Calling is more of a process than it is a destination. Developing a sense of vocation is more akin to developing an internal compass than it is to setting a trajectory or gaining a set of destination markers. Calling is more of a journey than it is knowing the right road to take. Discernment is less about knowing than it is about relationship.
In other words, discerning my calling is less about knowing with certainty exactly what I should be doing and more about walking daily with God, noticing where God is at work and where and how I am being invited to participate in that work.
Our capacity to discern God at work is not a test but an invitation. Where do we sense God working? Pay attention to joy. Pay attention to what wells up inside—whether it is hope or indignation, compassion or rage. My invitation to you is to press into the uncertainty. God is still God in the dark and in the storm.
We tend to want to get out of the storm and into the light. We fear being abandoned. We fear being lost. What we need is to encounter God in the wilderness. This is not an encounter that makes the wilderness suddenly a lush garden. This is not an encounter that suddenly makes the darkness bright. This is an encounter and an invitation to an intimate relationship with God.
A major turning point in my own development came as I was working on my Master of Divinity degree. I took a course looking at the lifelong development of leaders. Coming to understand calling as a lifelong process was an important step in my formation.
I certainly wasn’t happy in my ambitious 20s with the thought of waiting a lifetime for the kind of meaningful work I desired to do. I wanted to get busy changing the world now! The idea that God had formational work to do in me was frustrating. At the same time, beginning to see my development in lifelong perspective was also encouraging. I came to understand something that I went on to share with students for years: if there is a deep desire in your heart, it may be in your heart because God put it there with the intention of fulfilling it.
To finish well is to have lived a life of cooperating with the transformational work of the Spirit in our lives. Finishing well comes from a lifetime of attending to what God is doing in us and our community. It is not our responsibility to fulfill God’s purpose on our own through our efforts; it is our responsibility to respond to God’s invitation and to take the next faithful step.
Consider Nehemiah’s wall as a metaphor for God’s work in the world and God’s invitation to participate in that work. While Nehemiah’s wall was a physical barrier around a specific city, we are living stones, chosen by God and precious, being built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-5) and resting on the cornerstone: Jesus. We are both the builders with God and the building being constructed. We look toward that holy city, the new Jerusalem, whose gates will be eternally open and will welcome the peoples of every nation (Revelation 21:25-26 NRSV).
As we walk the journey of a life seeking after God’s purposes, we join a crowd of witnesses who have walked this way before us. “I lift my eyes up to the hills,” the pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem (Psalm 121:1).
“I lift my eyes up to the skyscrapers of the business district and the towers of government” say the pilgrim Jesus-followers.
“I lift my eyes up to Stone Mountain and to Lookout Mountain,” say the justice-seeking Jesus-followers, paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I lift my eyes up to the ivory tower of the academy,” say the academic Jesus-followers.
“From where will my help come?” (Psalm 121:1). Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. We can say with Paul, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Can you recognize God’s fingerprints in the circumstances of your life? Is there an emerging sense of purpose? Do you have hints about roles and skills that you have begun to develop that might be the context for living out God’s purposes in your life? As we sit in the presence of the Spirit, God moves us to see and to realize. God continues to work transformation in our lives. We continue to develop and grow to be more fully human, more fully who we were created to be.
I conclude with this point I regularly suggest to my students. Hold your dreams and yearnings before God with an open hand. Being faithful now—particularly faithful in the “very little” (Luke 16:10)—is your investment in developing toward God’s purpose for a lifetime. If the general pattern of your life is to get up in the morning and, to the best of your ability, be faithful to God, then you can’t miss God.
Sometimes “the best of my ability” is really terrible. I believe God is big enough to meet us in our worst as well as our best. God gives us light for the next faithful step. If you take that step and keep taking that next faithful step, then, again, I don’t think there’s any way to miss God’s purposes in your life.
Radical grace reached out to you and won you for Jesus in the midst of all the good and terrible circumstances of your life. Radical grace calls you to engage with God’s work even though God does not “need” our inept efforts to accomplish the work. Radical grace sees you fully as who you are even when you do not see yourself. Radical grace gives you resources to participate in God’s mission, some of which are your socially constructed, adopted and assigned identities.
The place of your contribution is exactly where you stand in all of your glory and shame. Radical grace welcomes you as you are. Radical grace says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Radical grace says, “Here, join me in building. This spot is reserved for you.” Radical grace pours out the power of the Spirit to build with the labor of human hands. God calls you on the way.
You are on a journey that began even before you were even aware of God. This journey will not end in this life. We look for the day when we stand before God, bringing our lives as an offering. We look for the day we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 NIV).
From the forthcoming book Calling in Context by Susan L. Maros. Copyright (c) 2022 by Susan Lynn Maros. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60559. www.ivpress.com.