There are a lot of people in this world who have been burdened with high expectations from others. Sometimes, it’s relatively local, like an acquaintance getting to be on a game show, or a family member being asked to give a toast at a friend’s wedding. Other times, it is on a bigger stage, like when a company selects a new CEO, or an athlete competes at the Olympics.
Short of speaking in public from time to time, I haven’t been in situations like this too frequently. Still, I feel some empathy for those who are trying to do their best when the room (or the world) is watching, especially when there is so little room for error. When the only way to succeed is to not make a single mistake, and scoring ends up being based on errors rather than achievements, it’s hard not to feel sorry for those who did their best and fell just a little bit short.
On the other hand, there are those who are put into these situations, and it seems like they just don’t have what it takes. Maybe the best man at the wedding really doesn’t have any public speaking skills, or an understudy is thrown into a role before they are ready. Whether the shortcoming is a lack of preparation and training, or just a poor fit of a person’s skills for the role, it can be just as painful to watch them struggle to fill shoes that don’t seem to fit them.
For those who have chosen to follow Jesus, and try – with God’s help – to live like Him, it may seem that there’s no way that we can live up to His perfect standards. To be clear, those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior don’t have to do a bunch of good deeds in order to earn their salvation. However, we are called to a number of things (growing in our faith, sharing the good news with others, living with grace and mercy), and given the fear that someone might miss out on eternity with God if we make a mistake, it can sometimes feel like God has picked the wrong person when he chose each of us.
Take a look at these verses from the book of Ephesians:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB
This passage doesn’t seem to be written to just a few church leaders in Ephesus. My understanding of this letter is that it is written to a group of people who followed Jesus, regardless of their formal role within the body of Christ. As a result, if everyone receiving this letter had a calling, it seems reasonable that everyone in the church has a calling, too.
That can be a little intimidating. More than being elected to office, or having to deliver a speech to an audience of strangers, followers of Jesus are called to be “perfect” (see Matthew 5:48, although “perfect” may be used here in the sense of “complete”, but still setting a really high bar).
So, if the calling isn’t in question, what is the variable that Paul is addressing, here? Is it how good of a job that we do, or how skilled we are at following rules? Is it whether or not we can check a bunch of boxes on a list, or pass a written test?
The verse suggests that the difference is how his readers will live out their calling. Apparently, there are good ways to live (aligned with God’s purpose for us), and there are choices that we can make that are not consistent with that design.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB
God has prepared things for us to do, but we need to actually step up and do them, taking advantage of those situations to serve Him (and often to serve others, as well). If we continue to live for ourselves, and suppress the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we waste those opportunities.
And, I like the fact that the passage from Ephesians reminds us that we aren’t saved by works, so – to achieve right standing with God – I don’t necessarily have to preach sermons, lead worship, fill stadiums with those needing to hear the word of God, and go to a foreign country as a missionary (even if some people are called to one or more of those roles). I just need to live out my own personal calling from God, whatever that may look like, and regardless of what He calls other believers to do.
One of the great things about the body of Christ (the church, made up of people everywhere who follow Jesus) is that we aren’t all given the same tasks. We don’t have to step up to a role that we – with God’s help – can’t fill. We don’t have to mirror exactly the ministries where we see other people serving. Instead, we are called to the good works that God prepared for us. I also think that when God calls us to something, it is specific to the unique skills, circumstances, and temperament that He created in each of us, and that He doesn’t set us up to fail.
And, I don’t think that we are constrained if we haven’t figured out every detail of our calling: many of instructions are common to all those who follow Jesus, so we can walk in our “general calling” while we look for our “specific calling”.
As a result, I don’t want us to worry that God will put us into a situation where He hasn’t already given us the tools to succeed. If we walk according to His word (as best we can, with His help), and listen to His calling (again, as best as we can), we have nothing to fear.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.