Finding your calling: Part One
This is the first of a series of blog posts about finding your calling, based on podcast episodes. If you're interested in this, you might like to listen to the podcast episode here.
If you have been part of a Christian community for some while, then there may well be things about the way that you see God, and the things that you have heard about calling, which could be getting in your way. Myths. Ideas about calling which we can pick up along the way that actually make it harder, rather than easier, to work out what it is that God is calling us to do.
Myth 1: What ever God wants me to do will be terrifying.
This comes from the idea that if we are “good christians”, who love God, we are going to be prepared to do things which are really sacrificial, and difficult. If you're scared that if you listen to God to find out what God wants you to do, that you will be asked to do something terrifying, as proof of your faith, praying about your future is likely to become really difficult. But let's take a step back from that and think about what we are actually saying. We are saying God as a parent would want to terrify his children. No good parent would want to do that. If you were to meet somebody who was to say to you, "I have decided that in order for my children to prove their love to me, I am going to find something that each of them finds utterly horrifying, and then I am going to ask them to do that thing, and I will tell them that if they don't do it, I will know that they don't love me." I think you might call social services.
Myth 2: Don’t tell God you don’t like hot weather or curry or he will send you to India. Again when we begin to think that is how God works we are really having a very warped view of God’s loving parentage. We can trust that God loves all of us as individuals. God knows that we have different passions and gifts, because God has made us with those passions and gifts, so the things that we love to do are actually a really big clue to our calling. We do not need to be afraid of listening to the things that we love to do, we do not need to be afraid that God is going to call us to something that is really against our nature and that we are going to hate. We can be confident that if we are going to hear God speak to us, one of the ways we are likely to speak to us is through the things that we love.
Myth 3: Only the stuff you do in Church really counts. We are often given the message that the things that matter, the things that really count are the churchy things. Sometimes there will be a sermon preached or a course run that encourages people to think about their gifts and abilities with the intention that they will find a way of volunteering in church projects. Sometimes the message is communicated more subtly by giving more kudos and more air time to things that people do that are directly connected to the church while almost completely ignoring things that people do to serve the world outside the remit of their local church.
We are called to make this world that we are living in a better place, a place which is more full of God’s love. So it would make absolutely no sense for God only to be calling people to do things in church. It makes much more sense that our calling is often going to be in the work place, in the community. In fact it is probably the exception rather than the rule that God calls people to do stuff in church. However the way that Church is organised there is often a concern to make sure that the work of the church continues and goes forward, and so often the emphasis will be on the things that done in, and that are organised by the church communities that we are a part of.
Myth 4: We have no choice in God’s plan.
This is the notion that it is our job to listen to what it is that God is telling us to do, and then go along and do it.
Actually our life with God is much much more of a partnership than that. We do have a free will and if you do have a Christian understanding of life and salvation then you will know that actually God went to some considerable lengths to make sure that we did have free will. So it makes sense then that God will want us to listen to our own selves and what it is that we're wanting to do, we are not just going to be in the process of receiving orders and moving forward.
God’s will for us is that we grow as people. If you have small children then very often you need to make lots of decisions for them, because they are not able to make those decisions for themselves. Decisions about what to eat, and when to eat, and when to go to bed, and what to wear - because they might not be very aware of what kind of things you need to wear when it's snowing as opposed to when the suns out. There might be all sorts of small decisions you need to make when your children are very small. But as they get bigger, and as they grow into adult hood, more and more you expect them to take decisions for themselves - that is what it is to grow up and to mature. And so we can trust that God wants us to make our own decisions, that God is with us as we plan, and that our free will, and our opinion and our hearts’ desires matter to God.
Myth 5: If you take a wrong turn you will miss out on God’s best.
This is something that is often said with a certain amount of menace and threat, the idea being that if you make the wrong decision and you go the wrong way, that you will have missed out somehow on what God wanted for you.
I love the story of traditional Persian carpets. A Persian carpet is designed by an artist, and then it is made by hand by a carpet weaver. Sometimes the carpet weaver who is following a plan made by the designer will inevitably make a mistake. When that happens, the designer would never ask the carpet maker to unpick the carpet that she had made, instead the carpet designer would see it as his privilege to find a way to adjust his design to incorporate the error of the carpet weaver, with the carpet being at least as beautiful as originally intended.
That is a beautiful picture of the way that we walk with God. Of cause we sometimes make decisions that it wasn’t a good idea to make, and it may well be that God had a plan, and that we have strayed from it, but we can trust that as we walk with God, that God will help us, and God will be with us creating something beautiful, even if it isn’t exactly the way that it was originally intended.
God is infinitely wise and great, and wonderful, and can do amazing things. Even if you take literally the idea that there is a ‘God’s plan A’ and a ‘God’s plan B’ for your life, and that you might miss one and be on the other, God being God, God’s plan C or D or F or H or Z.2 is going to be pretty good anyway.
