Adventurous? Exciting? Perhaps through a prophetic word, a confirmation, an opportunity; maybe it came through a divine revelation, the kind that gnaws at you when you lie in bed, and consumes your thoughts; or a burden, as though you felt the very heart of the Lord on the matter. Regardless of the form it takes, one thing is certain. God calls us to obey—often in ways outside of our comfort zone—and that, in all of its accompanying mystery, is exciting. I remember when Brianna and I experienced God’s calling on our life, and the urge we felt to obey God right that moment. We immediately rearranged our lives, not to mention our emotional and mental state of mind. Unfortunately, that calling never materialized, and we were both left wondering if we heard from God all those years.
The examples of my friend, Dominic Balli, are also exemplar. In one conversation I had with him, he brought up some dreams and ambitions in music stirring in his heart, which he pursued for years, some of which are only just now transpiring. After we shared mutual stories (and laughs), he pointed out that many of those grand callings God gave to him didn’t take place for eight to ten years later! That left me with a sobering thought: When God gives you a calling, he is not necessarily giving you the timing.
Why am I saying this?
For example, I hear lines like these a lot:
“I’m called to ministry—right now!”
“I’m supposed to be with that guy/girl—right now!”
“God’s calling me to this job—right now!”
“God is telling me to move to Russia—right now!”
“I think we are supposed to get married—right now!”
But sometimes God may indeed call you to the former, while you mistakenly assume the latter. And unless you hear God giving you a time, or a specific command to “move immediately” you should consider that He might be revealing the ambiguity of his plans just to excite you, or refocus your attention on him, not so you can “help” make it happen. When you rush too quickly, you end up working outside of His will by pursuing a God-given calling through power-hungry cravings and willpower; God never blesses those self-reliant efforts. In any place outside of God’s will, your calling will likely not happen the way you envisioned, and you will find yourself entertaining all sorts of explanations, dead ends, and endless circles of bewildering excuses. Kind of like where we were at in the beginning of the story. Where did we go wrong? We moved without him telling us when. And we can call it radical all we want. Premature obedience is still disobedience.
Gen 37:3-8 (HCSB)
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
Joseph ends the first book of the Bible with a lofty calling, to save all of Egypt. Yet, he blabs his calling (which came in a dream) and ends up exacerbating the divide between the brothers that already hated him for the favoritism shown him by his father.
Luke 2:15-19 (HCSB)
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
This might be the greatest calling on earth! An angel shows up in the home of a poor, Jewish woman during the Roman empire, to tell her that she will carry the incarnate God of the universe to term…as a baby!?! Had I received a revelation a fraction of that weight, I would have posted it instantly on Facebook, and perhaps started an Event Page to get things rolling. You know, all grassroots style. But notice her response to this astonishing message in the last verse: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (19). No wonder she was so “highly favored” (Luke 1:28, KJV). We have much to learn from her.
What should you take from all of this? Simple.
Store it away in your heart for prayer, rumination, further confirmation, introspection, community discernment, the council of your elders, and the sovereign hand of God to move your calling into a place in history. Refuse to succumb to impulses brought on by your insecurities and desire for position, security, or control. And enjoy this process, for it is often in the waiting that God prepares you for the calling.
Congratulations—you’re normal! And for all your lack in discerning God’s specific calling, you can still find enough comfort through the everyday wisdom he will graciously supply to you.
What happened to some of those dreams and ambitions Brianna and I had? To put it in Dominic’s words, we realized they may not happen for 10 years—maybe even 50 years! So we stored those things away in our hearts, and decided to live in the present. This is true of everyone: God can change the course of your life 50 years from now, but why would you waste the next 50 years thinking about it? As Brianna and I decided to immerse ourselves fully in the present, we realized that God had a tremendous calling on our lives right now–something we couldn’t imagine and have never suffered regret over. It has been so liberating and exciting to follow in that. Do you have a burden on your heart for something, somewhere, or someone that is not yet materializing? Store it in your heart, keep your hand on the plow, and your eyes on Jesus. Very little else matters.
“Lazo, God is calling me to be a pastor.”
“I think I’m being called into the ministry.”
“I have a heart for missions.”
“I want to be a church planter.”
