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?

A “60-minute” reflection (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) and my experience at IHOP, the International House of Prayer, NOT Pancakes

 

 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Today, out of a desire to find a quiet and peaceful space to read, pray, and reflect, I decided to go to the International House of Prayer (IHOP). IHOP is a church model that started in the 1990s, based off of the temple worship in the Old Testament. Their mission comes from Leviticus 6:9, which states: “‘Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the burnt offering. The burnt offering must be left on top of the altar until the next morning, and the fire on the altar must be kept burning all night.” (New Living Translation)

IHOP has multiple locations. Its headquarters are in Kansas City, Missouri, where it was founded. I visited the house of prayer in New Jersey. Unlike the Kansas City location, which operates 24/7, the NJ location does not–at least, not yet. However, the same motivation applies. People volunteer to lead worship whenever their schedule allows. They have musicians, worship leaders, devotional leaders, intercessors, and people who offer other types of prayer. Anyone can apply as long as their church leadership approves and they are willing to abide by IHOP’s standards of purity, which are pretty much traditional Christian standards of “holiness” and “set-apart-ness.”

I spent a few hours there. My usual devotion schedule involves reading and interacting with a pre-written YouVersion Bible devotional and then just journalling anything that comes to mind. These can be anything from prayers to word studies. Since I had already completed my morning reading, I decided to resume my attempt to read through the Bible in a year. (I don’t know how well I’m doing if I’m in Job and 1 Corinthians at the end of July, though). I read 1 Corinthians 7-14 and focused on 1 Corinthians 7:32, 34-35. Let’s look at it together:

“I want you to be free from the concerns of this life….A woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” –the Apostle Paul, New Living Translation

I’ve always known that I want to serve God, since I was six years old. I suppose if we’re speaking “Christianese,” we could say that I received a call from God to ministry when I was a child, about 18 years ago, but I still haven’t received the professional “call” that happens when someone finally settles into the specific church, missions base, or community that God wants them to serve.

I wanted to be like Anna in the temple, or like David, when he wrote in Psalm 27:4-5 that the one thing he sought from the Lord was to dwell in His house and to “seek Him in His temple.” I wanted to be like an IHOP worship leader. There was something about being in church that I never wanted to leave when I was six. At the time, I think I was associating church with the presence of God. (Now I know that the presence of God is everywhere God’s people are and everywhere He is welcomed).

So, I’ve always wanted to serve God. I’ve always wanted to seek God’s presence. BUT, I’ve also really wanted to be married. Now, considering Paul’s words above, do you see my dilemma?

I’ve had this image in my mind for years–probably since college, maybe even my senior year of high school–of myself and my husband serving God together and raising all 3-5 of our children to seek Him as well. (Yeah…I want a lot of kids. God willing, I hope I can be a good mom). I’ve always admired the couples who lead ministries or do missions together.

What about you? Have you ever planned your family around your call to ministry?

Considering these desires I’ve had since childhood, I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship if it will distract me from my sense of call, which is also my source of joy and fulfillment. If I start dating, and my person of interest doesn’t share my values or my commitment to raising God-fearing children and seeking God together as a family–he ain’t the one.

So, my prayer for myself and any ladies who may come across this blog entry is this:

God, please send us men with whom we can serve You. Men who share our devotion to You and who also prioritize a strong Christian home. We don’t know what You will have us do specifically, where we are called to go, or if we are called to work with a partner. But we pray that You will help us to serve You singlemindedly and wholeheartedly, “with as few distractions as possible.” And for those of us who are not called to marriage, we thank you for the grace to truly give our hearts, bodies, and spirits to your service. Whichever way you would have us serve, we say “Here I am!” Amen. 

God’s heart for you: “Better is One Day” – Trey McLaughlin Cover