About 7 years ago, shortly after my 30th birthday, I became convinced God had a very specific plan for my life. Though I was raising kids and running our fishing lodge, there was still something within me that felt unfulfilled. So as prayed and prepared to figure out the mind of God, somehow I became convinced that the grand plan for my life would involve me going for a PhD in English and becoming a professor. As a professor I could shape and mold lives, study words, present ideas, and be involved in life change of many. Yes! This was the plan! And from that moment on, I spent the next year obsessing on the plan, take GRE classes, taking the GRE several times, writing a dissertation for the PhD application and applying to UW’s PhD in English department. When I didn’t get in the first year in 2006 I got word back that my application had sat on the Director’s desk for some time and that I had been a final candidate. “Surely next year it will happen!” I thought, “The plan is coming together!” So in 2007 I applied again on Jan. 15 and awaited the good news. Just two weeks later the rejection letter hit my email inbox. I was denied again. And I was crushed…how could God fail to deliver me my acceptance when it was His plan to begin with?
The problem, as I later figured out, was that God’s call on my life was to be something using those same gifts I had yearned to use as a college professor but in a different context than I could have imagined. I never had a clue that God would call me one day to pastor a church and use the skills of teaching, studying, and life formation. But this is the problem when we go about discerning God’s call on our life. For me, I was obsessing about context of the call, and not the gifts themselves.
At our church, recently we’ve embarked on a series about understanding God’s call on our lives. It has been tremendously well received because no bigger question exists for the bulk of our population than this question of: Who Am I and What am I Supposed to Do With My Life??? And for good reason too, it’s a noble question that all should embark on. But if we’re not careful, we can go about searching for the 20 year plan when often times God wants you to give you the next step for the next few months. And in our disappointment and frustration in not being given the crystal clear 20 year plan, we can become disengaged and bitter with the same God we set off to honor in the first place. We can cling to the plans, more than the God who set the plans in our hearts. And this is a real danger. The writer of Proverbs says,”
1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
3 Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established…
9 The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
As we set out to understand the call of God on our lives, we must cling to God Himself and not to the plans of our heart. We must understand, like v. 9 says above, the Lord will truly guide our steps…even if those steps turn out differently than we would have imagined. A friend recently shared this quote:
Our “imagined futures” can easily become a hindrance to hope. Limited by self-regarding preferences and prejudices, our hopes can become the fodder for new disappointment if we are too attached to them. God has a wider vision of possibilities than we do, and we are wise to place more hope in the providential activity of God than we do our own limited expectations.”
We are wise to place our hope in God above the plans we think God has given us. This is difficult and mysterious stuff, but the call to Christ supersedes all. If you would have asked me at 30 or 32, I would have no idea that God would lead me into the church to be pastoring. And yet I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am called to this work now. Often times God doesn’t give us the final picture, He just gives one puzzle piece at a time. Why you ask? Because He is more concerned with our obedience and formation in each step of the journey, and not with our final vocation. He wants every day to be lived for His higher purposes of loving Him, loving others, and being a light. And yes, God gives us specific gifts that He wants us to use to fulfill our calling, but He longs for us to cling to Him along the journey.
Searching out the call of God on your life? Here is a great sermon from our church that has some information to this regard. Read the book of Exodus and understand how God’s calling is for His people to follow Him and that His call is to a specific destination but sometimes it takes a very long time to get there. His heart is for our hearts, day by day by day. And our highest calling is to trust God today, with the present circumstances you find yourself in, to be a blessing around you. When God calls you to the next thing don’t worry- you’ll know that a decision is needed and an opportunity awaits. And you can step boldly into that next thing because God is already with you, giving you not the final picture, but simply the next piece of the puzzle to lie down.
For me, I was crushed when I realized the grand plan was actually more of my plan than God’s. And it never happened. The step into studies in English never happened and though heartbroken, I needed to learn to trust God, keep on fishing, and trust that God’s next step would be revealed. And guess what…it happened. Step by step by step, we are formed into the character of God when we prayerfully respond to the opportunities He puts before us, clinging to Him instead of our own future plans. Often times we want to know what to DO, and God wants us to worry about who to BE. His people. Full of love and joy. Being His hands and feet. And don’t worry, He’s got a lot for you to DO as well, but He’ll give you that next piece of the puzzle soon.