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Purpose vs. Calling

What is the difference between purpose and calling?

We are products. God is our producer.

We were created for a purpose. To accomplish that purpose, God gives us a means. The purpose is to Glorify God and the means is our calling. Purpose is more important than calling but you cannot achieve your purpose without your calling.

Calling is the road you take to get to purpose. Purpose is the destination. In Christ, we all have the same destination but uniquely different roads to get to this destination.

One team, one owner, one coach, one goal. That goal is to win the game and make their coach and owner proud and bring them glory. But different players with different roles or callings on the field.

In soccer, one is a goalkeeper, others are defenders, some are midfielders, others are attackers, others are right and left wingers.

Purpose = to win and bring glory to the coach, owner, and the nation. But the roles are different.

We are all different pieces of a puzzle. We are shaped differently and fit in different places but we have the same purpose. When God puts us together and solves the puzzle, he is glorified.

Take, for example, the Honda Motor Company. It may make motorcycles, cars (many different models and categories), aircraft or other flying vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, etc. The products have the same purpose which is to provide easy,  affordable, and fun transportation. And, of course, to make a profit doing so. But they are designed to achieve this goal differently. That is, they have different callings.

Picture in your mind’s eye the following scenario with me. On judgment day, Mr. Honda, the creator of these products sits in judgment over them. First, he goes by category. He starts with the motorcycles. He designed different types of motorcycle models differently. He gave them different horse powers and capabilities. He asks each motorcycle, “Did you do your job as I designed you to do?” He doesn’t expect all motorcycle models to perform the same. Each one has unique features he included and so different performance expectations. A product is judged based on what it was designed to do. Each one comes with a product manual that details how it is supposed to function and what should be expected of it.

If a particular product is not doing its  job well, it is often discontinued and a new product is made.

There are different callings (roles), but the same purpose (reason for starting the company).

Purpose is general (everyone has the same purpose), calling is specific (everyone’s calling is unique).

A person’s  calling is as unique as their fingerprint. Each person is shaped or designed according to his or her calling. Reflecting on this amazing design that we each have, King David of Israel praised his God saying, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

We each have unique gifts, passions, talents and abilities, personalities, and experiences that shape us and make us uniquely suited for our calling in life. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback church codified these gifts into a useful and memorable acrostic called SHAPE stands for Spiritual gifts, Heart (Passions), Abilities(talents), Personality, and Experiences.

A good sequence to view the events of the Bible are: Creation > Fall > Redemption > Restoration. The fall has marred the perfect expression of each person’s SHAPE. However, when we surrender our wills to God and die to our own selves, the work of redemption makes its impact in us and restoration happens.

When it comes to purpose and calling, remember this: We are “called according to His purpose“. “In him we were also chosen [or called], having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” Eph. 1:11 NIV

The difference between purpose and calling – what the dictionaries say

Purpose

Dictionary definition
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary (m-w.com)
a : something set up as an object or end to be attained : intention
Dictionary.com

1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.

Calling

Dictionary definition.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary (m-w.com)
1 : a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence
: the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages
Dictionary.com
2.vocation, profession, or trade: What is your calling?
4.a strong impulse or inclination: She did it in response to an inner calling.

 

Every single one of us was created for one purpose and only one purpose.  We were created to glorify God.

How do you glorify God? By living out your purpose. Rick Warren breaks down this purpose into five areas: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, and Mission. (Purpose Driven life pg. 58, day 7).  Other pastors like A.W. Tozer have presented the same message without breaking it into five key areas. However we slice this apple, the key is that God created us to glorify him.

“I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to do” John 17:4 NLT.

Jesus glorified God by fulfilling his calling on earth. We also glorify God by doing what God created us to do. A product brings glory to the maker by performing as designed. A messenger brings glory to the sender by doing what he is told to do. All of creation brings glory to God when it functions as God designed it to function.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive” St. Irenaeus.

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism

That’s the only reason we are here on earth.

We often confuse purpose with our calling.  Our CALLING is the things God gives us to do in life in order to carry out our PURPOSE.  God gives each and every one of us different callings. It includes our occupation or the work God calls us to do.  It includes our service and ministry in the local church.  It includes using our talents and abilities in whatever ways and wherever God chooses.  We are called to fulfill our purpose of glorifying God.

Our calling is the unique means that we individually fulfill the purpose for which God created us. Calling is not an end, it is a means to an end. That end is glorifying God which is our purpose.

We acknowledge God in all our ways when we seek to glorify him in everything we do.

