I preached a sermon the other week at Journey about finding your calling. I thought that others might be blessed by the revelation I received as I reflected on my own life and the life of Jonah, so I posted my sermon notes below. You can also download the mp3 on the Journey Church podcast here:
At some point in your life, you probably ask questions such as:
- What am I here for?
- Why did God create me?
- What is my calling?
In high school, I took pretty much every personality and career test out there to try to determine these things. Even when you look at the news today, you see promises of books and health programs to “Find your best self” or “Discover what you’re made for.”
Our hearts are searching to find the answers to these questions, but rarely do we turn to God who is the true source of this.
Personally, I didn’t ask God about the plans that He had for my life until I moved to Boston. I was a rower at the time, training competitively to try to make the national rowing team. But then one morning I woke up and everything had changed – I no longer had a passion or desire at all to continue rowing. I sensed that God had a different plan for my life. Instead of waking up in the wee morning hours to row, I started waking up to pray and seek Him about His plans for my life. God began to speak to me about the church, how divided it is, and how that’s not how we’re made to function. Over time I’ve come to believe that my calling is to help bring greater unity to the body of Christ in Greater Boston. I’m still learning about calling, but I’m hoping to share a few nuggets of wisdom with you today.
So what is a calling? I want to define it as “A summons from God; a strong inner pull towards a particular course of action and/or place of service.” (1)
Your calling can play out many different ways on a day-to-day basis. For example, you might feel called to teach and raise up the next generation, so you work in an elementary or high school. Maybe you feel called to serve people, and you work in a grocery store, showing people Jesus by the way you serve. Maybe you feel called to bring justice, and you work in a courtroom or organization fighting for the rights of various peoples.
I don’t know what is for you, but today I want to encourage you seek God and hear from Him about your purpose. In fact, I believe the only reason why I’ve come to such clarity about my calling is that I really sought it out.
Note that a calling is different than your job. Jobs come and go but your calling will never change. In fact, a job is an instrument which helps you carry out your calling. It may be closely wrapped in your calling, or not. Sometimes all your job does is put food on the table, so can go about your calling in a different area.
I like the way that Pastor John Ortberg compares career and calling. He says “For many people, a career becomes the altar in which they sacrifice their lives. A calling, which is something I do for God, is replaced by a career, which threatens to become my god. A career is something I do for myself; a calling is something I do for God. A career promises status, money or power; a calling generally promises difficulty and even some suffering – and the opportunity to get used by God. A career is about upward mobility; a calling generally leads to downward mobility.” (2)
The big idea of my message today is this:
Walking into your calling is simply making a series of decisions that align with God’s will for your life.
We will all come to crossroads in life – How do you make decisions? Think about last big decision you made, and then remember how you made it. Maybe it was which college you went to, a job you accepted, or a city you moved to. The decisions you make today will affect you years down the road, so making decisions is something we should seriously study.
At the end of the message today, I hope that you better understand how to discern God’s will when you make decisions and how to walk into your unique calling.
Today’s scripture is from Jonah. Basically, God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and proclaim the message that they must get right with God. Jonah runs the opposite direction, gets in a huge storm and then eaten by a whale. In the whale’s stomach, Jonah admits his fault in turning from God, and then the whale spits him out. Jonah listens to God, goes to Ninevah, shares the message that God gave him, and sees the city turn back to God.
So in this story, we see that Jonah’s calling is a prophet, made to declare God’s message to people. The task that God has placed in front of Jonah is to tell the people of Ninevah to turn from their ways back to God’s.
The cool thing about this is that God has a unique calling for you too! Every follower of Christ was made for a purpose, and I believe that one of our most important tasks is to discern what that purpose is. God envisioned your life at very beginning of time – He gave you a unique personality, with strengths and gifts, and He has brought people into your life and experiences which have shaped you.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Your calling is your chance to show the world a unique part of God’s heart that you are designed to demonstrate. In fact, if you don’t walk into your calling, the world won’t see that part of heart of God
So how do you find your calling?
First and foremost, you must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. A personal relationship with Jesus guarantees that the Holy Spirit lives in you, giving you power and direction. If you rely on your own wisdom, you’ll be wrong – there are many plans I had for my life, but God had different plans. If I had it my way, I’d probably be teaching in the mountains of Colorado – but God took me on a grand adventure around the world and to help the Church in the city of Boston. Which one sounds more fun? I’m glad that I’m not in charge.
