Knowing That God Calls
- Friday, March 10, 2006
Often we do our best to discern God’s calls. We pray feverishly, take personality inventories, and seek professional as well as personal advice. Still, no calls arrive directly from God. Scripture teaches that God calls, but we imperfect creatures still struggle to know how, when, and where to serve God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we live by faith.1 So we go on in faith.
My father, a Chicago cab driver, loved to tell the story of a passenger he picked up early one morning. As his taxi rolled to a stop in front of an apartment building, a woman ran up to the vehicle, opened a rear door, and hopped into the seat. “Where to?” my father asked.
“Get going! I’ll tell you when we get there!” she exclaimed.
Often our approach to calling is like this passenger’s overly eager desire to get going. We impatiently want to forge ahead to an unclear destination instead of taking the time to learn how to be faithful.
The mystery of vocation is more like an unfolding relationship than a carefully planned trip. As we come to know God better and to know ourselves in relationship to God, we also discern where and how to serve—but rarely with absolute certainty.
One of my students came from a family of teachers, but he was sure that teaching was the one profession that didn’t suit him. He considered filmmaking or music. Then he began feeling called to become a college teacher, so he applied for graduate school. Dismayed when the university he wanted to attend turned him down, he humbly prayed to God for help.
Shortly thereafter, he visited a different graduate program at the same university and within minutes was admitted and then assigned courses to teach. His life was turned upside-down twice in a matter of hours. Now he wonders if God used the initial graduate-school rejection to remind him to depend on the Lord. In any case, he rightly realizes that occupational callings emerge out of a faithful relationship with God, not just a message from God.
When we become Jesus’s followers and join a community of believers, we are best equipped to discern our strengths and weaknesses and to learn about opportunities to serve. Listening to others’ stories of vocation helps us to discover our own callings. We then see that faithfulness is partly accepting the mystery of how God works through followers’ ups and downs, baffling turnarounds, failures, and fresh starts.
A former student of mine in Michigan drove 1,700 miles to the West Coast partly because he liked the weather there. The second day in a city where he knew hardly anyone, he was sightseeing downtown and happened across the office building of a company he recognized from his online research. He boldly went inside and asked if they were hiring, and before long he had a fine position with that small but rapidly growing company. He thrived on the challenging work, the long hours, the rigorous deadlines, being a Christian witness through his work, and meeting clients from around the globe.
Later he left the firm to accept a promising position with a new company, which soon went bankrupt. He went to graduate school for his M.B.A. Here’s a summary of his unfolding story: impressive college record, great job, notable success, upward mobility, fine marriage, risky career change, business failure, time to think and pray, grad school. What’s next for him? I’m looking forward to finding out. So is he.
Another graduate went to Nashville absolutely convinced that God wanted her to serve in the Christian music business. She was the kind of person I would hire: industrious, articulate, hardworking, and faithful. Plus, she knew Christian music. She moved to the music city in faith. From what I could tell, she did everything right to find a position.
After many months, however, she gave up and settled gratefully for a job in a different field. She’s still baffled about her earlier sense of occupational calling. Was she wrong about God’s will? Was she too early on the music trail?
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