 

Consequences of confusing purpose and calling

1. You can idolize your calling. Purpose is the end. Calling is only a means to the end. When we confuse the two, we can give priority to the means. Our ministry can easily become an idol and replace God because we are so preoccupied with the ministry succeeding that when God doesn’t answer our prayers to make it grow, we become angry with God.

When we are too BUSY with our work  to have relationship with God, we are idolizing the means. BUSY: Being under Satan’s yoke.

2. You fail to find your calling. Calling can get lost in purpose. If you confuse purpose with calling, then calling which is more specific will get lost in purpose which is more general. If you loose your calling, you can’t  fulfill your purpose. Calling is the road that takes you to the destination (purpose). If you lose the road in the large destination, then you will never get to your destination because you have no road. You’ve made the two one.

Satan’s biggest lie: Life is all about you. That’s what got Satan kicked out of heaven.

Exodus 20:3-6: You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  

Idolatry is an extremely serious matter.

When we worship calling instead of God, we care more about the success of the ministry than about the people we are called to serve. We become slave drivers pushing those we lead toward visible success. We seize to seek God’s glory but seek the world’s glory.

When I worship my calling  I lose contentment in God alone.

 

Related: Calling vs. Vision: The difference between calling and vision.

 

Let me leave you with these words from the apostle Paul:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21

 

Questions:
Before reading this article, what was your understanding of the difference between purpose and calling? Has that changed after reading this article? What other ideas do you have that you can share to add to the discussion on purpose and calling? Please answer in the comment section below. Feel free to comment on anything else that you desire.

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47 Comments

  1. I am more than blessed and transformed by the article on purpose and calling. God bless you for puting this up for my reach even through the internet. More power and grace to your elbows. From Germany

    • Mike, I’m glad you were blessed by this post. We are honored to be used by God!

  2. I used to think every body had different purposes. Thanks for these, I was richly blessed!

  3. I now have a much clearer understanding of the difference between purpose and calling. God knew exactly what He was doing by making us all unique with the same purpose but different callings.

  4. A very good explanation on purpose and calling. It has shed light on which is most important and how purpose remains consistent. Well done.

  5. Very good explanation. Even though I was clear on purpose am not sure I have separated purpose and calling in my understanding and I suppose I have been preoccupied by calling and such that I have been mildly frustrated because I want to press on with the calling whilst with the purpose being clear, nothing should stop me from continually glorifying God for no matter what am doing the purpose remains the to bring glory to Him.

    • Annie, I love your honesty here. Isn’t that the struggle for us all, to patiently wait for the right time from the Lord. I hope as your prepare yourself and grow in wisdom, it become more clear to you!

  6. This is so good! As I read, it prompted me to think that this doesn’t only apply on a personal level, but on a ministry level as well. The purpose of each ministry or church is to glorify God, but the way it’s done may look different than the church across the road. I believe if every ministry or church understood that callings can even vary there wouldn’t be such division or criticism. One church could be okay with the church of 500 members because their calling is to have a school that equips people & sends them out to the world, while a mega church may be called to have an evangelistic approach. Each church & ministry is unique to its calling & it’s totally okay as long as Christ is the Savior & God is being glorified.

    • Daisy, I love your thoughts here! It’s true, our ministry callings and purposes are different and that’s okay! In fact, I think it’s intended that way. If we all served in the same way, it’s inevitable that some people would be overlooked. The fact that we all have different callings and gifts and abilities allows that everyone, all types of people, are attended to.

  7. Wow!!! Love how u explained the difference between purpose & calling. I learned a lot today. Thank you again.

    • Tina,
      I’m glad it was a helpful post for you. Many people struggle to define and separate the two, as well as recognize how they work together. It’s probably something many of your friends or family are also unsure about. Feel free to share the post with them. Blessings 🙂

  8. An Interesting article of thought that can engage a healthy and lengthy dialogue. Calling – the SHAPE of a person. People get dressed everyday but how often do we wear clothing that is made for or compliments our shape. This is true in understanding the finer details of our (SHAPE) spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, personality and experiences bestowed unto us for the purpose of giving God Glory. For some the purpose is clear, the destiny is known and the existence is understood. We often ask ourselves questions at different stages of our lives: Who am I, What am I here for, and Where am I going. Those who believe and trust in God know where they are going and they are to give Him glory in our lives but the question of torment can be How do I bring Him Glory. Many look within a vocation, a call or works; however, sometimes purpose is not enough because it can be trapped in the ignorance of the call/work.

