Calling. Everyone wants one these days — the blueprint answer to what was I born to do?

As followers of Christ, we have the highest calling built right in — to bring glory to the One who chose us and purchased our hearts — to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). We have learned with these Colossians that it is not our specific work that redeems us, but God who redeems our work.

Calling is far more likely to be found in a lifetime of moments than in the moment of a lifetime.

But for those who ask for and receive a more precise way to walk, a warning sign bubbles up in these closing words of the Apostle Paul’s letter:

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas…and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me (Colossians 4:10-11).

Paul is a man of the circumcision — a Jew. And not just any Jew, but a professional one. Paul immersed his whole life in the faith of his identity, shaped himself as a leader in the temple, rampaged from city to city as a violent warrior against all he believed to be an enemy of God’s ancient law.

He lived his whole life preparing for, asking for, and living for a calling. As he celebrated the murder and martyrdom of these newfangled Christians, I’m sure he thought he’d found the answer to his prayers for meaning.

But Christ Himself had another answer — with the kind of clear-cut words many of us beg God to hear: Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do (Acts 9:6). Paul was commanded to become what he hated to serve those he hated — a follower of Christ who would carry (his) name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).

An exact prescription for calling. No ambiguity, no doubt, no grey.

And now, in this prison in Rome, almost no one who understands. After 30 years of living out this calling through preaching and persecution, Paul mentions Aristarchus and Mark and Justus — the only men just like him among his workers — the only friends who really get it — the only ones who know what it meant for a Jew to walk away from all he thought was true and wear chains on behalf of Jesus and the Gentiles.

Beware the high and specific calling, for this is what it means: as your path becomes more precise, it tapers, constricts. As God narrows and lengthens and sharpens your mission, the road will necessarily hold only so many who truly know.

Only a few will be called to walk to the end of your road with you. Only a few will understand what you’ve faced and felt on the way. Even fewer will sit in a prison with you, a comfort in the longest days.

Loneliness comes standard with a calling. In fact, the place where we are the loneliest is often the place where our calling is found.

And that is the way it is meant to be. For if we wish to follow the true Christ, to share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10), we inevitably end up alone in the garden, alone before Pilate, alone on the cross. Could you not watch with me one hour? (Matthew 26:40). My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).

Our calling becomes not our resurrection, but our crucifixion —

so that our friend, our comforter, our salvation becomes Christ and no one else.

Let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

If you want more joy, you have to plan for it.

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