The “Calling” versus the “Dream Job”

In the prophetic books of the Old Testament, we see many examples of what are termed “call narratives.” A call narrative is when God chooses a person to be His mouthpiece, basically, and speak His words and warnings to His people. Not all of the prophets in the Bible have these narratives; however, Samuel, Jeremiah, and even Moses have clear moments when God sends them on a mission on His behalf. In each instance, the call was so great that the chosen men protested, citing their limitations or background or whatever reason they felt they were unworthy to do the work that God had called them to do.

Samuel was a young boy who was just becoming familiar with the voice of God. When he answered God’s call, he could not have imagined that it would be to bring judgment upon the sons of his own mentor, the prophet Eli (1 Samuel 3:9-21). From Samuel, we get the phrase, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Jeremiah was also young. When the Lord called him, he protested precisely because of his age and lack of experience speaking before crowds, but God told him: “‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.'” (Jeremiah 1:7-8).

Moses actually had a speech impediment. When God called him to liberate the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and to tell the pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses was absolutely terrified. How could he speak to the pharaoh if, well, he could not speak? Not only that, but the book of Exodus recounts his escape from Egypt after accidentally killing a man. Moses was on the lam. He might still be a wanted man, and God is telling him to go back??? Fortunately, God assuaged his fears by telling him that his brother Aaron would do all the talking, but God would use Moses to show His power and miracles to Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus: the entirety of chapter 3, and chapter 4:1-17).

I thought about the concept of call after a conversation I had with a young man while we were both waiting for the train at Princeton Junction at a quarter to 2 in the morning a few weeks ago. (Yes; you read that correctly. It’s a long story). In the midst of trying to figure out the train schedule, we also conversed about our education and career plans. After I confessed that I was pursuing a career in ministry, the young man made a comment along the lines of “There are more than enough people in the church.”

Of course, that comment stung a bit. But I understood the point of his statement. First of all, he was also a believer, so this wasn’t coming from an atheist attacking the church as an institution. The issue was about what the church can contribute to the community.

Within the church, there are different ministries and different callings. Some people are called to evangelize and impact people outside of the church. Others are called to build up and exhort other Christians. In this more modern age, there has actually been a growth in ministries of social justice where the church intentionally takes up the issues of the poor and marginalised. This young man’s question was more along the lines of, what can I, as a minister (or worship leader…I don’t remember how much I massaged the truth while talking to this stranger), do for the inequalities that plague communities of color?

This is where the concept of calling becomes relevant. I am actually trained as a sociologist. My undergraduate degree is in Sociology, but I am clueless when it comes to social work. Those are like completely different worlds to me. When I think of the work I can do, I think of research that contributes to the creation of social policies that, in turn, influence the impact of social workers.

I contrast the concept of call with the idea of the “dream job”: the career that is well-paying and allows you to use all of your gifts and gives you a sense of fulfillment. It’s the answer to the question, “If you could do anything in the world and get paid for it, what would it be?”

Now, Psalm 34:4 states, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I believe this verse is saying that the more we seek God; the more we find joy in His presence and His person, the more God will transform our hearts to desire what He desires. At first, it may seem as if God will give us whatever our hearts desire if we delight in him, but I don’t believe this is the case.

First, what happens when our hearts desire something that is not good for us? What if, for instance, there is someone that you love or an opportunity that you desire? You go to God in prayer and say, “Lord please let me date X”; “or please let X hire me.” But God may not answer those prayers if a) He sees that X is toxic before you do, or b) X is a job environment that would actually deter you from the purpose that God wants you to fulfill.

I believe this is why Jeremiah tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9) If you tack on to this the effects of the Fall and the human’s sin nature, maybe it would be much better for our faithfulness to God to result in God making us reflect His desires. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

In the Hebrew of the Tanakh (the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible), the same word is used for mind and heart (lev). For instance, in Deuteronomy 6:5, God tells the newly liberated Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (strength meaning material wealth, or ‘means’).” The word used for heart is also lev: “b’kol l’vavcha: with all your heart.”