    It is not of works that any man should boast and the thoughts of a man are by far pass finding out yet through the revealing mercy and grace of God, He instructs us along the journey of life, mostly in our submission and obedience to Him and with a character of servant hood. In the book “Purpose is NOT Enough – Purpose Quantified” by Dwight C. Grant I understand that Purpose is mastered in time and in time the finer details of the call (SHAPE) is revealed in His Glory and works of self are dissolved. Yes we find purpose in our lifestyles, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and as Author Grant states purpose cradles vision and is quantified in the Law of creativity and purpose.

    So the question that arose in my mind was: “Is calling more important or is purpose more important?” Is the spark plug more important than the gas paddle in a car. The two merge to create one, executing and being are inseparable and so are calling and purpose. Like Paul we press towards the mark of the high calling through Christ Jesus

    • Cedallia,

      Ohhh I like your interesting question about which is more important! So thought provoking 🙂
      I like that you talk about the two merging to create one; they are inseparable. We cannot fulfill our purpose without knowing our calling, and yet we cannot find our calling without knowing where our purpose lies. Very nice comment. Well done!

  9. Your article made is very clear to understand what my purpose is and that I am unique in my calling. The reason we are left here on earth altering giving our life to Jesus is to fulfill His purpose with our calling.

    • I had read the The Purpose Driven Life and I agree with your view of purpose. Don’t you know that heaven will be all of us who love Jesus with all our hearts will be doing nothing all day long but our “purpose”. Bringing God the glory!

    • So glad this was helpful in discovering the difference between purpose and calling, and yet how they are interwoven.

  10. Oh my! I will tell you that I had the wrong definition of purpose. I always thought we each had a different purpose in this life to fulfill, but after reading this article I completely understand now that we all have the same purpose but unique callings. I cannot wait to share what I have learned today with others. I began reading Purpose Driven Life several years ago, but never made it past the first sentence in the second chapter…..”You are not a mistake”. I knew God was speaking to me at that very moment. I am adopted, and those words have resonated with me ever since. I am ready to move past that sentence and finish that book!! 🙂 Thank you so much! kj

    • Kristie,
      We are honored to be a part of your growth in the Lord! You have a unique calling that only you can fulfill. Keep pursuing what God is putting on your heart. What a blessing you are to us at ABI!

  11. I truly believe that our purpose in life is to Glorify God. And each of us has different callings, as we are all different individuals and all given different means of attaining this purpose.

    But I need clarification – For some many years, on and off, I am a catechist. I thought this was my calling. As is it not being a catechist a means in Glorifying God? Then, one day I dreamed of starting and managing an orphanage. So I am on this stage now of fulfilling this dream, which will Glorify God. The question then is, can a person called for something and fulfill it, be called again for something else? And does it mean giving up the other one? Can a person only have one calling?

    Appreciate clarifications here….Thank you and God Bless!

    • Luisa,
      Great question! I think it is very possible for a person to have multiple callings, depending on the season of life. For example, a pastor can be called to youth ministry in one season, counseling in another, church planting years down the road, and then mentoring when he is old and experienced. All of those callings fulfill the same purpose (glorifying God) but in different ways, depending on where God has him at the time. One could also argue that we have one calling that is expressed in different ways. Using the same example above, someone could say that the man’s main calling was teaching and mentoring. Technically youth ministry, counseling, church planting, and mentoring all fall under that umbrella.

      Like this post said, “Calling is the road you take to get to purpose. Purpose is the destination. In Christ, we all have the same destination but uniquely different roads to get to this destination.” I think these roads can twist and turn, wind different directions, even change terrain…but they all lead to the same place: glorifying God.

      • Thanks Stephanie for the clarification. I can now be at peace knowing I am still on the right track in Glorifying God!

        God bless!

  12. This article is a good reminder and helpful for keeping purpose and calling in their proper places. I love the idea that ” a person’s calling is as unique as as their fingerprint.” I think that can get lost sometimes in pursuing what God’s call is for our personal ministry. Thank you for a clear perspective of purpose vs. calling. I look forward to learning more from you!

  13. this was really helpful.Thankyou so much..we will be discussing the difference between a purpose and a calling on Saturday in our Youth service in church. now that I have a clear understanding it will be much easier for me!!

    • Happy you enjoyed the post! Thanks for visiting our blog page 🙂

  14. Dr. Acha,
    Thank you for writing this. My mouth dropped when I read busy – being under satan’s yoke. That is so huge. I know how easy it is to become busy with work, school, kids, ministry, friends, marriage, life. Those things are not bad, but if they keep you too busy from God, it’s not good. We need to be laser focused with our limited time here. John 17:4 is my life’s goal.

    • Thank you Rebecca! I’m glad that this article touched you and reminded you of something important.