As one who is in a full-time “ministry” vocation, I can’t help but get excited when others are sensing a similar calling. But I also can’t help but be a bit perplexed. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Lazo, I think God is calling me to be a school teacher!” or, “Chris, I think I’m being called to work at Habit Burger for a season!” or, “God is calling me to be a carpenter! Can you pray for me?” The only callings I ever hear about, as if these are the only ones that are worth a Christian’s excitement, have to do with some type of clerical ministry.
Maybe we think that the only way to be faithful to God in our work, is if we are working for God in His church. It was normative in the middle ages to bifurcate the work of priests from that of the “laity.” In other words, if you wanted to do “holy” work, you had to get a job with the church. Everything else was menial. Of course, this divide was one of the false teachings that Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, and many reformers after them were quick to deny. For one, the doctrine of common grace reveals that there is no such divide between sacred and secular, for the entire sphere of life is under the domain of God’s benevolence. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch reformer, was famous for championing this worldview. He opined that if common grace is true “the curse should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life” (Kuyper, Lectures. 30). Secondly, God no longer sanctifies jobs, as he did in the Old Testament cultus, with its priestly duties and unique ministerial work. In the New Covenant, God sanctifies people (Heb. 2:11; 10:10; 13:12). This means that a vocation is sanctified by the Christian working in it, without separation between secular work and ministry. A carpenter is on the same mission as a pastor.
Unfortunately, many Christians carry on the same dreary divide between sacred and secular to this day. This is not to say that we don’t need callings in vocational ministry today. We do! But roughly 1% of a church assembly will ever go into “church” ministry. The overwhelming majority of a church membership will be in the world of science, arts, education, politics, technology, law, retail, etc. If our mindset is still stuck in the middle ages, many church-goers will not think of their vocations as holy callings, but menial jobs to trudge through before they find something more meaningful. But the church of Christ needs a renewal in its sense of vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister. We need school teachers who feel called by God to teach math. We need CEO’s who believe God has set them apart to lead well. We need construction workers who build for more than the paycheck. We need scientists who want to discover the world of God. We need grocery baggers who love to make grocers feel welcome and the environment hospitable. We need baristas who know how to deflect the grumpy demeanor of a sleepy customer with a smile and a mean cup of coffee.
But nonetheless, this divide continues still. Even our perception of what faithfulness means in a secular vocation is still highly spiritualized. For example, if we do suppose that our secular vocation is a calling of God, then we limit our understanding of job faithfulness to, say, evangelism, or perhaps the hope that a Bible study will spontaneously appear in the break room. But what about the content of our job descriptions? Do we think everything but doing our jobs well is what God is calling us to do? The Apostle Paul’s calling on every Christian is that “each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17, HCSB).
Timothy Keller quotes Dorothy Sayers in his book Every Good Endeavor,
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. (Creed or Chaos, 56-7, emphasis mine)
Keller describes this as the “ministry of competence,” where Scripture directs skilled men and woman of God to greatness in what they do, faithfulness with their callings, and integrity in the workplace (76). The majority of Christians are not called to leave the secular behind to pursue ministerial vocations. We are called to be faithful where God has us now.
Think of the impact that simple stewardship of work would have on the world around us. If it is true that only 1% of a local church will ever pursue vocational ministry, than what of the 99%? Now I know that being a faithful employee will not save the lost. Nor will cultural transformation, or relational evangelism. Only the proclamation of the gospel can act as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the dead to life (Rom 10:14-15). But if we Christians worked well in the field of our employment, perhaps our co-workers would take us more seriously when we share the story of redemption. Or even better, maybe they will start to ask us.
A while back, I pointed out how the relentless pampering of an older generation has cultured Millennials. Soon after, we mulled over the lack of opportunities to spend our inherited greatness. Now we have a group of young people who feel that they’ve wasted their potential. An environment of coddling with no opportunities is a cruel trick.
But not as cruel as the trick you play on yourself by going to college.
Higher ed is what they tell every Millennial to do after graduating high school, yet no one explains how this is going to help. As far as we know, it’s a magical band-aid.
Sooner of later, you find yourself disappointed for toiling those four years, expecting a significant job, with benefits, and a $40K annual return, yet only experiencing cold-calls and shoulder shrugs. It turns out, that college degree is not as magical as you thought.
The one thing I would tell college students before they packed their bags for school…
If you don’t have an end, you’re wasting a significant portion of the most important years of your life, and many Millennials are, by drooling over college degrees as the end goal of their purpose and life.
