So, you have discovered your calling. Let’s say you are now in your dream job that perfectly aligns with your life purpose. All you need to do is to follow your calling and live the life you were called to live, right?
Very often, we get derailed from our life purpose and sidetracked by things that are urgent and not important. Or we get into not-so-productive habits (Genshin Impact, anyone?) and lose the momentum to live for the glory of God.
Here are 7 habits that can help us to keep our calling in focus:
1. Begin with God
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.Mark 1:35
The first habit to keep our calling in focus is simple: start each day with God in prayer and the Word. Yet this may prove nearly impossible for so many of us living stressful, cosmopolitan lives.
What is the first thing you do in the morning? For me, I often succumbed to the temptation of checking my smartphone – checking messages and emails, social media, or opening that daily gift boxes in an app game. By the time I am done with the ‘routine checks’, my mind is already distracted with the mundane stuff to be set on things above (Col. 3:2).
To stay focused on my calling, I need to revitalize my morning routine of daily devotion, or quiet time.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.Psalms 143:8
Starting each day with God is a habit we can invest in if we want to center our lives on what God has called us to do. If you use your smartphone as an alarm clock (like me), you can create a notification on your Bible app to show a Bible verse as a visual reminder the same time as your alarm. Or, better still, place an open Bible on top of your phone.
It is also important to pray when we start our devotion time. God’s Word should not merely be a source of information, but transformation. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the inspired Word of God to direct our paths and change the desires of our hearts. Prayer tills the soil of our hearts so that we are ready to be moulded.
2. Know your Mission
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2:10
The second habit to keep our calling in focus is to recognise our ultimate mission in life – to live for the glory of God, by seeking the good of others.
We pursue excellence in our work, because it reflects the glory of God and because it is how we love our neighbours as ourselves.
Note that we don’t define our own mission statement – it is defined by our Maker.
Matt Perman wrote, “most time-management books treat your mission statement as something you define for yourself. But in reality, your mission isn’t in the arena of things you decide… Your mission is discovered, not chosen.”
So keep this Mission Statement front and center: to seek the glory of God and the good of others.
Based on this mission, ask yourself: what is the most concrete way for me to fulfill that mission in my life at this point in time? That concrete expression of how you go about fulfilling that mission, is your calling.
Your energy, passion, confidence, and will to pursue your calling flow from this overarching, God-centered mission for your life.
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3. Review your goals
The third habit is to review your goals at least once every week.
Goals are the priorities that you set as part of pursuing your calling. Examples would be your new year resolutions, or the goals you set at work. They can be short-term or long-term.
Most of us have a vague idea of what we want to achieve. It is better to write them down (either on paper or using your computer), so that your mind is crystal clear about what you are setting out to do. Then, put it up on somewhere visible and revisit it frequently.
Let’s start with once every week. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, calls this the weekly review. His method is, of course, more thorough and comprehensive than what I’m describing here, but let’s start small and stay consistent!
4. Rally your allies
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25
Fourthly, get into the habit of rallying your allies, who can help you stay focused on your calling.
I chose the word ‘allies’ here because an ally is a person who makes an intentional effort to act in support of others. The word Ally comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning “to bind to,” like nations who are allies in wartime, acting together, and protecting one another.
There is also a common purpose in a community of allies. In Hebrews 10:24, that common purpose is “toward love and good deeds“.
Do you have allies in your life who are supportive of your goals? They can be your spouse, siblings, co-workers, close friends, or even online acquaintances. What is important is a commitment to a common purpose of helping one another grow and reach our God-given goals.
Rally them this week (and every week to come), by sending a word of encouragement, a prayer, or – better yet – meeting them up to share your lives and edify one another.
5. Budget your time
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)
Many of us keep a budget to track our expenses, but few of us actually keep a ‘time budget’.
I first learned this concept of a time budget from Jordan Raynor in his book, Redeeming Your Time. The idea is to budget time for the things we value before we are given the time to spend. This way, we ‘ensure that every minute has a name’.
Raynor dedicated a section in his book on how to do just that, and I strongly recommend that you check out his excellent work.
Here, I’ll just highlight some key points:
- Schedule deep work at the time whenever our energy is at the highest. Deep work is where we really zero-in on the work that our callings require. If you are a teacher, write your lesson plans during those time.
- During deep work, keep away your smartphones or put them on ‘Focus’ mode.
- Where possible, keep to 90-minute blocks of deep work, with a 15-minute break in between.
- Realistically, no more than 4 hours of deep work per day. Most of us will be brain-fried by then.
- Budget the rest of the day for ‘shallow work’, such as checking of emails, replying text messages, or marking MCQs.
Too much to plan? Try this simple yet effective productivity hack called Eat the Frog (credits to Brian Tracy). Ask yourself: what is the one thing you must do today that is important and urgent? Plan that into your schedule., then do that first thing in the morning.
6. Dare to say no
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.1 Corinthians 10:23
Do you still remember the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ taught during junior college days? When there are 2 or more options, opportunity cost is the value of the next-best alternative when we make a choice for one option.
