A book review of The Call: : Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness
“Are you looking for purpose in life? For a purpose big enough to absorb every ounce of your attention, deep enough to plumb every mystery of your passions, and lasting enough to inspire you to your last breath?” So begins The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness – a book that plumbs the depths of what it means to be called by the Caller.
“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.” Guinness is clear from beginning to end that there is no call without a Caller. And similarly, without a Caller, there is no calling, only work. But he is quick to remind us, “it is simply ludicrous to pretend that all our work is exciting, fulfilling, and profitable. Much work is drudgery, and there is no getting away from it. It simply has to be done.” In the drudgery, our calling is refined. In the day to day stuff of life, we learn to cling to our Caller. “He requires our obedience in the routine, the unseen, and the thankless.”
It often takes effort to clearly understand our calling. In fact, “in many cases a clear sense of calling comes only through a time of searching, including trial and error.” In the chaos of the modern world, we hear many voices calling for our attention. Many people will offer their opinion on what our “calling” ought to entail. And if we give in to the temptation to listen to these other voices, we lose sight of the One that we serve. “Living before the Audience of One transforms all our endeavors….the greatest deeds are done before the Audience of One, and that is enough. Those who are seen and sung by the Audience of One can afford to be careless about lesser audiences.” Living for an Audience of One releases us from the pressure to perform for or impress others.
The Call contains many warnings and exhortations about the necessity of making a choice – we can choose whether or not to respond to the call. It’s not just a one time choice, but a daily choice that we make. “Human identity is neither fixed nor final in this life. It is incomplete. As such we may refuse the call and remain stunted – unresponsive and irresponsible. Or we may respond to the call and rise to become the magnificent creatures only one Caller can call us to be.” Each day as we make that choice to respond to our Caller, we are also choosing to say no to the demands of this world. However, it’s not just the demands of the world we have to turn down. Quoting Oswald Chambers, Guinness warns, “beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him….the one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him.” Sometimes it’s the ‘good’ things in life that distract us from our ultimate call – to be with Jesus.
Guinness offers blunt and seemingly painful observations of the church and how we have distorted calling. “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.” And he poses this question to the church: “If so many of us profess to live by the gospel yet are so pathetically marginal to the life of our societies and so nondescript and inconsequential in our individual lives, is there something wrong with the gospel, or does the problem lie with us?” Again and again, he challenges the church to redefine calling, to redefine what we are building our lives around, and to redefine even our very lives. “Personally summoned by the Creator of the universe, we are given a meaning in what we do that flames over every second and inch of our lives. Challenged, inspired, rebuked, and encouraged by God’s call, we cannot for a moment settle down to the comfortable, the mediocre, the banal, and the boring. The call is always to the higher, the deeper, and the farther.”
Finally Guinness concludes with a glimpse of our Last Call which takes us home. “The Last Call of death is a termination from the secular perspective, but from the spiritual perspective it is the culmination of life. After a lifetime of journeying, we are arriving home. After all the years of hearing only the voice, we are about to see the face and feel the arms. The Caller is our Father and the Last Call is the call home.”
“Until that day comes, our task is to keep on and to keep on keeping on.”