Too many bright, young people with potential are getting bogged down with useless (and expensive) education that you can learn from a $10 book on Amazon, while gaining experience in the field. There are a few fields out there that require an undergrad, but it’s often higher education that employers are looking for now, and even a Master’s degree will not a guarantee you a job in this economy. Of course, to get a Master’s degree in anything means you already have a plan that you are following. But many college students don’t have a plan. They have college, their magical band-aid in a world gone downhill. Don’t be that person.
Going to an expensive college hoping a B.A. will be your redeemer will not better your situation in life or end AIDS in Africa like you had hoped. Only ideas running through the minds of driven people will get close to that. And when driven people with crazy ideas stay in love with Jesus and God’s mission, things get really exciting. So if college doesn’t serve an end in mind, you will have wasted four years chasing something that was only slowing down God’s plan for your life. Higher education is a wonderful tool, but only when you know where you’re going. And there isn’t a curriculum for that; prayer and supplication must bring it to life (Phi. 4:6).
The first post was a wake up call. I know you all like it more when I write inspiring posts about Millennials—after all, I am one, and at a DOB of 1981, I barely made it!—but I can’t help noticing a bad trend emerging from those of us who are called to speak into the lives of Millennials.
The world isn’t always fair. There are not always opportunities open for us to waltz into, and this has caused many to feel ripped off. It’s true for college leaders, as well. We love that you are the promised generation! We have also placed so much hope in you, that we are sometimes quick to disregard the entire picture, that circumstances do not always turn out ideal, and in ignoring reality, we sometimes explain away a basic understanding that life is unromantic. You are given great gifts, talents, and education, only to find that life has given you the shaft.
But God has plenty of opportunity for you in his mission.
While you may not get a high-paying job with benefits right out of college, your calling in life will always concern being on God’s mission to make disciples of the nations and your city. I want to propose a biblical worldview of calling.
You have not been seasoned for this moment to make much of yourself and career, but to put God’s eternal purposes on display. God is out to renew creation, from the material nature of the environment, to structures, cultures, and societies. And of course, he is in the process of renewing and restoring a broken group of humanity for his own glory. Approach life differently.
That’s redemption. It means your life is not wasted. It means God is not ignoring you. It means there is a plan. And it means you are in the middle of it, albeit, one larger than yourself. This is what Peter was referring to when saying that “As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” ( 1 Peter 4:10-11). Even if you’re stuck in a dead-end job; the glorious mission of God is always available to you in the form of servanthood, for in the serving of others, you loosen the fragrance of Jesus.
We were made for more.
When generational experts, Neil Howe and William Strauss, wrote their defining book on Millennials, they highlighted our generation’s pros and cons, namely, that we had a desire to achieve greatness, and our parent’s generation was the driving force behind this.
Some mothers will recall the tragic crime in September 1982, when “a cyanide-tainted Tylenol triggered an October wave of parental panic over trick-or-treating” (Howe and Strauss, 43). On its heels was a “national hysteria over the sexual abuse of toddlers,” an immediate distaste for classic 80’s horror flicks victimizing children, replaced with a flood of sitcoms portraying kids as the heroes. While parents filtered the family television, American school teachers experienced a newfound pressure to raise better kids in the classroom. And the trend continued.
By the time we reached grade school, we had already adopted a skip in our step (or perhaps a leap in our step). And why not? We were being preened to take over the world by an earlier generation that wanted to leave a better legacy. We evolved from the latchkey kids of our ancestors to kids inheriting all the keys on the latch.
Millennials are unlike any generation that has gone before. And because of this, there is an overwhelming pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, the opportunities available to an aspiring millennial are underwhelming enough to damper the passion of the most resolute college grad. Our parents didn’t just leave us with a different outlook on life, they left us with a different life. Look no farther than a broken economy, steep living prices, and a job famine. It’s as if someone taught us how to fish in the middle of the Sahara. The world’s greatest generation, pampered with hopeful expectations, and sheltered from the grim truth of everything our parents never wanted us to experience. How do we handle this? Can we take advantage of the momentum we’ve been given?
Billy Graham has preached the gospel to 2.2 billion people . According to his staff, 3.2 million people have responded to his gospel message. Gnarly numbers, right?