This principle of opportunity cost applies also to the choices we make in our everyday lives.
When we say yes to something, we are saying no to other things.
Sometimes the things we say no to, may not be wrong in themselves. But they can be a hindrance and distraction to us if we want to maximize the limited time and energy we have to achieve our best in our calling.
I learned this the hard way when I want to live out my calling AND still squeeze in time for my smartphone gaming. It does not work.
I am starting to quit some of the games I was playing, not because they were harmful in themselves (what can be harmful in a farming game like Hay Day?), but because they distract me from maximising the time and energy I need to give my best at what I’m called to do.
There is a Chinese idiom, “玩物丧志”, which literally means ‘trifling destroys the will’. The concept of 志 (translated as ‘will’) has profound implications in the Chinese language. It is more than just the will, but also encompasses what we set our heart to do. Excessive attention to trivial things – such as our modern-day ‘toys’ like app games – can sap one’s will to make progress.
So this sixth habit is about daring to say no by default unless the choice is aligned with your calling.
Learn to drop the non-urgent things, the ‘trivia’ of our lives, or at least relegate them to the non-productive hours. For example, if your productive hour is in the morning, do not spend it on your social media or gaming apps.
If you are a parent, that is a calling. Your time with your child is part of your productive hours as well. Don’t squander it on gaming (unless you are proactively bonding with them – something we do as a family once a week).
Perhaps the things you need to say no to are more than mere gaming apps. The work you are called to may require you to live a disciplined life and say no to many things that your peers could enjoy. Or you may need to accept an income that requires you to say no to some comforts in life. Maybe there are some activities that are beneficial in the past, but you have to say no to them because of the need to focus during this season.
As we all have our own unique circumstances, I won’t assume that I can give blanket advice to everyone. What I can say is, the courage to say no is a habit that works like a muscle – you have to exercise it so that it can grow stronger over time. This in turn will strengthen your resolve to keep your calling in focus.
The courage to say no is a habit that works like a muscle – you have to exercise it so that it can grow stronger over time.
7. Rest in Christ
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…Exodus 20:8-10
The final habit to keep the focus on your calling is to recognize that – paradoxically – the focus is never the calling itself.
Your calling is the vehicle by which you fulfill all that God calls you to be. It is not the reason for your existence, nor the basis of your happiness. God and God alone is the basis of our existence and our ultimate happiness.
This is a paradox because, once we recognize that and accept it in our hearts, we are liberated to pursue our calling with a focus that is clearer than ever.
I have written previously that we may burn ourselves out spiritually if we forget to find rest in God. That is why it is so important to keep the spiritual discipline of the Sabbath.
Observing the Sabbath as a Christian enables us to rest in Christ’s work and not our own. Jordan Raynor calls this the ‘grace-based productivity’, as opposed to a ‘work-based productivity’. Our productivity (read: effectiveness in our calling) is not the foundation for God’s acceptance of us. Rather, God’s gracious acceptance of us in Christ motivates us to be effective in our calling.
Observing the Sabbath means ceasing from work, one day every week.
It means recognising that Christ doesn’t need you to do all your to-do lists. He doesn’t need us to achieve our life goals. In fact, many godly Christians passed away without seeing the fruition of their labor. We may die with ‘unfinished symphonies’ in our hearts (Karl Rahner). Yet God’s purposes will not be thwarted. Sabbath-keeping reminds us to trust Him wholly and not in our own ability to accomplish God’s purposes on His behalf.
With so many distractions and information overload in today’s world, staying on track in pursuing our calling becomes harder than ever. By forming healthy habits over the long haul, we can train our focus muscles to stay faithful to our calling in life.
We hope you have found this content helpful! This article is part of a series of foundational posts about calling. Do check out the other posts on calling:
- “I have a calling” – What Does it Mean? This was my first foundational post written in Dec 2020, but I updated it after gaining some new insights into the concept of vocation.
- Is ‘calling’ the same as ‘passion’? Calling is bigger than passion, although we can start with what we are passionate about.
- How to Find Your Calling This is my all-time favorite post in this category! My own framework of how to find one’s calling.
- Diving Deeper into Calling: the Psychology of Vocation Curious about how the concept of vocation came about, and what are the main ways to think about calling? Check out this article!
Hi, calling is a hot subject and as a pastor i get asked this a lot. Although I would probably say it differently with other nuances, I applaud the clarity and simplicity of your approach, which I know many will find helpful.
Definitely, we have to be careful, in a world that serves the Self, not to take what it says too quickly, so i really appreicate your point about starting with God and keeping the given mission in mind.
Thank you Pastor Jenni for pointing this out. Indeed, I find that in our individualistic culture, we (myself included) tend to use ‘calling’ as a shorthand for ‘my dream job’, ‘my ideal career’, or even ‘my passion’. The core dimension of calling as being a response to God’s summons is absent. There is also the dimension of service to our community, which is key to our understanding of calling.
I am curious, do you find this to be true among the people who asked you about calling? What kind of questions about calling do you get as a pastor?