  15. Thank you for helping us have a clearer understanding of the two. Like you mentioned, it is often tempting and too easy to find ourselves getting caught up in the calling and losing sight of our ultimate purpose. You mentioned “if you lose your calling you can’t fulfill your purpose” and I believe it also goes the other way around; if you lose sight of your purpose then you can’t fully fulfill your calling because if you forget that your purpose it to glorify God, but yet still “fulfill” or succeed in obtaining your calling according to the world or yourself, you probably missed out on fulfilling your ultimate purpose.

    I know the importance of confirming our calling so that we are able to pursue it wholeheartedly, but is it correct to say that as individuals we may have several callings throughout our life time in order to fulfill our purpose; that it is not just one specific calling, rather specific callings depending on the season? I ask this because many Christians use the term “calling” when they feel that God is leading them into a different season of their life. For example, “God is calling me to serve the indian people through planting churches for a period of time” then they may say “God is calling me to stay in the states and serve a homeless ministry full time.” I am probably getting to caught up in choice of word, but I just want to know if we each have one specific calling or if it may differ throughout our life time since it is a means of fulfilling our ultimate purpose.
    Thank you for the post and thank you in advance for clearing up my confusing question.

  16. I found this post to be a good reminder to not make our calling itself into an idol (which has been difficult for me throughout my life) but to keep focused on the ultimate purpose that we have in common. Also, this serves to remind us that we are united in purpose, and blessed with the opportunity to develop our own unique selves through God to follow our calling to serve our purpose, in many situations working together to achieve it.

    • Thanks JoAnne for sharing what this article reminded you of.

  17. I was a little tired when I read this so bare with me on my comments, I will have to come re-read to make sure i got everything I could out of this post.
    All the everyday life examples that were used helped me put calling and purpose a tangible definition. I can honestly say that the line between my calling and mu purpose has been blurred. I need to remember that my calling gets me to my purpose, but that my calling is not the same as my purpose. I think sometimes I have been guilty of putting my calling before my purpose. My calling might take a while to form, but my purpose is always the same. No matter what I am doing each day my purpose is exactly the same. My calling might change throughout my life depending on what God has planned, and how things change, but the purpose of it all will remain.

    Thanks Dr. Acha for all the helpful tips.

  18. Thank you Dr Acha for this clear explanation of porpuse vs calling.

    • You’re welcome Evelyn!

  19. Thank you so much to be in in clear picture of how handover ourselves to serve God

    • Thank you Malebo!

  20. I love the distinction here between purpose and calling. We are all ultimately called to glorify God and make disciples. I believe that’s what we are created and commanded to do. But, because we serve such a creative God, we are uniquely formed to carry that task out differently. I think this is just another way God shows us how much He loves us. He uses other’s giftings, talents, and convictions to pursue our hearts. But, I also found the point about not making our calling an idol. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the how and forget that it’s really about the WHO!

    • Thank you Brooklynn for your insights! I love having you in my Start an Orphanage Class!

  21. I love your example of the Honda Motor Company. I will probably end up using that in a sermon one day 😉

    • Feel free to help yourself Clifton. I’m glad that you like it. 😉

  22. This is a great reminder of what being a creation of God is all about: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and mission – and calling is the means to the purpose. I really appreciated the comment you made: “when I worship calling I lose contentment in God alone.” One of my spiritual mentors said recently, “your calling could be to sit in your living room all your life, worshipping, praying and interceding for the nations, and you would be fulfilled.” It is cool to put that statement into this idea of purpose and calling being different, even for that person. They could still worship their calling of being a “warrior of the spiritual prayer realm” instead of worshipping Jesus.
    Thanks for this article!
    Michelle

    • Thanks Michelle for your contribution. I agree completely with what your mentor said. The goal is glorifying God and and God can call a person to do whatever he feels glorifies him.

  23. I finally understand that purpose and calling are two completely different things. I found myself squishing these two concepts together rather than separating them. I always though that my calling was my purpose.

    Thank you for the eye opener!

    • Thank you Gladis. I’m happy that this was helpful to you.

  24. I have found myself guilty of idolizing my calling over my purpose. As I read that point, I instantly felt the twinge of conviction as God showed me how I have gone wrong in that area. I am very passionate about my calling and I want to serve well and see success come from all the hard work put into what I am doing. However, when I put that first and get angry or discouraged or anxious when things are not going as I had planned, I am putting that calling and my idea of success ahead of being faithful and trusting God.

    Thanks for point this out! Great post!

    • Thank You Stephanie,
      I’m glad that this post helped you!

  25. Thanks Simba. I’m glad that this could help you.
    Kenneth

  26. thank you so much

    • Thanks Simba. I’m glad that this could help you.
      Kenneth

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