Acton Institute Powerblog

Where Opportunity and Obligation Meet

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Over at Fare Forward, Cole Carnesecca provides some great insights into how we should think about calling, offering some similar sentiments to those expressed in my recent post on family and vocation. “Whatever else you may think you are called to,” Carnesecca writes, “if you have a spouse and children, you are called to your family.”

Focusing on the troubled marriages of Methodism founder John Wesley and Chinese evangelist John Sung, Carnesecca explains how a misaligned and over-spiritualized concept of calling can lead us to neglect our basic responsibilities:

We often can over-spiritualize [calling], defining it as a single God-ordained path or the type of thing that comes to the missionary or pastor but not to the lay member. Or we under-spiritualize it, thinking of it as more and no less than a “career.” Both of these approaches miss two crucial points about calling.

I like to describe calling (in my other life as a youth pastor) as the meeting point of opportunity and obligation—what we are capable of doing and what we are responsible for. I mean this to apply to more “everyday” forms of calling— the way that God leads and guides individuals into life choices and experiences—and not the more “Damascus Road” forms of calling that are less difficult to understand. But for any form of calling, both opportunity and obligation must be taken into account and both can be misunderstood.

Indeed, through an orientation of ultimate obedience to God — “thy will be done” — it seems impossible to separate the two. God will not call us to areas that will involve a breaching of basic obligations and responsibilities, whether to the family or otherwise. Likewise, he will not call us to something like family if it will mean the destruction of our God-ordained purpose in this life. As I’ve written previously, “making the right choices about our family pursuits will involve submitting ourselves to God and transcending the same earthbound elements we struggle with in economics at large—prosperity, comfort, security, and happiness.” Despite those big, bright, blinking warning lights of modernity, with God, all things are indeed possible.

If, however, we allow our own earthly capabilities and personal conceptions about our “life’s work” to feed too heavily into our notions about overarching obligations, our “calling” is bound to turn and twist into something inward and individualistic. Likewise, if we pursue service and sacrifice without fundamental spiritual transformation and empowerment — without transcendent purpose and direction — our works are bound to be limited and constrained by the earthbound “solutions” we’re pursuing and the temporal ends we’re seeking.

As Carnesecca concludes:

Responsibility gets at the heart of calling and of something the church always needs to remember. Regardless of what calling we as individuals or as communities may have, we are always called by God to people. Whether that is family, a congregation, a local community, a nation, or a people, that fact doesn’t change.

Read the full post here.

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Joseph Sunde Is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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