So do not worry if you are thinking “I have made so many foul ups in my life, I have gone wrong so many times, I’ve missed out on God’s best for me’ because God will make the best out of whatever situation you are in.
I think that is what redemption means.
Myth 6: I’ve not been a Christian long enough to have a calling.
This is not true. There may be some things that you are not ready to do yet, but God still longs to partner with you to help you to grow, and to share God’s love with the world in whatever way.
Myth 7: It’s too late, I am too old, I cannot possibly be called to do anything now.
If you are using age as an excuse then it is time to stop. Obviously there are some activities that are time limited, you might be too old to begin your career in the fire service, or to for-fill your dream of becoming an olympic athlete. But age also brings experience and wisdom, and if you are still breathing you can still partner with God to bring his love to the world.
Myth 8: It can’t possibly be God’s calling if you are having fun.
There are times when people dismiss the very thing they are gifted and called to do, as not being from God, because they enjoy it and they believe that Christian service should be a sacrifice and difficult and unpleasant. And they think that if they are doing something that they like then it cannot possibly be the thing that God wants them to do.
Actually, the opposite is true. When we find the thing that we were designed to do, what usually discover that it is satisfying, and enjoyable. It is much easier to pour our energy and commitment into something that we love, than into something that makes us miserable. And let's face it if we are pouring our energy into something that makes us miserable, then we are likely to spread some of that misery to the people around us.
We all know what it is to be around someone doing something that they love. From them comes an energy and a joy and a light that lights up the world around them. Finding that you love something, that it’s good fun, is more of an indication that it is something that you are called to do than that it isn’t.
Myth 9: The need is the call.
I have heard people say “if we spot a need, then God is calling us to do something about it”. That sounds very noble, and there is an element of truth in it potentially, but actually it is not that helpful for a number of reasons.
Firstly there is an ocean of need in the world, and we all know we cannot possibly respond to all of it. Trying to respond to all of it is a recipe for guilt and exhaustion.
Secondly it is no the approach that Jesus took. He did not heal everyone, he did not feed everyone, sometimes he moved on from places - even when people were asking him to stay put. So we know from Jesus life that he was looking to do the things that God was calling him to do. He wasn’t looking to meet every-bodies needs.
Thirdly, not every calling is actually connected to meeting obvious need. You might be called to write or to paint or to play the violin, and these might be things that make life better for everyone. It is very difficult to argue that your community needs violinists.
There is I think a truth in the statement that the need is the call, in that - and in this very specific way, that we are often more sensitive to needs that relate to our calling. So for example if you have a call to work with lonely elderly people, it might be that the needs of lonely elderly people are the ones that you notice. If you have a call about helping single mothers who are struggling on low incomes, then those are likely to be the things that pull at your heartstrings and that you notice. So your call is likely to influence the things that you spot. If you have a call as a musician, then it might be that you notice the quality of music education in schools, and it might be that you think somebody should be doing something about that. But it is kind of the other way around in that instance, in that the call that you have in you, is helping you spot the needs out in the world that are connected to your call.
So your calling might enable you to spot needs that other people might not spot, because it is coming out of who you are and what your calling is. But just spotting a need does not necessarily mean that you are called to do anything about it. And I think if you are somebody who finds it difficult to say ‘no’ - who finds it difficult to see somebody in need and walk away, then you need to exercise particular care, and particular wisdom, because actually the needs that surround you.
Myth 10: We only have one call in life.
The stories that people tell of knowing that God has called them to a particular thing are often told by people who have a very strong calling to one thing in their lives. We can have this sense that if we are called by God it is going to be dramatic, it is going to be very clear, and that will be the thing that we do for ever, where as actually it is often much more complex than that. As we grow and mature and change and experience different things, so our calling shifts and changes with us very often. It is very often the case that we are not called to simply do one thing in our lives, but a number of different things and that sense of call will shift and change over the years. So it is worth continuing to listen and explore, and listen to your heart and what your hearts desires are. It may well be that the thing that you are called to now, the thing that draws you now, wasn’t drawing you ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, or even last year.
Myth 11: God chooses some people and not others.
We tend to see callings that are connected to church, such as a calling to become a vicar, as the best kind of calling, a kind of primary kind of calling. And then we think about everybody else's calling, maybe a calling to run a business, or to foster children or to be a mum, or a decent grandma, as secondary callings that don’t count as much - and quite often those things fall off our list of what it means to be called by God.
Sometimes that sense that some people are called and not others is rooted in poor self-worth. It is not just ministers and missionaries and special people who are called by God, everybody is. We all have a calling and a difference we can make in the world.
The thing you are being called to is the thing that you were made for - and the thing that you were made for will feel like it fits, it will feel like you and it will bring you joy.