You may have heard the famous story of the legendary jazz saxophone musician John Coltrane of whom it was said, during a live performance of A Love Supreme, “every last ounce of his skill and musicianship seemed to come together in an absolutely magical performance. Just that one time, he was even better than the best. Everything about that performance was sublime, and when he’d finished, as he walked offstage, his drummer heard him breathe two words: “Nunc dimittis”.”
Nunc Dimittis is the latin translation of the words “Now you dismiss…” A line taken from the moment the prophet Simeon takes the infant Jesus into his arms realizing that he has just checked off the last thing on his personal to do list from God, “see the Lord’s Christ”.
The thought of a calling for life so tangible that one may say “my work here is done, I’m ready to die” upon completion is exciting and somewhat removed from what we consider “real life.” You know the kind of “real life” I’m talking about? Washing dishes, brushing teeth, trying to figure out if your five year old really does need to go pee for the third time tonight, or if he is just trying to prolong sleep. Is there hope for the regular Joe to experience the satisfaction of really following a personal calling in life? Maybe you’ve heard your slightly eccentric friend talk about calling as part of their regular daily concern, but does God really give us reason to consider our unique individuality with distinct value or purpose?
For John Coltrane, it was to use the gift he’d been given as a musician to make people happy. For Simeon, it was to confidently assure the young Mary and Joseph that the baby in their care truly was the saviour king.
In his book “The Call”, Os Guinness submits that a calling is not just a personal ideal, but a part of what it is to be human; as we grow in the fullness of life in Christ. He puts the word “vocation” to it’s original use (from the latin vocare: to call) and makes a distinction between our primary calling and secondary calling.
Primary calling; the purpose all people exist for; to bring glory and pleasure to God by reflecting his image in and multiplying disciples of Jesus.
Secondary calling; how our gifts, abilities and context are best utilised in consideration of our primary calling.
In his words “Secondary callings [note plural] matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.” So when the banker, bricklayer, or homemaker properly understands “the calling” (primary) they are able to consider how that calling might be best worked out in the context of their God-given personality and surroundings for the sake of bringing glory to God by reflecting his image and leading others to do so in Christ.
It is exciting to think of the weight of being called to partner with God in his ministry to the world while simultaneously being given freedom to express such a high calling in personally unique ways; where the uniqueness of one’s expression is advantageous to the community as each diverse component of the body contributes to a brilliant whole. And no less exciting to think that God is interested in the successful undertaking of proper banking, bricklaying or homemaking as the means through which his purpose for humanity is realised. With this in mind we are free to blow the limits to our vocational achievements to kingdom come. Literally.
As I pondered the possibilities I thought of how human occupation might shift in God’s new creation, where our work is clearly not a means of survival, but wholly a joy and a privilege in worshipful response to God’s presence. And so I end with this question:
If your gifts, personality and calling remain the same from this life to the next, how do you imagine you would put your calling to use considering your work is no longer a means of survival, but a means of worship? If Christ fully funds and assures your salvation, what is stopping you from doing the same today?