?


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[real-time connections] chapter 2: hearing God’s call

by Marcus Goodyear time to read: 6 min