One of the most wonderful and hopeful things you can know about yourself and your life is captured in a rather unassuming, simple sentence: Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. (1 Corinthians 7:17)
The verse might hit us as a bit constrictive, perhaps even oppressive, especially if our circumstances are difficult or painful. But that would miss the heart of God’s intention for us.
Your life is a gift and an assignment from God. This should infuse our life — its good and evil, its sweet and bitter, its health and affliction, its prosperity and poverty, its comfort and suffering — with an unfathomable dignity, purpose, and glory. You are not an accident. Neither are you a ruined potential, run off the rails because you were dealt a poor genetic hand of cards, suffered others’ abuse, or made foolish and sinful choices, putting you beyond the hope of a useful calling in Jesus’s kingdom.
No, you exist because God wanted you to exist. And you are who you are, what you are, how you are, where you are, and when you are because God made you (John 1:3), wove you in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), called you to be his own (John 10:27; Romans 8:30), and assigned you a place to live (Acts 17:26).
God Has Called You
Think about this for a moment: “Let each person lead the life . . . to which God has called him.” God has made your entire life your calling!
We tend to think of our callings as our vocations, some significant job God gives us to do with an identifiable and preferably esteemed title. Perhaps it’s a career vocation or perhaps it’s a noncareer vocation in a church or ministry. But that’s too narrow. Of course, vocations should be vehicles for our calling — ways we fulfill our assignment from the Lord. But our calling encompasses more than our vocations.
Our primary core calling is to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). And this calling incorporates everyone we interact with, or perhaps comes to mind, in everything we do from morning till night. Which is why John Calvin said, “God commands each one of us to consider his calling in every act of life” (Institutes, 821).
This means that our calling isn’t behind that door we’re waiting for God to open someday (though that may be part of tomorrow’s calling). Our calling is to love God today, to love the neighbors God places in our “road” today, and to do well what God gives our hands to do today.
That’s one reason Jesus tells us, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). Being overly preoccupied with tomorrow’s calling, as tempting as that can be, is often a way we are deceived into being disengaged from today’s calling. Jesus doesn’t want us to spend the priceless gift of life he’s given us today absorbed in the unreality of an imagined tomorrow.
Now, it is true that our callings change over time. We move through different phases of life, we might be deployed to different places at different times, and we experience various circumstantial and health changes. All these alter our calling. And as the Spirit gives us light, we should seek to anticipate and plan for changes as befit good stewards.
But God wants us focused primarily on the life he’s called us to, which is the life we have today.
Be Faithful to Your Assignment
The Spirit tells us through Paul, “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him.”
Perhaps you’re thinking, You don’t know my circumstances. Without wanting to be insensitive, it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are.
The circumstances of the Corinthian Christians to whom Paul was writing were all over the board: married, betrothed, and single, widows and bondservants, circumcised and uncircumcised. That’s just a sampling.
Think of the bondservants. They were the physical property of a human master. And yet Paul says to them in 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” What Paul meant was circumstances, even very difficult ones, don’t disqualify anyone from God’s assignment. If we can extricate ourselves honorably from such circumstances, we ought to do it. But if not, let us consider it God’s assignment, at least for today, and be faithful, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:6–8)
Assigned to Affliction
Think of Paul’s own various circumstances: imprisoned, violently persecuted, ill, exposed to the cold, hungry, shipwrecked, betrayed, homeless, poorly dressed, mocked, maligned, distrusted, spiritually opposed, afflicted, sometimes despairing of life, and finally killed (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). And it was glorious! All of it! Because Paul’s life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) and since the Life (John 14:6) had given him eternal life, death could only gain him a whole new level of life (Philippians 1:21).
As John Calvin said, “we should all regard our particular situation as a post assigned to us by God, lest in the course of our lives we flit to and fro and drift aimlessly about” (Institutes, 821). See your life today as an assignment from God. And stay faithful at your post until the Lord moves you.
Your Greatest Adventure
Here’s the bedrock truth beneath 1 Corinthians 7:17: God — the Creator and sustainer of all that exists — is the one who has chosen us and bestowed on us the exceedingly rare honor to live here and now. He has assigned us a life to lead. And there is no more wonderful, exciting, hopeful, fulfilling, joy-producing sense of life purpose than to realize that we are who we are, what we are, how we are, where we are, and when we are by the assignment of the Lord.
You have been given the unfathomable gift of life. You have been given the infinitely more valuable gift of eternal life. And you have been given the astounding and extremely rare privilege of receiving an assignment from God. There is no higher calling than to lead the life that the Lord has assigned to you. Embrace your assignment, this great adventure chosen for you, and press it to the limit.
Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children. This article was originally published on the Desiring God website here.