Book Review: The Call

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling

the Central Purpose of Your Life

By Os Guinness (Word Publishing, 1998)


[A Note from Margot:  There are some books that Stephen and I value so highly that we buy a dozen and give them out to friends and family.  This is one of those books. We strongly recommend it for your home library.]

From the back cover of the book:

“Have you longed?  Have you searched?  Have you listened?  The call is the answer.  In the tradition of C. S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers, internationally renowned author and thinker Os Guinness has penned a classic reflective work on life’s purpose.  Thoughtfully conceived and elegantly written, The Call will be read and re-read today and treasured by generations tomorrow.”


Book Review by Stephen Payne

Os Guinness attempts to shed light on a question that plagued many of us:  What is my calling and how do I discover it?  Guinness presents his ideas concerning these questions in a series of twenty-six individual meditations, to be read one day at a time.

The first few chapters lay a foundation, by defining the term “calling” and dividing it into three separate parts: primary call, secondary call, and individual call.  The “primary call” answers the questions, Who am I?  What is the meaning of life?  Am I fulfilling the purpose for which I am here on earth?  Guinness defines this primary call as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”  The focus here is that “we are called to someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching), or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).”

Guinness describes the “secondary calling” as a response to God’s primary calling on our lives.  After God calls us to Himself, He can then call us to “homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history . . . Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for Him.”  Guinness warns us to “keep first things first.”  God calls us to Himself before He calls us to a vocation.  Discovering the secondary call is a matter of seeing how God has gifted us and made us unique.  We must choose to use our unique gifts in a way that serves humanity and not our own selfish desires.  This calling refers to our life-purpose or life-task.

Almost every chapter in the book starts with a two to three page biographical sketch of a historical figure or an event.  A chapter called “The Focused Life” tells the story of Magellan, the Spanish explorer.  He experienced many setbacks as he attempted to circumnavigate the earth; however, his message was always the same:  “Sail on! Sail on!”  Guinness suggests that our lives offer so many choices that we are often sidetracked from our calling.  He urges the reader to stay focused.

In another chapter, “Dreamers of the Day,” he tells the story of T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.  Lawrence was a dreamer; however, he was no ordinary dreamer.  He lived his dreams.  Guinness encourages the reader not to let “…the here and now, the present and the accepted, form a prison cell for your thinking…”  My favorite quote in the book was one by T. E. Lawrence, “All men dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.  This I did.”

In one chapter, Guinness presents Andrew Carnegie as a man who lived his life to impress others.  He played to an “audience of many.”  Guinness reminds us that our calling should be a gyroscope to our lives, providing stability and direction.  Guinness contrasts this approach to living our lives by Gallup polls.  Guinness states, “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One.”

Os Guinness has written a book that should be read in small pieces and pondered.  It will inspire you to cast off the mediocrity of aimless living and to focus on the upward call to God that will provide the purpose we all dream about.


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3 responses to “Book Review: The Call

  1. Debbie

    Sounds very intriguing. I think I’m going to buy it.

  2. Brian Cronin

    This reminds me of the first hard question I asked at Soup Group back during the days of Four Oaks. We stayed after and took up the whole afternoon with whether or not there is a specific call on a person’s life. It looks like I need to read this book based on your willingness to buy multiple copies to give away. I do that too!

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