The second thing you can do to find your calling is to take time to listen to God. Jonah heard his calling directly as a booming voice from heaven – sometimes I wish I heard God that way. But in fact, He still calls that way today – although most of the time not as an audible voice but in His word, in our hearts. You can hear from God many different ways – such as praying, reading the bible, meditating, or seeking council from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
A third thing you can do to find your calling is to pay attention to things that make you feel alive . Two of my favorite quotes relate to this:
- “The place where you’re called is where your great gladness and the world’s great hunger meet” – Frederick Buechner
- “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
The important thing here is that if you choose a career or job because of money or notoriety, you will never be happy. Follow your passion. Follow what makes you come alive. Over time, you will begin to see how your gifts, circumstances, and God’s plan for your life come together.
So let’s go back to the big idea for today – “Walking into your calling is just making decisions that align with God’s will your life.” So when you’re making these decisions, as you’re praying and seeking God, there are two options – Either:
- You know which direction you are supposed to go OR
- You don’t have clarity at all
I’m going to talk about both of these two options.
First, if you have a distinct sense of the direction you should go, I’d encourage you to follow it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Now, when Jonah heard His call, he ran the opposite direction “to flee from the Lord.” He learned that you can run, but you can’t hide – and we all have to learn this at some point.
But the cool thing about God is that when you turn from Him, He doesn’t turn from you. A human father probably would have found someone much more willing to take his message to Ninevah, but not our heavenly Father. That’s because If God has a purpose for you, His gifts and calling are irrevocable, no matter what direction you run. And in this story we see that God chases Jonah down until he obeys. Because of God’s outrageous love & grace that He never turns from us even when we turn from Him. You can’t mess up God’s plan for your life.
So, however God speaks to you, listen to it – even if you don’t understand it at the moment. I think each of us have to have our stories of when we have tried to “flee” from the Lord in order to really learn this. When I was in Africa, we were all crammed in this van on our way to drive to a safari. We had just gotten in the vehicle and were getting comfortable so I took off my shoes. I was really tired, so I decided to sleep. I had this distinct prompting from the Holy Spirit to pick up my shoes. But I shrugged it off, multiple times. It turns out that when we stopped a few hours later, my shoe had slipped out the door of the car. And when you’re traveling around the world with a backpack with only two pairs of shoes, that’s a big deal! I was so mad – I had my “come to Jesus” moment, where I said, “God, I’m sorry! From now on, I’ll always listen to you!”
Sometimes we have to run from God to fall to our knees. Jonah had a similar moment in the stomach of the whale – in Chapter 3 verse 4 we see him pray “I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”
God knows where we’re going and what we need to learn, and He will put us in situations where we have those “come to Jesus moments.” Really, it’s these times that lead to humility and dependence, which are two of God’s favorite character attributes to instill in us.
If you’re reading this and you feel like you’ve run from God, I’d encourage you to return to Him. God is overwhelmingly patient and merciful to us – and I’m so thankful for that.
The second option is that you’re making a big decision – you’re praying and praying – but you don’t receive clarity. There are a couple things I want to encourage you in:
- Be ok with waiting. God will speak to you about His next steps when it’s time. God’s timing is perfect, and many times it’s the last minute.
- God doesn’t use misleading or ambiguous means to communicate his will. When He wants us to know something, He makes it so clear we never have an excuse for not getting it. So don’t stress, just trust and continue seeking Him.
- Follow where there’s peace – if you think about both options, which one sits in your spirit more still? I know that when I stopped rowing, it was one of those things that I just knew that I knew that I knew that was what I was supposed to do. In fact, if I though about not doing it – I felt like I was being disobedient – so that’s when you know it’s right
- At times, God may allow you to choose the path for your life. In the beginning as I was following Jesus, I would ask God for direction, and it was so clear for me what I was supposed to do. But later, I’d ask, “God, what do you want me to do?” And I’d here him say back to me, “Kelly, what do you want to do?” I think this happens because in our walk with Him, as we grow, we become more and more like Jesus to the point where His desires become our desires, and it’s no longer a conscious decision, but just instinct. We’re not just slaves, where God is a mean dictator directing us to go. Jesus calls us friends. He wants us to be happy and for us to have the desire of our hearts – so He empowers us to make decisions too.
