We’ve passed our 25th birthday; we would have had a party, but I was already in the hospital being treated for Acute Leukemia and celebrating the marker wasn’t the priority…
It was in January of 1997 when I invited 120 business leaders to breakfast and invited them to join me for the next three years on an expedition to find what they needed to live above their career success and to set a course for significance. How could that happen?
Half took me up on that invitation: 65 committed to the journey, and 60 made it through the session days each quarter that enabled that discovery process. Most understood already what is called – by theologians – General Calling. That’s what we talk about on Sundays; it packages what God expects of everyone into a true-for-all collection of teachings that are foundational, and universal.
What they were missing is what Bible scholars have – historically – called Specific Calling. That proposes that, on the bedrock of a general calling to discipleship, God has designed a unique life plan for everyone that addresses life’s most compelling identity question.
Leo Tolstoy – Russian author and philosopher; signature work, War and Peace – fell under the teachings of Jesus in his midlife. He understood the principle of General Calling. During the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905 – waged over control of Port Arthur, in Manchuria – he addressed Russia and her leaders with this: “If there be a God, He will not ask me when I die (which may happen at any moment) whether I retained Port Arthur, or even that conglomeration which is called the Russian Empire, which he did not confide to my care, but He will ask me what I have done with that life which He put at my disposal. He will ask if I have fulfilled his law and loved my fellow man.”
From his book Bethink Yourselves, he reflected on the advanced issue of Specific Calling: “Let every man interrupt the work he has begun and ask himself: Who am I? From whence have I appeared, and in what consists my destiny? And having answered these questions, according to the answer decide whether that which thou doest is in conformity with thy destiny. And every man of our world and time, that is, being acquainted with the essence of the Christian teaching, needs only for a minute to interrupt his activity, to forget the capacity in which he is regarded by men, be it of Emperor, soldier, minister, or journalist, and seriously ask himself who he is and what is his destiny, in order to begin to doubt the utility, lawfulness, and reasonableness of his actions.”
Caught in the whirlwinds of modern life and goaded with the possibilities embedded in what seems to be infinite opportunity, men and women with great potential settle for plans and agendas that can preoccupy, deliver accomplishment and reward handsomely while confining the “teachings of Jesus” to half-hour homilies delivered on Sunday to the “faithful.” The thought that the most profound insights ever offered to humanity can be fully understood and embraced within an hour-a-week meeting – including music, announcements and whatever-else – explains why the understanding that surrounds General and Specific Calling are nowhere to be found, often absent even in the seminary classroom.
Jesus got that; Paul got that; even Tolstoy got that; as a result of the three years that followed our launch, back in ’97, there were 60 Christian leaders – from the marketplace – who got it, and they recalibrated their lives based on those discoveries.
Why would it even matter? Without exegeting the Scriptures that present that truth, Tolstoy had the right idea: “He will ask me what I have done with that life which He put at my disposal.”
That question will be asked of me, and of you, when we finish here: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Eternal rewards hang in the balance…
Twenty-five years later, we’re still at it: helping leaders like you to find God’s answer to the ultimate questions: Who am I? and, What is my destiny?