I believe that the more we seek God, the more He will give us the ability to transform our minds (and our hearts) through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God leads us in the direction of our dream job. Our dream job and our calling should be similar. God gives us the ability to impact our communities and nations, and maybe even the world, by using the gifts that He has already given to us. When our God-given gifts converge with our God-given passions and meet a need that exists in the world, we find our calling. This is a concept allegedly as old as Aristotle, who is quoted as saying, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”

So, my calling is not social work. It’s not to be a sociologist or a political commentator. For me, I have to start with the need and work my way down. Regardless of what society looks like; whether it is a time of peace or war, or a time of inequality or a utopian equality, people will always need Jesus. My passion is the prophetic proclamation of God’s word, in whatever form or context it may be. (Prophetic meaning that both liberal Christians and charismatic Christians are correct. Yes, prophets were speaking out against injustice, but that was also the word from God for their day. If God is still speaking to our social conditions today, I believe it will come in ways we don’t expect). As to my gifts…*Scooby Doo ruh-ro sound*…I think God will help me develop them.

If you’ve ever experienced doubt about your calling or purpose in life:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Don’t overthink it.
  3. Do think about what you love to do. What gives you joy?
    1. For me, that’s pretty much anything in the church. The presence of God, worshipping God, studying God’s word, speaking the words of God…
    2. I also work pretty well with kids, which is not something I would have expected.
  4. Alternatively, what grieves you? What will you stand on your soapbox for? Or die on a hill for?
    1. Something that bothers me is seeing broken families. For any reason. Whether a parent is imprisoned, or parents were separated/divorced, a child was lost (either intentionally or unintentionally). I’ve considered researching pro-life organizations because many of them are concerned about all aspects of a child’s life after birth. Once someone has made the decision to keep a child rather than abort him/her, how do we make it easier to care for the child and help him/her to thrive and live a healthy life?
  5. What feedback have you received from other people? Maybe everyone says that you’re more loving than the average person, or extremely intelligent.

Think about where these categories intersect. And get input from a spiritual director or pastor. Spiritual direction is an amazingly helpful resource. Spiritual directors are like therapists, except they help you with your prayer life/spiritual life/calling, etc. Here’s an article from Christianity Today: What Is Spiritual Direction?

Jeremiah 29: Dealing with the Stigma of Exile

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This blog post is, like many of my theological insights, completely spontaneous. I was re-reading Jeremiah 29, the passage that my pastor preached on this past Sunday, and I got an additional insight. Unlike most exegeses of Jeremiah 29, this one does not include Jeremiah 29:11, in which the Lord tells the exiled Israelites: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This exclusion wasn’t on purpose. My brain just took a different turn.

Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had taken many of the Israelites into exile/captivity. All they wanted was to go home (see Psalm 137: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”). However, through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells them to get ready to stay for seventy years; to plan to settle down and get comfortable (Jer. 29:5-10):

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper….This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.'”

exile

(Photo credit: http://treasureboxmy.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-babylonian-captivity-exile-2.html)

Unfortunately, the people did not want to hear this message. In fact, a man named Shemaiah from Nehelaim accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet. Surely the Lord would not want us to endure exile! He will come and save us, just like He saved us in Egypt!

(Author’s Note: How long were y’all in Egypt, again? *insert quirky, motivational message about waiting on God through our circumstances*).

Shemaiah then asked Zephaniah to punish Jeremiah, like they had been punishing all of the prophets who spoke unfavorable prophecies:

“The LORD has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the LORD, you should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons. So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you? He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore, build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (29:27-28).

(Invoking the Lord’s name to do something the Lord did NOT command you to do? Hmm…this should end well…)

Re-reading this passage could not have come at a better time for me. Even though I have no plans to move, a thought that keeps running through my mind is that I don’t want to learn how to drive or buy a car because such a major purchase implies that I am ready to settle down somewhere and stay; I wanted to always allow for the possibility of packing up and leaving without too many personal items. It’s an irrational thought, because I have nowhere to go, yet I think it quite often.

I am not in exile. I am in a town where I spent most of my childhood before going away (not that far away) for college and seminary. But I can relate to the Israelites. There is a stigma attached to many places in the United States, and, like the Israelites, I just want to go home. But I have nowhere that I could call home. At least not anymore.

