Money, mediocrity, and the myth of 'making it' (part 5)

Tom Chevis 12 Feb 21
In part 1 of this seven-part blog series, we thought about what may have been beneficial about telling a group of music students that most of them wouldn’t ‘make it’. In part 2, we suggested a better way that involved rejecting the common understanding of ‘making it’ and redefining it to focus on contentment in one’s [musical] career, wherever it was on the career ladder. In parts 3 and 4, we expanded on this by looking at a biblical view of work and how it gives dignity to all work, thereby reclaiming the acceptability of ‘mediocrity’ in its literal sense. We noted at the end of part 4 that viewing ‘mediocre’ music work as an opportunity to do good depends in large part on how one understands the concepts of calling and contentment, and it’s to the former of those two concepts we turn now.

Your calling

None of knows whether or not the Lord has called us to be a world-famous soprano/saxophonist/singer-songwriter/[insert your musical identity here]. The only exceptions to this are those very few believers who are already at the summit of the career ladder. Because they are there already, they can know that this is the Lord’s calling on their lives. At least for the time being.

The only ‘calling’ that Bible speaks of as certain for every believer, is the ‘calling’ to faith in Jesus. After that, the only circumstantial ‘calling’ we can be really sure of is the place in which we find ourselves today. So, if you are in music college studying the trombone, then you can know that God has ‘called’ you to study the trombone in your music college. For now. For this season. He may ‘call’ you to be a professional trombonist for the rest of your life. He may even ‘call’ you to the principal chair in one of the world’s top orchestras such that, on the occasion when they decide to do a trombone concerto, it’s you that gets to be the soloist. In short, God may call you to what many would see as the very pinnacle of trombone playing.

But He may not. He may ‘call’ you to be a professional trombonist who freelances for the first ten years getting performing work where possible, before ‘calling’ you to take on the peripatetic teaching that’s already been filling an increasing proportion of your time anyway as a full-time job in a school for the next thirty years until you retire.

Or He may ‘call’ you to be a banker. Or a bus driver.[1] Or a Bible translator.

The point is: in terms of our jobs and circumstances, you can only truly know your present ‘calling’. There are different seasons in life, and whilst the Lord may ‘call’ some of us to be involved in music professionally in one way or another for the whole of our lives, others of us may be ‘called’ to something entirely different.

And it’s worth emphasising at this point: we need not fear this. Why? Well, because God tends not to ‘call’ people to things about which they have no knowledge, training, or desire. Indeed, taking note of your natural desires, your personality, and the opportunities that come your way are the standard means by which people usually attempt to identify how they are ‘called’. So we need not fear the fact that God may ‘call’ us to something other than our present situation or the vision of the future that we so cherish and long for.

‘Calling’ as direction, not command

You may have been wondering why I’ve put quotation marks around every instance of the verb ‘call’. The reason is that it seems to me that one could quite as easily use the verb ‘direct’ – the point is that the activity we are describing is one of God’s sovereign direction over our lives, whereby He opens doors and shuts them, He guides us into one situation and then a few years later into another etc etc.

But it would be a mistake to conceive of this activity instead as one of our obedience to God’s clearly stated instructions. If that were the case, we could replace the verb ‘call’ with the verb ‘command’. Yet often, when people use the word ‘call’ or ‘calling’ (or sometimes ‘lead’ and ‘leading’), they do speak of it as though it were a divinely issued command specifically to them which they must obey. But too many are the casualties of faith which have foundered on these rocks, wondering why they have not succeeded on the path to which they were supposedly ‘commanded’.

Now whilst I concede that such a command is possible, nevertheless this simply is not the normal way in which the Lord relates to His people. Rather, we are free to choose various paths in life (though the Lord will sovereignly direct and open/close doors); what’s more important to Him is not which we choose, but how we conduct ourselves on our chosen path. And that is incredibly liberating![2] What this all means is that you can never miss God’s ‘calling’ – never! God is too big! His sovereignty cannot be thwarted by us. We are too little.

But what matters here is that we obey His commands to do good (see part 2 for a fuller exploration of what that means biblically) in the circumstance/job/activity to which He has called us now (see part 4 for an expansion on this). And all that becomes an awful lot more straightforward if we have one of the most precious gifts of faith: contentment, the subject of part 6.

[1] There are three extra points that could be made about this. (1) The first would answer the fear-filled question ‘But what if God’s chief ‘calling’ for me is to be a bus driver?’ by reminding us of the goodness of God when it comes to Him giving us what we ask for – see Luke 11:11-13. (2) The second would add to this response by building on a point made in part 4 about the legitimacy of seeking more fulfilling employment, understood as part of a broad biblical understanding of the dignity and creativity of humanity, and the cultural mandate: doctrines that led to the rise of technology and industrialisation. (3) The third counters this in the context of ‘calling’ by suggesting that the entire notion of ‘calling’ is an inherently privileged notion that the vast majority of the world’s believers cannot really engage with because their priority is simply to survive, rather than worry about which employment out of a plethora of choices might be ‘the one’ to which they have been ‘called’. But there isn’t really space for all that in more detail.

[2] I recognise that for some people, this may seem the opposite of liberating. The plethora of choices leaves us feeling bewildered and desiring direction from above. In this circumstance (and in fact in all circumstances), we ought to bring these choices before the Lord in prayer and petition Him to direct us clearly into the path in which we can best serve Him and our neighbour. (Our freedom to choose does not negate the necessity of laying all our plans before the Lord.) But again, even here, the prayer is for direction, through opportunities arising or not arising, and for us to have the wisdom to perceive this clearly and so to follow that 'leading'. The Lord 'has given us everything required for life and godliness' (2 Peter 1:3) and so we must not spend our time seeking some external sign, all the while abdicating our God-given responsibility to use the wisdom, intellect and common sense that He’s already given us to divine from His Word (another precious gift from Him to us) what we ought to choose.

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