Oh, that oft-used word in the evangelical circles that I was reared in that brought about such anxiety, fear, and constant second-guessing. My faith, if it can actually be called that, didn't amount to much. I discerned God's calling on my life much like the way I handled the magic 8-ball toy I played with as a 9-year-old. As a boy, I'd pick up the 8-ball filled with some watery-fluid, ask it a question, "Will I make a million dollars?" give it a shake, and then look to see what triangle-shaped-bluish-white answer would surface. "Seems unlikely" it would say. The 8-ball was right.
I became so accustomed to hearing the language of "God told me to _____" (marry this person, start this ministry, write this book, move to this city) that I became obsessed with figuring out God's will for my life. Damn, if that wasn't a wild goose chase.
It felt as though God spoke often and crystal clear to everyone except me. In fact, his specific will for their lives was so abundantly clear that I wondered how in the world words like "faith", "mystery", or "trust" would even factor into their theological vocabulary. For me, I didn't hear an audible voice like some of my heroes claimed to have heard. I didn't have God's will written for me in the sky or in my Cheerios. As a result, I often thought something was wrong with me.
"Why won't God talk to me like that?"
"Have I upset him?"
"Is it because I have A.D.D.?"
"Is it because I'm terrible at math?"
"Is it because I don't know how to work with my hands?"
"Is it because I'm too emotional?"
"Is it the music I like?"
"Do I not fast enough?"
"What if I knew more Hebrew?"
"What if I gave more money to charity?"
"Can I purchase knowledge of the will of God?"
"If I go on a mission trip to a 3rd world country, will God speak to me then?"
"What if I get on a plane and go ask one of these evangelical superstars to point me in the right direction? Could that do it?"
The questions continued to mount and I was missing the chief benefit of this thing known as "the gospel."
That's not to say that God was entirely silent most of my life. In fact, as I think through the years, I can discern a few key moments, though they're still mostly blurry at this point. Perhaps in another decade or two things will be more clear but I really don't suspect they will. Saint Paul was right, the glass is really smudged but we keep trying to see through it.
Does God call people to places? Sure. I believe he does more often through providence than anything else. Besides, in seminary I learned to read Greek, not Cheerios. What on earth was I doing? Rather than fixing my eyes on that which I cannot see, I stared into a soggy bowl of cereal.
Today there is a better question, a more helpful question, a more freeing question to be asked regarding the calling of God on one's life. "Does God call me to himself?" That might sound boring to you as it did to me for so many years. That's not because God is boring but because I lack creativity, imagination, and wonder. Personally, an intimate relationship with God was secondary to me getting my instructions. Commandments are to be obeyed and instructions to be followed. Where to live, work, raise a family – those things are primary. I could catch God up at retreats or conferences or maybe even in Sunday worship. In those environments, I could show up worn out with working for him, have an emotional connection with him or just a good cry (because that's what we do when we're tired), and then head back to work. To be honest, I had no idea how much North American pragmatism had eeked its way so far down into my theology. I thought in such simplistic terms that it is embarrassing to admit even to this day. Here are some confessions.
I believed big churches were successful and small churches were failures.
I believed charisma mattered more than character.
I believed in insiders and outsiders.
I believed in winners and losers. (To be sure, the only ones who lose have this mentality).
I believed that ministry results were to be evaluated, numbers were to be counted, and square footage was to be measured. Those are the things that I thought were important to God's business.
Then there were words like "platform", "influence", and "impact" that carried more far more weight than words like "child", "serving", "relationships", "gentleness", "stillness", "belonging", "friendship", and "gratitude."
That platforming, posturing, and positioning stuff will kill you. Call it "kingdom impact" if you want but deep down we all know it's our Daddy-issues that creates so much distress, unrest, and anxiety. We'd rather jump on the hamster wheel of ministry work because the thought of the nearness of a tender Father makes us squirm, blush, and look at the floor.
So here's something that I know to be true: God does call you to himself and in the stillness, as his child, in an intimate relationship, you'll sense the gentleness of Jesus as he reminds you, his friend, that you belong. It is from that space that gratitude bubbles up into a joyful serving of God and neighbor. And it is from this place that we can then begin thinking better about where we might "live, move, and have our being."
"You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance."
– Galatians 4:6-7, The Message