So I have to take to heart the words of Jeremiah to be content where I am, whether on a national or local level. To make my mom’s old apartment into a home of which I can be proud and where I can be the domestic hostess I’ve always dreamt of being; to participate in the social life of my community instead of always running off to “the best old place of all”; and, especially, to seek the welfare of my city (and country) through prayer, civic engagement, and political participation.

God has a purpose for us where He has put us. Acts 17:26 states, “From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

The English Revised Version states: “God began by making one man, and from him he made all the different people who live everywhere in the world. He decided exactly when and where they would live.”

New Year Goals for 2018

I am notorious for not following through with New Year’s Resolutions.

(Or, maybe, you can’t be notorious if no one knows you haven’t made progress on your resolutions, because you haven’t told anyone).

Because of this, I’m making some SMART goals. I learned about SMART goals through my field education programme, but they seem to be a thing in general. SMART goals are:

SPECIFIC: Can be articulated succintly

MEASURABLE: You and others can see the progress that you made on your goal.

ACHIEVABLE: You have enough power/capability/resources to make it happen.

RELEVANT: It relates to the stage of life you are currently in.

TIMELY or TIMEBOUND: It can take place during a specific period of time.

With that in mind, my SMART goals for 2018 are:

  1. To be more honest with myself and others. I had a moment last week when I realised that I have multiple versions of myself depending on my audience. The persona I exhibit at home is different from my persona at work and at school, which is different from who I am when I am alone. I don’t think this is healthy. And at some point, changing myself in order to please other people results in compromising on pleasing God. 1 Jn. 2:15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (KJV)
  2. Seek God more. I’m the type of person that prays intermittently, and when I do, it’s always to ask God FOR something. I want to change that this year by spending more time with God in different ways. I have already begun that by joining a group bible plan for the year. I’m also going to decide if I should start fasting/more often. At the moment I have 2-3 major decisions to make and am deciding whether fasting and praying will give me more clarity. I hope that it will also have spiritual benefits for me. If I am 100% sure that God is leading me to fast, it will be to determine whether or not 1) I should join a denomination or 2) be ordained as a pastor. There are pros and cons to each:
    1. Denomination: I was “raised” so to speak in the classic Pentecostal church (not the new apostolic movement) and still identify fully with its conservative values because I view them as scriptural. However, during my time in seminary, God has allowed me to work as an intern in a young adult ministry affiliated with a Presbyterian Church (USA), a notably progressive/liberal denomination. I also attend a PCUSA seminary. So question #1 is: “What community does God want me to join?”
    2. Ordination: Full disclosure: I am a woman. Depending on the authority people give to the Bible, some may think that women should not be allowed to preach to adult men. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with that point, because to me it is a matter of interpretation and authorship. I believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God. I was not there when it was written, so I can neither defend nor condemn Paul and his writings. However, I am fortunate (I think?) that my current strengths and interests do not require ordination into pastoral ministry. My key areas are ideally worship ministry and young women’s ministry. That being said, question #2 is related to question #1: “Once I join a denominational community (if any), what is my calling? What are the gifts that God has given me, and what is the role that I am to play?” Alternatively, this may result in my working in academia or motherhood or law or something completely outside of the church. I want to practice listening to God and acting by faith on what I hear (or what I think I hear?)

For this section, the scripture is Matt. 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The passage this was taken from is all about not worrying about the future, but Philippians 4:6 also says: “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known unto God.” (Both taken from KJV). Thus, we pray.

3. Marriage. I am almost embarrassed to admit this to the public, but this has been on my heart for years, and it’s quite annoying, tbh. However, one thing I am grateful for is the whole “He who finds a wife” thing (Proverbs 18:22) because nowhere am I expected to do anything except sit pretty, love the Lord, and be holy. Which is good, because no way am I about to ask a boy anything #anxiety, am i right? I do like 1 Corinthians 7:34-35: “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” (KJV) Ultimately, what I want to do is “attend upon the Lord” and will be satisfied with whatever state helps me to do that best.