Os Guinness: His Surprising Metaphor of Calling

Hundreds of thousands of trees have been inexorably consumed in the name of discovering the “ultimate why” in life.  Numerous titles of these books are enticing and appropriate as it promises to satisfy our deep longing to find and fulfill our overarching purpose in life. However, the reader soon becomes disenchanted with its spurious claims coupled and superficial advice on how to construct your life plan.

Here’s a classic example. One man in his vainglorious attempt spends countless hours to articulate a succinct, eloquent statement of his purpose. He uses a systematic way of defining his purpose as if you are building a strategic plan. After building his mission, vision and core values – he finally rejoices in relief. To his utter shock, the joy is rather a transient one. A sense of futility and meaninglessness starts to invade in every aspect of his soul yet he immediately discounts the feeling. He thinks to himself, “I’ve spent countless hours wrestling, thinking, and constructing my purpose and how I can still feel empty, if not emptier. This certainly must be a temporary a sign of exhaustion or sorts.”

The man does not know that this is the glass ceiling of worldly wisdom. Unbeknownst to him, the very foundation he’s building on for his search for purpose is false.  Intentional living does not start from I but from God. When you construct purpose, instead of discovering purpose – it simply becomes a man-made invention. The invention sooner or later will be superseded by a superior invention. As Guinness says, “We know that, primarily, we are called not to somewhere or something but to Someone, /That there is no true calling without the Caller, /That calling is not only being who we are but becoming what we are to be.

Os-Guinness-4-Oxford-bwwbOs Guinness, in his book The Call, explores “the deepest, highest, and grandest purpose that any human has experienced.” His book doesn’t start from I but from Him (Lord). In fact, I am fascinated by his metaphor on how we view life as entrepreneurs of life by seeing that all life can be an enterprise for transformation.

Many view “entrepreneur” as a word associated purely with people who are extremely extroverted risk-takers who spend years thinking about how to create a successful corporate venture. We feel the career itself is risky and unstable. When you look in the etymology of the word entrepreneur, it simply means “to undertake” in French. Guinness suggests that we’re in the business of living your life. When you undertake to follow your calling you become an entrepreneur of your life. Os Guinness ends his powerful book on calling with a poem called “Entrepreneurs of Life.” It perfectly summaries the essence of calling and his book The Call as well:

Entrepreneurs of Life

An Entrepreneurs of Life, we respond to the call of our great Creator

By seeing all life as an enterprise transformed by his call to “Follow Me.”

We therefore count the cost, consider the risks,

And set out on each day as a venture to multiply our gifts and opportunities

In order to bring glory to God and add value to this world.

In so living, we find the fullest meaning of our lives in answering the call,

We seek our identity solely in our naming by the Caller,

We pursue excellence defined as “My utmost for the His highest,”

We count our deepest companionship among our fellow-followers of the Way,

We look for final approval only from one audience – the Audience of One,

We break down every false barrier between eh sacred and the secular, weaving all life into a seamless web of faith and love in action,

And we work for no other accomplishment or legacy than the Caller’s own “Well done,”

The menial and humdrum we elevate because of the one for whom it’s ultimately done,

The dangerous and sacrificial we bear as the privilege of high calling,

The siren sounds of ease, success and popularity we shun for a trusthworthier voice,

And the temptations of conceit coming from being so chosen we answer with a gratitude humbled by graced because we have been chosen at all.

Thus we are fully engaged in the world on realistic terms, but empowered by vision and energies from a world that is unseen but even more real and realistic.

In all things, and in all the vicissitudes and seasons of life,

We know that, primarily, we are called not to somewhere or something but to Someone,

That there is no true calling without the Caller,          

That calling is not only being who we are but becoming what we are to be,

That no self-mae goal can ever rival the Ultimate Why of the mystery of the Creator’s purpose for each of us as his creatures,

That we will never rise higher than when we follow the call not knowing where the path may lead – so long as the Caller is God,

And that while we may lose our jobs and our health, or retire from a career, we will never retire from our calling – until that Final Call, which is death, leads each of us to the climax and consummation of all calling.

For on that day, for the first time, we will not need to listen only a word; we will see the Caller face to face and find ourselves in our Father’s home forever.

In the meantime that is our journey until our life’s last day, the passion of our lives is to go further, higher, deeper, always closer to the One who called us once and calls us still – to Himself, and to all the joys that knowing him can mean.

– Os Guinness

Over the past two decades, The Veritas Forum has been hosting vibrant discussions on life’s hardest questions and engaging the world’s leading colleges and universities with Christian perspectives and the relevance of Jesus. If you have some time, I’d highly encourage you to see the following lecture from Os Guinness entitled The Journey: A Thinking Person’s Quest for Meaning.