Jon Tyson wrote a great article last week called, Driven vs. Called, where he revealed two ways we find motivation to serve. One is from a sense of calling, where God directs us to do something; the other is drive, which Tyson identifies as the pressures of ministry. The latter is steeped in a high view of our own merit, a low view of Christ’s work in us, and will end up draining the most well-meaning Christian. But there’s another motivation that confronts divine calling. It’s need.
A lot of urgencies are menial, tedious things, such as crisis management, pressing needs in the community, issues that other people want you to champion, even answering email, replying to texts, and making important phone calls. Many of these things are necessary, but as Stephen Covey brilliantly suggested, they are pressing, and this is what makes them so difficult—they are the needs that demand the most attention. And because they demand attention, they sometimes steal attention from those things which are most important, though not always urgent.
Important things can include vision, passions, preventative measures, forward-movement, planning, and in this case, calling: those things we know God has led us to do, not more or less.
My dad and I once had to tear out an entire yard of ivy. The garden used to be beautiful—full of other plant life, but now, it’s just an enclave of overbearing vines. My dad explained that this ivy might look nice in a potted plant, but once it lays down roots it will quickly take over. After that, you’re done growing anything else—it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problem. That’s kind of what it’s like to be need driven. You say yes to so many urgent needs, that you have no time to spend for the things that are most important; it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problems.
But instead of learning from them, we use their stories to bury ourselves further in the pressure to be better (i.e., more productive) Christians! For example, we read of all the radical things that happen from Genesis to Revelation, and think that a faithful Christian life should include all said things. But not even Jesus did everything. For example, he was called, not to the Gentiles, but specifically to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24)—even though Jesus’ mission was a part of God’s redemptive plan for the Gentiles. Even the things that Jesus did, were not always done. For example, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Why not? Because He said that he came to do “the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34; 6:38). Jesus was call-driven. He got his call from His Father. And in the grand scope of the Biblical story, we see that Jesus wasn’t being heartless; he was committed to that which mattered most. And eventually, his obedience would offer salvation and redemption to everyone with needs.
How does this slice of God’s redemptive plan, as seen in Jesus ministry, shape our practice? First, consider a few things.
1. We have union with Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live like him.
A part of that enablement comes, albeit counterintuitively, when we focus, not on what we need to get done, but on what has been done for us in Jesus. The Gospel, then, becomes the motivation we need to do what we are called to, and to not do everything life demands of us. Why?
2. Because we trust in the sovereignty of God to handle the universe and it’s overwhelming needs.
God’s satisfaction in us through Christ frees us from the pressures of doing everything; and in moments of self-doubt, we can continually fall back on those things we must to do, not those things we should do.
Our union with Christ allows us to enter into the freedom of being call-driven, and frees us from the pressures of answering every need. Eventually, every real need will be met in Jesus. We are called to be faithful.
Emergencies happen, you attend to them. Problems arise, you solve them. Things break, you fix them. Sometimes it feels like you’re just waking up reacting to life. Ever feel like your spinning your wheels on temporary nonsense?
Sometimes, I’ll come up with a dream of sorts—nothing big, but still important—for example, a project to work on my car. Of course this will NEVER get done, because the phone rings, the appointments stack up, and other projects arise that are more urgent than the things I wish I could get to. That’s the key word, by the way: urgent. Urgent will drive you crazy. Urgent will also steal all of your time, and if you let it, will be happy to do so. There will always be exceptions to anything, but I would like to share something I’ve learned from my church that has revolutionized my calendar.
You don’t have to save the world from all its problems. In fact, you can’t…to think so would be naive, at best, and arrogant, at the worst. Most of us know this, and don’t expect one another to handle all of life’s garbage from a global perspective. And yet, on a personal level, we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by every urgent matter that speaks loudly enough! May I suggest a better way?
If you answer every offer given, every emergency that comes up, and every opportunity that arises, you by nature are a need-driven individual. Your actions are determined by whatever need presents itself at the moment, and are reactionary by default. You’re driving motivation is the need, and your hope is that you can solve every need. You will quickly self-destruct under the weight.
Being call-driven is world’s apart. You will still be presented with all the same problems, all the same opportunities, and offers in which to engage.
When you are call-driven, you are not obligated to say yes to everything. In fact, you’ll find yourself saying “no” more often. But the basis for saying “no” is not cruelty or insensitivity, but an understanding that you are only capable of handling so many things, and a desire to devote your life to a few important things. Of course, it is easy to abuse this as a cop-out for being lazy. Don’t question whether you are called to help a senior citizen with their groceries (common sense), or if you are to refrain from gluttony (biblical sense).
Pray. Seek the face of God. Urgent things are not always your things.
Take the problems and opportunities of your life, and lay them before Jesus in prayer. Then do what he places on your heart.