A question I have been asked often is, “How do you know you are called or what your calling is?” Because Alastair and I have “found” our calling I think people imagine we have figured out the mystery behind “being called”. I will be honest, we have not figured this out. There is no formulaic answer. I know that is disappointing, especially for you type-A personalities like me.
As Christians we know God made us with purpose and intention, but sometimes it feels like we got left out of the loop. We can feel confused and wonder what is that purpose exactly. As much as we crave it, God does not show up in a puff of smoke and speak to us through neon lights. He is not always clear.
So, I am not able to tell you your calling. I am not able to tell you how to figure out your calling. However, I do hope that I can share some of what has worked for us so you can have an idea of what might work for you.
1. Natural giftedness and abilities. Discerning your call can start with some basic facts. What are you good at? I do not mean, “Gosh I would love to be a film and television star cause I am pretty darn good looking”. I wanted to be a ballerina. I was pretty good, but I was not good enough. That is ok. I can still dance, but ballet is not my calling. Alastair was a pretty good rock star, but not good enough. That is ok. He still sings in the shower. On the other hand, I am gifted in listening, wisdom, and compassion, a good mix for being a counselor. Alastair is gifted in speaking, teaching, writing, and entrepreneurship, a better mix for a church planter than a rock star. If you cannot name your gifts, ask your friends, family, teachers, pastor, coworkers, and your boss. This is not the time to be shy or humble. God has spent a lot of time making you. He has invested in you and given you gifts and abilities. Embrace them with appreciation.
2. Personal History. Where has God worked or moved in your life? What significant events have shaped who you are? For me, having struggles in my life, going to a counselor, working with others in counseling, all greatly influenced my call into counseling. For Alastair, growing up in Vancouver greatly influenced our call to that city. God is writing your story, author of your faith and all. He gave you your history on purpose. Reflect on it.
3. Tugs at your heart. What gets you good and angry? What makes you cry? What makes you stand in awe and wonder? What makes you happy? Do any of these apply to a career or ministry you can work in? What do you get excited about? Paul says we should glorify God in all things. Do not feel limited to ministry or social justice.
4. Prayer. If you do not pray about your calling I truly believe you will have immense difficulty discerning it. Alastair and I prayed a lot. We did not ask for clarity, but we did ask for direction. God continually showed us the next step to take. He wants you to be doing what he made you to do. He will show you the way.
5. Be faithful. When you pray and you get an idea or a gut feeling you should do something—follow through. The longer you wait the harder it gets to follow through. Maybe it‘s to research an idea on the internet, maybe it’s to call that person back, maybe it’s an email to a school you are interested in, maybe it’s talking to your pastor, maybe it’s going to counseling. Whatever you feel God calling you to do, do it. He is a pretty incredible leader and tends to lead us into our call.
6. Open doors. As Alastair and I prayed about church planting we first thought God was directing us to Victoria. As we followed through on these thoughts we encountered doors closing left and right. So we went back to the drawing board and spent more time in prayer. After a couple months of praying we felt like maybe it was Vancouver. We started to follow those thoughts—and doors started flying open. We got connected with people and networks and invited to visit and to be assessed. There was the proverbial green light. If God wants you somewhere and he will get you there.
7. Can’t shake it. Sometimes we think, “No, that is not my calling” and we deny what our spirit is telling us. But for some reason, saying no is not making the thoughts and feelings go away. We keep seeing it, hearing it, reading it. We can’t seem to shake it. Maybe that is because God wants you to actually check out that intuition?
8. It fits you. This is not to say our calls are necessarily comfortable. Rather, it is to say there is a sense of comfort when you are in it, a sense of peace and security, a sense of this is right, this is it. This feeling can come and go, but I have experienced the “I fit here” feeling in my work as a counselor, when I met Alastair, when he told me he wanted to church plant, when we visited Vancouver, etc. An inner confirmation cannot be the only thing we rely on, but it helps when we feel it. The Spirit of God dwells in us, does it not?
9. Coincidence. Now please do not think, “Oh I have seen so many license plates that say Ontario this week! God must be calling me to Ontario!” That is a coincidence, but not really one to base a major life decision on (especially if that means moving to Ontario). By coincidences I mean more like this: You happen to meet the provost of Fuller Seminary one Sunday at church and he invites you to consider a doctoral degree in missiology (ask Alastair about that one). Or you are desperate for a job, search the classifieds, and the only one you find is at a boarding school in North Carolina that works with girls suffering from mental illness (that is exactly how I found my first job and that is where I fell in love with the counseling profession). Or you feel called into full time schooling, unsure of how you will pay the bills, and then you are given 6 months free rent because your landlord goes into foreclosure (yes, this happened to us).
10. Outside confirmation. This could be your mom saying “I always knew you would marry a pastor”—and she means it. It could be elders in the church affirming your call. It could be through a formal assessment. This could be as simple as you passing that exam so you can actually get that degree. This could also be confirmation found in the Scriptures. God loves community and he loves to use others to help us discern our call. This means people saying very encouraging things. It also means when multiple people who love Jesus tell you “No, do not do that. That is not your gifting” that you listen to them.
Thus, my neat and tidy tips for discerning your call. Check out my next post: Part 2: Messy & Ugly Confessions in Discerning Your Call. In it I will discuss factors that have inhibited me from hearing and from following God’s call. (Yes, even ‘amazing’ missionaries like me and Alastair have deliberately disobeyed and/or struggled to follow God’s call)