Monday, May 4, 2009

Callings

It is a question that comes to all of us early on: What do we want to be when we grow up?

The wording of the question changes, but the essence of it does not. We may ask, "What is my destiny?" We may say, "What lies ahead?" We may put spiritual words around it and ask, "What is God's will for my life?"

We are familiar with the word vocation, which after all comes from the Latin for "calling". We know the idea that we will hear a voice, feel a nudge, sense a leading, feel a push. We gravitate toward one thing or another.

I grew up hearing that God's call for my life was specific and that it was embedded in every significant decision I would make - where I would go to school, what would be my major, where I would live, if and whom I would marry, and most certainly what would be my career. The unspoken implication was that missing God's call on any of these issues would lead to disaster... or at least to dissatisfaction (both mine and God's).

The problem, of course, became finding that call. Since God was not sending me any catalogs, sensing His call became an art form. We had youth group meetings and Bible studies dedicated to deciphering His call. Outside of the church, school friends and I would spend hours debating choices that lay ahead, desperate not to make a mistake.

Now, at this point in my walk, I am a little more relaxed about calling. Make no mistake - I believe that God calls us, and I believe that - at times - that call is very specific. But I believe that the very specific calls are few and far between, and I believe they are different for each of us.

I believe, for example, that God's call can lead us into a specific vocation, career, or job. But I also believe that it does not have to. I have a good friend - a devoted Christian teacher and deacon - who runs a business selling plastic. I have heard him say on more than one occasion that God never called him to sell plastic, at least not per se; instead, he believes wholeheartedly that God called him to be a part of the business world, to interact with the people he meets there, and to hold a job that puts food on his family's table and allows him the time and flexibility to do the myriad other kingdom jobs to which he is called for which he receives no paycheck. He might have the exact same call if he were selling brooms or insurance.

I am not convinced that God called me to be a lawyer nearly as much as I am convinced that my calling involves using the gifts I have to help people while at the same time being available to write, to speak, to teach, to lead retreats and services and studies, and to serve my church. I DO believe that God chose to give me a set of abilities and desires that make the law a vivid calling for me, and I am quite sure that in following that calling I am in the middle of His will. But, had I used those talents in a different career - so long as I fulfilled the more specific callings He has placed on my life - I believe that I would have been in the center of His will there, too. And within the law - whether I am in a law firm or in a company, whether in Nashville or in Fort Worth or somewhere else - I am not at all sure that it is critical to God where I specifically carry out that calling.

Now, understand, I am quite sure that God calls many people to specific careers in specific places. I believe that if God wants you doing your job particularly in Bowling Green, you won't be fully happy doing it in Wichita. My point is only that I don't believe He calls everyone with that specificity in every facet of their lives. Some people can serve equally faithfully in Bowling Green or Wichita.

So back to the question of how to find the calling. One of my Dad's favorite sayings is that "we approach what we do not know in light of what we do know." That is true in geometry, and it is true in life.

If you are not getting a clear word on God's call on your life, perhaps you should step back and see what you do know God is calling you to do.

We know ... that God calls us to love one another. We know... that God calls us to obey the Ten Commandments. We know... that God calls us to follow Him. We know... that God calls us to relationship with Him. How are we doing with these calls? If we are not finding a career call or a geographic call or any other kind of call, perhaps we should be focusing on the calls we know we have. Perhaps God is not sharing a more specific call with us because we still have work to do on these calls.

I have made changes in my life - job changes, church changes, relationship changes - based on what I perceived to be God's call on my life at the moment. I don't know the alternative to that - making significant decisions based solely on leaning on our own understanding seems futile to me. But that does not mean that I believe that every decision I have made has been make-or-break in God's ultimate will for my life. I fully believe that God's will can be carried out whether I choose A or B on many decisions that face me. I believe that God is big enough to allow us to take different roads. Sometimes, when we ask which is the better road, we do not get a specific answer because our loving God is perfectly happy for us to take either road.

Some choices, of course, are outside of God's will. I don't just mean the obvious sins and crimes here - some otherwise fine choices are not open to some of us simply because they are not doors that God wants us to enter. I can't always figure out why, but that is ok - it is not mine to determine.

We church members can make the mistake of limiting the idea of calling to the "professional ministry." We can fall into the trap of deciding that if we are feeling a call from God, we must be headed to seminary. My own experience teaches me that nothing could be further from the truth. I strongly believe that most of God's calls are for those of us who labor not in the pulpit but in the fields, not in robes but in suits or jeans or uniforms. I do not in any way denigrate the call to "vocational ministry," but neither do I exalt that call as the only worthy call for the Christian.

Finally, I DO believe that God has specific calls for each of us. They are just not the same calls. For some of us, God's specific call has to do with where we put down our roots, for He has people there whom we must meet and to whom we must minister. For others of us, the call is unique to a specific job with a specific employer in a specific place, for He will take our labors and do divine things with them. For others, the call has to do with how we serve Him, and we can do that in any of a number of places.

The Apostle Paul got a specific call that guided his every step for the rest of his life. Abraham, on the other hand, got a very non-specific call: "Leave here and go to a place I will show you." Abraham was not even told where he was going, much less what he would do when he got there. For every Jonah who gets a specific call to Ninevah, there are lots of us who resemble Matthew ("leave your booth"), Andrew ("leave your nets"), Moses ("go talk to Pharoah, and I will tell you what to say when you get there"), Peter ("walk like you see Jesus walking"), Esther ("be in the right place for such a time as you are needed"), or the many disciples of Jesus who simply heard "follow me."

I think we should quit stressing over the minutiae of every choice that confronts us and instead trust that, if we are following Christ, we are going to be led to stay within His will. I think that we should pray and seek His call, but I think that we should understand that sometimes that call will not be nearly as specific as we might once have been led to believe. When it is specific, of course, we must follow it; when it is not, we should bloom where we are planted and follow Him.

1 comment:

scott Green said...

interesting topic...... brought back very vivid memories of an earlier time......LEAVING active ministry..... feeling devastated at the thought of turning my back on God. Turns out that it was the absolutely BEST thing that I could have done!