I hear Christians talking about having a “calling” on our lives. Yet, it seems very few Christians know what their calling is, or if they do, don’t feel as though they have fully stepped into it. Understanding the four stages of your calling may conquer the comparison battle and empower you to move forward in boldness.
Running Your Race
Paul equates our calling to a race. Any runner knows- and people like me who are certifiably NOT runners know- you have to train and prepare before participating in a race. (At least if you want to run well.) Training and preparation stage=stage 1. Approached by Barnabas, Paul arrived in Antioch for his final time of preparation. Here, he faithfully served on a ministry team alongside the encouraging Barnabas before moving into the next phase of his calling.
I also might add, Jesus communicated Paul’s calling- minister to the Gentiles- long before this moment in Paul’s life. Of all of the stages of Paul’s calling, this one was the longest.
Before a runner participates in a “big race” they often sign up for a few practice runs. This builds confidence, enlightens them to where they need to train more effectively, opens their eyes to their weak spots psychologically in the race itself, and gives them greater focus in the days ahead. In this stage the runner is growing, learning and strengthening. Paul’s first and second missionary journeys fall into this category. He faced obstacles, passed tests, overcame trials and continually pressed into Christ for direction. All the while, he continued running.
During this time, Jesus began building Paul’s team. Silas, Timothy, Luke, and the Philippian church became indispensable partners with Paul in his calling. Jesus began opening Paul’s eyes to realize he would never be able to fulfill his calling alone- he needed others investing in him and partnering with him.
Settling Into A Rhythm
He also needed to begin investing in others or his victories would be in vain. In this leg of the race, or calling, Paul spends considerable time in one place: first Corinth and then Ephesus. At this stage, Paul has passed many tests and trials, built his team, and runs with confidence. God opens wide his calling and now others are ministering to Gentiles through the establishment of new churches as well as Paul himself. (The Colossian church is an example of one of them.) Paul conquers some of his earlier struggles with fear. He walks out his calling with boldness and assurance. He invites others to run alongside of him, passing on his wisdom while they all run together.
Preparing For A Shift
Eventually every runner crosses a finish line- or at least that’s the goal. The race ends. This is the last stage of the calling. When Paul’s race ended, somebody else needed to put on their shoes. During Paul’s last missionary journey and imprisonment, Paul began writing pastoral letters, equipping those who would run behind him. He became a coach rather than a runner. He neared the end of the race with great satisfaction that he had run well and trained others to run behind him.
Our Own Race
I think we become discouraged when we see someone who has stepped into their rhythm, while we are still in the training phase.It looks like they are “living in their calling” while we still aren’t. The important thing to remember, and what Paul adamantly tells us: no matter what stage we may be in, we are all still runners in the race. Just because you are in the training and preparation phase doesn’t mean you are not yet living out your calling.
He also reminds us of these important truths:
- God purposefully directs our steps throughout each leg of the race and equips us at every turn.
- We cannot settle into a rhythm without a team of runners.
- When we reach the running in rhythm phase, we need to open our eyes to other runners around us whom we can encourage and equip.
- We all need to run with the finish line in sight, remembering that equipping others to run behind us is just as important as it is to finish our own race well.
So, friend, whatever stage you may be in, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t compare your stage of the race with anyone else. Your race isn’t over and God promises great things around the next bend!
This blog post is part of The Unexplainable Church: Reigniting the Mission of the Early Believers Erica’s latest bible study covering Acts 13-28 released by Moody Publishers.