Now imagine that God’s calling on Billy Graham was to preach the gospel to 4 billion people. What would that do to his numbers? Wouldn’t that mean that he was unfaithful with his calling?
Now imagine that God put you where you are, to work the job that you have, and cultivate the relationships you are in for the glory of God. And let’s say that God had a calling on you to preach the gospel to that one person you’re always eating lunch with in the cafeteria. Let’s also imagine you did, and the person got saved. That would mean you were faithful to God’s calling on your life. Oh, and it would mean something else…
You see, hidden in much of the Millennial’s drive for significance is the mistaken assumption that our lives must be remarkable in order to fulfill our calling. We like to see change, and we love to be instruments of change, so it make sense that our litmus test for success is how much we are able to accomplish.
To think that God has been waiting centuries for you to come along and shake things up, or that he was loosing sleep until Billy Graham showed up is a bit anthropocentric. God does not think more highly of charismatic leaders than stay-at-home mothers. And if we live with expectations like that, we are weighing significance much differently than God, who once noted that “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones” (Luke 16:10). He wasn’t trying to motivate Millennials to climb over life’s stepping stones to get to better things; he was accentuating loyalty.
There is enough of the latter invested in his Son, Jesus Christ. If he so chooses you to be the next Billy, than by the grace of God, you are who you are (1 Cor. 15:10), but stop idolizing what others have told you is “radical.”
Of course, all of those previous situations were hypothetical; I have no way of knowing the specifics of what God called you or Billy Graham to accomplish; I’m pretty sure Billy Graham has been faithful, and at the very least, beloved by all who call on the name of Jesus.
But the point still stands.
We make too much out of our own accomplishments.We keep score, and God does not. The problem with scorekeeping is that our identities get wrapped up in the excentric nature of a particular calling, to such extent that Millennials may become depressed if they are not doing something as remarkable as “everyone else.” The solution to this is to remind ourselves that nothing we do is extraordinary; we are “unworthy slaves” doing what we ought, in the presence of an extraordinary God (Luke 17:10). He can save 3.2 million people through Billy Graham, Billy Jean, and he could have chosen anyone to do this because he is the one actually saving.
You will undergo failure.
Everything will be ok if your identity is secured in Christ. Consequently, if your security is in anything else (like your job), you will crumble under the weight of failure and disappointment.
But you don’t have to spin your wheels trying to justify your reason to exist, when you are, as Paul declared, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)
(image © Washington Post)
Some college students are perfectionists. And since they cannot make up their minds, they forego every opportunity (even some great ones) because they are not sure if it’s exactly “What God has called them to.” I’ve seen people crushed by anxiety over decisions like this.
Perfectionists, sometimes God will call you to mediocre opportunities before he brings you to your dream job. If you keep looking for the perfect job situation to drop from the sky, you risk missing out on a lot opportunities for God to glorify himself, not to mention relief from your need for perfection :-)
You still need to hear the voice of the Lord, because not every job is the right job. But seek the Lord in every opportunity (or lack thereof), even if it’s not what you were hoping for. It might change your life.
(Not everyone has a problem with this. Some of you are itching to let go of what your doing in pursuit of something better. I wrote something for you here).
Whether you are working a regular job, or hibernating in your mom’s house playing World of Warcraft, you are satisfied with the way things are, and are not particularly open to other opportunities. This isn’t a bad thing in itself.
Below is a photo that I took from the top of the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography, where I used to work. You can’t see it, but across the street and to the right of this window is the original Channel Islands Surf shop where Britt Merrick used to work. At different points in life, we both had dreams. I worked at Mason Street Studios aspiring to be a professional photographer, and Britt grew up across the street, awaiting the day he would take over Channel Islands.
Ironically, we now work with each other in the white warehouse pictured in center of this frame, doing what we thoroughly enjoy, yet never envisioned. God moved us from one side of the block to the other.
My new career path is not always something to romanticize over…I would probably have an easier life doing what I planned on. But ease in life is not a good motivation. Nor is it necessarily fulfilling. You don’t want to go through life settling for what’s “good” when “outstanding” is available.
More importantly, we had to obey God. And from my own experience, there is no sorrow in that at all. There is never a regretful aftertaste in obeying Jesus.
There will be times when you know God is speaking to you about his plans for your life.
You just gotta let go.