As we’ve continued to discuss seeing God in the “every square inch” of your lives in the last few months, we’ve now established that following God gives us something to be, instead of merely what to do, and that the context of our career is established after we get the first part right. Remember the words of Jesus: “all of the law hangs on this one command- love God and love others.” Its more simple than we make it, our calling is to be people who worship God and see Him in the every day and spread that good news out to a world that desperately needs it.
And then, as we have grounded ourselves in our new identity as people of God, in grafted into a new community of faith and hope and love hell-bent on changing the world around us, we can start to think about part 2: but what am I going to “do” with my life. It’s a huge question. It’s perhaps the biggest question we grapple with as we go through life. This question of “what am I going to do with my life” has been reiterated to me in the last few months by single and under-employed 20 year olds, high school kids, mothers who are working at home or working in corporate jobs, men who are working in office jobs or in the field, people who have finished their careers and are now entering retirement or semi-retirement. My point? This question of calling haunts us all, male and female, young and old, no matter where we’re at on the journey. And the driving force behind the question is good: we want to do BIG things with our lives. We want to make a difference. We want to have that knowledge that indeed our giftedness has matched up with our purpose and that we can now labor for the Lord. That is the second part of our calling. Learning to use our specific gifts in specific contexts to be a blessing to God and to others and find our ultimate joy and meaning.
But how do we get to there from where we are? We get there one step at a time, learning to enjoy each step of our journey. We trust that each step has something to teach us, something to reveal to us, as we learn from that step in order to take the next step. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a step” is now a cliché hanging on the cheesy poster in the career counselor’s office. But its true…the nation of Israel took 40 years to get from Egypt to the Promised Land. Know how far it is from Cairo to Jerusalem? 264 miles. A fit person can easily walk 20 miles in a day, but keep in mind on the Exodus journey they had possessions and children and old ladies and such. Even if they walked 12 miles in a day, it would only take the nation of Israel just over 3 weeks to get to the Promised Land. But it took 40 years! Why would God take 40 years to deliver them somewhere they could have arrived at inside a month? God had something to teach them.
As we go on our journeys, each of us has steps to take. Each of us is in the process of learning how we were made and figuring out how we want to spend our days living out our calling. Before we take the next step, there are a few thoughts to share.
5 principles of God’s call to remember before taking the next step:
1. Distinguish Call from Plans: its difficult to do this, but as I wrote about last post, we can often start to hear from the Lord and instead of the next steps, we start charting next decades. I like to teach and study English for me became a misguided plan for my life for grad school, teaching on a small campus, leading students. I had the rest of my life figured out down to the carpet on the retirement home floors (well, not quite) but you get my point. Listen for God to reveal your call in the things you are good at, the things that the community around you helps you discern, and the opportunities you have been given. If my test scores and my writing sample don’t get me into a PhD program, perhaps it’s not my call? Often God works through specific opportunities given to us.
2. Read the bible for what stepping into God’s call looks like: The Old Testament is particularly helpful for pictures of what it looks like when real people follow real calls on their life. Think of Moses, or Jacob, or David- these were real men that had real calls on their life. Or Sarah or Ruth or Rebekah or Esther- these were real women that had real calls on their life. But as you read the bible, and really engage with the stories of what it looks like when people follow their calling, you’ll also be incredibly encouraged that these were real people with real strengths and real weaknesses and that God uses them despite their imperfections. There is great hope in how God continues to write his greater narrative through the ordinary lives of ordinary people. But you must open the bible to learn more of this.
3. Immerse Yourself in Good Influences: In seasons of discernment, it’s especially important to immerse yourself in good things. Read the bible, pray, talk to mentors and others, be involved in a small group or church…use these people as your filter so that as opportunities come along, you can get advice from the community around you. “Do you think this could be a good step for me?” is a question we should be asking those that know us best.
4. Understand the Imago Dei: do you believe God loves you and is working for your good? We must see ourselves as His workmanship so that we can trust Him to work within us to lead us on our journey. Most of us have not heard directly from the Lord. Most of us don’t get the benefit like Moses of having a burning bush and an audible voice usher us into the call on our lives. For most of us, its much more simple than that. But we have to understand that God is good, and that He created us as good, and that he’s not trying to trick us or deceive us. When we’ve been immersed in His good things (above), we can trust that He will be with us as we take our next steps.
5. Have the freedom to divorce calling from paycheck: One of my best friends in the world is called to be an amazing father, an amazing husband, to work in the music industry bringing artists with a positive message into the forefront. And what does he do for a living? He sells insurance. What does insurance have to do with his calling? Nothing. And he is totally fine with it. Don’t get me wrong, he likes insurance. He is great at selling insurance. He has figured out that his career is what pays his bills, but his calling is to much larger things. And he is totally at peace with his decision. Sometimes we can labor under a false notion that my paycheck and my deepest desires to follow my calling, must be the same thing. For many, our career isn’t the calling. Its being Christ blessing within that vocation that is our calling. For my friend the insurance agent, he might be selling insurance in 10 years. He might be doing something different. His calling is to his character and that transcends his vocational piece. Some of us will get paychecks to do our calling, many others will not. And that is perfectly fine.
As we take steps, we get the chance to step more and more into God’s bigger picture for our life. It’s like when runners talk of hitting their stride- this is the point they go from laboring over each movement to actually enjoying the running. Though it’s tempting to do so and we often fail, we are not to be destination focused or obsessed with the end of the road…we must take joy in the journey. Step by step by step.