Do the work: Some thoughts on living your calling

by Berry Simpson

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Legendary American track star and Olympian, Steve Prefontaine, said this about running, but the sentiment applies to anything we are called to do.

I’m sorry to admit, I doubt I’ve ever committed my absolute best to anything. In fact, maybe I don’t even know my best when I see it. I hope I will, someday, when I finally grow up.

On the other hand, it is part of my personality to learn as much as I can digest about anything I undertake, whether writing, teaching, running, cycling, marriage, or theology. In fact, knowing that about me is one reason I hesitate before taking on a new project; I know how much time and effort it will cost. It usually surprises me when other people don’t feel the same way.

For example, I once served twelve years as an elected city official, and I was continually baffled that not all my fellow councilmembers would make time to go to conferences and training to hear what the most innovative cities were doing. How could they hope to serve people if their only government wisdom came from what they already knew? No wonder we often ended up with small-minded solutions. To be uninterested about learning seemed lazy, at best, arrogant and self-serving, at worst. It’s sacrificing the gift.

Sorry. I started this by writing about calling.

God's calling (or assignment, or gifting, or special talent) is not a ticket for a free ride, but an obligation to go to work. But when we work hard to develop the calling God has given us, it isn’t onerous. It might be hard, but it comes with joy and fullness.

To have a special gift as a teacher, for example, doesn’t mean teaching will be easy, it means we have more to live up to. It isn’t a free ride; it’s a noble obligation. Not because God needs our help to make sure he gets the results he wants, but because we owe God our best. How dare we toss something out there half-baked and expect it to be OK because “it is for God.”

Simply making a joyful noise is not enough. I want to play the right notes, in tune, with joy in my heart. I want to write the best books and essays that I can. I don’t want to meet God someday only to find him holding one of my books, saying, “I gave you those great insights and the desire to write them out and publish them, but you blew it with bad grammar and tacky typesetting. What were you thinking?”

There is a Bible story about the aging King David, who was giving advice his successors. He told his son, Solomon, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid ... He will not fail you." (1 Chronicles 28:20 NIV) The phrase that stopped me in my tracks was "Do the work." Just like Solomon, we have to do the work, take the training, practice the craft, risk rejection, and cultivate expert opinions, every day.

Social researcher Brene’ Brown wrote, “It was clear to me that living a wholehearted life included engaging in what many people I interviewed called meaningful work. Others spoke of having a calling. We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.” (The Gifts of Imperfection)

She also wrote, “Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. If we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given, we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.”

Here’s another thought, from Wide Awake, by Erwin McManus: “The world desperately needs the power of your life fully lived. You have no greater responsibility than to live the life God created you to live … your life can never be simply about you.”

So in the spirit of vulnerability, here is what I believe in my heart. I believe I have books in me that will change lives, which will draw readers into a closer relationship with God, and encourage readers to pursue their love. What I don’t know is which book will do all of that. Maybe I have to publish a dozen books, clearing the slate and opening my mind, before I’m smart enough and skilled enough to get down to the book God will use.

Therefore, I feel obligated to read the clever writers, study the best writing advice, learn about publishing and marketing, and recruit professionals to help me. To do anything less would be to sacrifice the gift.

How about you? Using your gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in most cases the meaningful work is not what pays the bills. Most of us have to piece it together. But we all have to do the work.


QUESTION: What skills or projects do you feel compelled to improve? Do they add meaning to your life? Does improving them bring you joy?

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to , or “Retreating With God,” go to ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson or on Facebook … Contact Berry directly: … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: