Mack was a tall man – really tall. He had a deep echoing voice…Darth Vader material. And he was opinionated. The combination of these qualities made him quite intimidating, but they also helped me listen to him. Mack told me that he had been a successful businessman for several years but his heart wasn’t in it. His real passion was kids. So he quit his job and started working as a school administrator. What I won’t forget is what he said next. “Charles, don’t choose a job for the money. Do something that you love and the money will sort itself out.”
Do something that you love. That’s the stuff of calling. That’s what the word “vocation” actually means — hearing a call to do something you were meant to do. It’s not limited to what you get paid to do, though the two can overlap in different ways. Sometimes a paying job supports a broader calling beyond the job. Sometimes we get paid to pursue our calling. Sometimes it’s a combination of both over time.
For disciples of Jesus, regardless of compensation, calling always relates in some way with the mission of God to make all things new in the world that have been ruined by the reign of sin and death.
So how do you find your calling? Consider these three actions that I have found helpful in discovering mine.
1. Pay attention to others and to your heart.
When I was a senior in college, one of my professors listened intently to me as I described my passions and then reflected back to me: “It sounds like you want to plant churches.” I had never considered that as an option for myself until I heard him put it into words. God spoke through him and it caught my attention.
Several years later, I was listening to another professor speak of a particular way of church planting and living out the life of the church. I could feel my heart catch on fire as I heard him speak. Everything within me said, “THAT! That is what I want to do with my life. THAT!” God spoke through my passions and it caught my attention.
2. Explore broadly.
One of my former bosses jokes that I am the most interned/apprenticed person on the planet. I’ve had separate apprenticeship experiences in urban ministry, youth ministry, involvement ministry, preaching ministry, small group ministry, and church planting ministry. I wonder if it’s because it took me a while to figure out what God was calling me to do. The benefit of all those experiences was that it allowed me to figure out what I enjoyed, what I didn’t enjoy, what I was good at, what I wasn’t good at.
It’s more likely that our calling will come to us as we actively explore different opportunities rather than passively waiting for it to come and find us. Diverse experiences provide the context for us to pay attention to others and to our hearts.
3. Hold it loosely.
Sometimes calling can feel as elusive as Willie Wonka’s golden ticket. It’s possible to make our calling — or the prospect of our calling — an idol that we worship with the lion share of our energy and worries. Perhaps it’s not unlike a single person who really, really, really wants to get married…and fast! He becomes so fixated on that desire that it narrows his experiences and sours him to life. His well-being becomes less dependent on God and more dependent upon how he’s feeling about his chances on any given day.
My counsel to the person eager to hear a calling would be the same as it would be to someone who is eager to find a spouse: pursue the things you love that God is putting in front of you in this moment. Then pay attention for what God might do as you do that. And as you go, hold it loosely. Loosen your grip on that thing you want so badly. Trust God with it. It sounds counter-intuitive, I know.
I had a conversation recently with a long-time buddy from high school and college. We were ministry majors together. When we graduated, he had hoped to go into full-time, paid ministry, but it never worked out for him. Instead he took a job in sales with a recruiting and staffing firm. He was in that industry for 12 years until God called him into fundraising and recruiting for a global missions organization. He said to me, “I had always wondered what God was going to do with that 12 years of experience…and now I know.” I’m not sure God’s providence looks like behind the curtain of human experience, but I feel confident about this: God is extremely crafty in using every experience we have to serve his purposes, even if it seems like a waste of time to us in the moment. To be clear: this is not to say that you haven’t arrived until you get a full-time, paid ministry job. The truth is that his sales job wasn’t a waste of time at all – both because of those he was able to love and serve through his sales job, and also because of the preparation it gave him.
Remember Daniel-son and Mr. Miagi from Karate Kid? Daniel wondered why in the world he was painting the fence and waxing the car, until he discovered that Mr. Miagi was indirectly building the skill-set to do what Daniel was called to do. God and Mr. Miagi have something in common.
What other actions help a person discover her/his calling?