- The last piece of advice I’d give on making those decisions where there’s no clarity is simply to choose one direction and trust that God will direct you if it’s not wrong. I’ve heard “You can’t steer a bicycle that’s not moving.” So whatever you do, don’t stay stuck in indecision.
The last thing I want to talk about today is how to walk into your calling. How do you know that you’re on the right path for your life? Is there any way to be sure you’re doing the task He has assigned to you?
- It challenges you. You can be sure you’re on the right path if it goes against the grain of what you yourself want to do. God called Jonah to the Ninevites, who were his enemies – he hated them with a passion. Why? The Ninevites had pretty much wiped out his people and were known for their disgusting war practices. Jonah wanted to see Ninevah destroyed, not saved and his greatest fear was that the Ninevites would heed his warning, repent and be saved.
But God didn’t call Jonah to the Ninevites because he knew it would make Jonah mad. He did it because he cares more about Jonahs character than he does the task in front of him. He knew that Jonah needed to grow in his love for his enemies.
And God will do the same for you. He will ask you to lay down things in your life – really hard things – not just to make you mad or to show you who’s boss, but to grow your character. Many times these things are idols in our lives, the things that are competing with God for primacy, as rowing had become for me.
Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs”
The only real risk in life is clinging to these worthless idols; obeying God is the only safe thing. So if you hear God tell you to do something and you want to run the opposite direction, you can be pretty sure that it is God.
What things in your life have you said “I’ll do anything but that, Lord!” Might God be asking you to do that very thing today?
I have to confess – when I first heard God call me to the city long-term, I wanted to run the other direction – I’m a total nature girl and never thought I’d end up in a city. Yet, over time a love for this place has really grown in me – it’s a supernatural kind of love. That’s because as you step into your calling, God will take away your flesh and replace it with His spirit, where the hard things turn to joy. Everything we can sacrifice, He is worth it and more, much more.
- Another way that you can be sure that you’re stepping into your calling is that doors will start to open. Things will just happen and fall into place.
Jonah went to his enemies – and probably felt like he was on a mission to failure. Why would the Assyrians listen to a man of the people they had conquered? Jonah didn’t even have a strong message – he simply said, “Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” (3:8). If someone were to say that today, you’d call them crazy. Yet they listened to Jonah– a complete enemy. Why?
It’s not a work of us but of God – when God is behind it, failure isn’t an option. As you step into your calling, God will open crazy doors for you and you will be given divine favor.
For example, as I moved back to Boston after the World Race, things just fell into place – the timing, the cost of the apartment, and we even furnished our entire apartment, with desks, dressers, tables, chairs, everything for less than $300. Now that’s a miracle!
In addition to that, every day for nearly two weeks, I’d run into someone and they’d initiate a spiritual conversation with me. Random circumstances like a Greek lady at the pool, a guy on the phone with the utilities bill, even the busdriver told me that she called this street “God street” because of all the churches on it. And I just knew that in those moments God had placed me in that person’s life for a reason.
Another way that you’ll know you’re stepping into your calling is that you will feel energy; renewal. There will be a wind at your back, sort of a momentum pushing you along. You might even sense that “this is what you were made for.”
As I was teaching, I remember enjoying it, but thinking that it wasn’t quite right. But then when I started UniteBoston, there was an ease in my labors – I wrote emails all day and didn’t get tired. In fact, wanted to do all time. (Now you know that’s supernatural!)
It won’t always be that way, but it could be a sign that you’re on track, and that God is behind you.
The last thing I want to close with today is to caution us against getting too focused on things like calling and destiny. While God has specific grace on our life do certain things, that’s not ultimately why we’re here.
Our ultimate calling is simply be Christ’s sons & daughters, become more like His son Jesus.
But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
Becoming more like Jesus involves no action on our part; but rather it’s about receiving everything He’s done for us. Don’t get mistaken as I have and wrapped up in the work you’re doing for God. Our mission is born out of God’s love for us and ours for Him. Love is a heart response, not a mindless action.
Throughout your life, God will put you in situations to challenge you and grow you to make you more like Him. At these decision points, He will reveal things in your life that are competing with God for primacy. Jesus, show us the things in our lives that we put ahead of you, and help us not to cling to them out of a desire for security, comfort, or happiness, because we know that you and not our circumstances are the source of these things.
This week, I want to encourage you to take time to hear from God about your calling and the mighty plans He has for your life. Even if you’ve stepped away from what you know He wants you to do, know that God is right there. Jesus, wake us up and help us to believe in your outrageous grace.