How is Your Calling like a Rowboat?

What if I told you that living out your calling from God is like rowing a boat? 

That’s because there are actually two main aspects of hearing God calling that function together and must be kept in balance. That’s why teachers and theologians often make a distinction between “primary calling” and “secondary calling.” 

Primary Calling

A great definition of primary calling comes from Os Guinness, a noted theologian and author of Rising To The Call, who wrote, “We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God.” 

Your primary calling is to God. You are to love and serve Him, be in relationship with Him, and to make His will for your life a priority. Everything else flows from this starting point, including your secondary calling. 

Secondary Calling 

Your secondary calling is what you do with your life, done in service to God. So, as Guinness also writes, “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for Him.” 

Todd Wilson, author of More: Finding Your Personal Calling, describes your secondary calling this way: “To do good works where we can be most effective in taking the fullness of Jesus into every nook and cranny of society.”

Rowing with Both Oars

So, it’s like you’re holding your primary calling to relationship with God in one hand, and your secondary calling to do good works and make disciples in the other hand, as you would hold the oars of a boat. Paraphrasing a quote from Cotton Mather, if you’re rowing with only one oar, your boat will only go around in circles instead of in a straight line to your destination.

The author of the book of James spoke to this tension between faith and deeds when he wrote, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18) Ultimately, we need both.

Being effective in living out your calling means putting equal effort into nurturing your relationship with God and actively doing what He calls us to in the world. It’s like rowing with both oars of your boat.

Start talking to God today about both your primary and secondary calling and whether you’re living up to His good plans for you in those areas. Ultimately, He’s what you need to succeed! 

And if you’d like some help and encouragement along the way, at the end of October, we’re launching our newest workbook, Hear God Calling You: A Biblical and Practical Approach to Discerning Your Calling and Finding Career Fulfillment. You can read more about the workbook here and here


Laura Miller works for Crossroads Career as a writer and editor, and lives in the Kansas City area with her accountant husband. Laura hosts and produces The Library Laura Podcast, which is a weekly dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm. She also runs the Crossroads Career Podcast, with new episodes every two weeks to encourage you in your career journey. Previously, she worked in the insurance and retail industries.

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