Recently, a former student in our high school ministry reached out to me to ask whether he should pursue a career in student ministry.
What a huge decision!
How do you respond in a helpful way to a question like that?
Maybe you’re the one asking the question, “Is God calling me into that?” or “Away from this?”
How do you discern whether or not God is calling you?
How do you help others–co-workers, people you lead, your kids–discern these questions?
These are big and important questions that affect the trajectory of lives.
I recently read A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald, and he provides a simple synopsis of how a calling could be confirmed.
What follows is MacDonald’s categories and ideas, combined with my own spin, and a few personal stories.
I hope it’s helpful.
Biblically speaking, a calling always begins with God.
Moses, Jeremiah, and Paul’s callings all began with God communicating a specific purpose for their life.
Now, you probably haven’t experienced any burning bushes or blinding lights, but perhaps you have a sense, a God-given passion, or you’re experiencing a nudge.
Or, maybe it’s something more like what Eric Liddle describes in Chariots of Fire. “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
You know that God is pleased when you do that thing.
Overt or subtle, a calling always involves God speaking direction or purpose into your life.
MacDonald argues that a calling is almost always confirmed by others in the church.
As I look back on my life, I can see a pattern of confirmation concerning my calling to preach.
- When I was in high school, though I knew next to nothing about teaching the Scriptures, when I invited my fellow students to attend a weekly Bible study led by me, they showed up, sometimes in large numbers.
- During my senior year, my youth pastor and dad urged me to choose a college specializing in ministry training. They saw a ministry future in me.
- After preaching my first sermon in a weekend service as a youth pastor, a leading member of the congregation said, “You’re going to be a good preacher someday,” which was simultaneously encouraging and humbling. Someday?!? So, today wasn’t that good then?
- Although I never requested the role, leadership in my current church invited me to preach in our weekend services.
These are examples of confirmation.
I’m not sharing these examples to brag. I’m sharing them to illustrate that a calling comes with confirmation.
If you are wrestling with whether you are being called into something, these are some great questions to ask:
- Has this desire been with me for as long as I can remember, or is it new?
- Am I seeking this role, or am I being invited into it?
- Are you receiving positive feedback from unsolicited sources?
As a young Jesus follower, I struggled to understand the difference between a guilt trip and a calling.
Every time our church had an emphasis week on missions, I struggled with the thought, “If I don’t become a missionary to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, then I’m not a real Christian!”
And, every time my college hosted our annual missions conference, I would almost change my major.
I’m not saying that missions isn’t important. And, I’m not saying that no one is called into missions.
Some of us might even be running from a call to missions right now and need to obey our calling!
What I am saying is I’m personally not called to missions. I’m not gifted in it.
Here’s the deal: a calling is almost always paired with gifting.
There are outlier examples, but usually, gifting is a clear indicator of a calling.
In other words, God probably won’t call you to be a worship pastor if you don’t have musical abilities.
You might be saying, “Well duh,” but there was a time in my life where that wasn’t so obvious.
In my mid-20s, I almost moved halfway across the country to become a worship pastor.
Here’s the thing: at that time, I loved leading worship and I loved music, but I’m a hack musician.
I can play the guitar and my singing voice is decent, but I need a Capo and can’t even sing harmony.
I know, I know. I’ve heard all the, “Well, just try this and you’ll be able to sing harmony.” Look, not this guy. I just can’t hear it.
My point is, I’m not gifted to lead worship.
I have some basic skills and enjoy it. It’s not my life’s calling.
I was privileged to lead worship in our student ministries for over a decade, but I don’t do it anymore.
Why? Because it’s not my calling.
The time came a few years ago for me to shift my focus toward preaching and leave worship leading to those who the Spirit truly gifts to do that work.
If you’re wondering if you’re called to something, ask yourself questions like this:
- Am I gifted in this area?
- Does this come very naturally to me?
- Do I find this easier to do than most people?
Concerning preaching, people often say to me, “You make it look easy” or “How do you memorize a 40-minute sermon?”
The answers have nothing to do with my awesomeness.
The answers have everything to do with the gifting of the Spirit.
MacDonald’s last category is results.
Another word that could be used here is fruit.
Of course, some might argue this point. “Hey, Jeremiah was called and the people didn’t exactly repent.”
I get it.
What I’m saying is that usually, a calling that is empowered by the Spirit of God leads to fruit.
Your calling should positively impact your church, workplace, or family.
If your calling is to lead, the organization should get stronger and better.
If your calling is to reach the lost, people should be coming to faith.
If your calling is to preach, you should be hearing stories of God’s movement in the hearts of your congregation.
Before I wrap up, let me add one more way to clarify whether or not you are being called into something.
I’ll call this the Jonah Effect.
The Jonah Effect
In my experience, when God calls you to a specific purpose, it is not an optional assignment.
It is a matter of obedience.
Jonah disobeyed his calling to bring God’s message to the people of Nineveh when he sailed in the opposite direction.
I believe I am called to preach.
I’ll be honest; I find preaching to be incredibly difficult and draining.
I pour hours and hours into study and preparation so I can deliver three heartfelt and clear messages during our weekend services.
By Sunday afternoon, I am exhausted on a level that is hard to describe.
If you’re a preacher, you might understand the psychological and emotional drain.
I find it incredibly hard and draining work, but I know, deep in my bones, that I have to do this work.
To run from it would be to disobey God.
My point is this: You know you are called when you understand deep down you have to do this.
If I don’t, I know someday in the future, I will stand before God and He will say something like, “I called you. I confirmed it. I gifted you for it. You saw the impact of it, and yet you ran from it.”
I believe I would be held accountable.
I hope this is helpful for you.
I pray that it helps you discern whether God is calling you or someone close to you toward a specific role or task.