Editor’s Note: This is part 4 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.
If things had gone according to my plan, I would be teaching third grade right now. I would be a four-time teacher of the year award winner and well on my way to earning the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, I’m four years further in debt as I work through my final year of seminary. And… I love it. Well, except for the debt.
I had a plan, and it was thrown out the window. Or rather, I recognized my plan wasn’t the best plan for my life. It turns out God is way better at making plans than I am. Who would have thought?
And that’s just it, isn’t it? We like to think we have a handle on our lives. I’d rather not admit how often I have said, “yeah, I think this is a good idea” to later find myself asking, “what was I thinking?” But, we are human. We have blind spots, we charge ahead without rest or a healthy rhythm of life. We may have a decent plan in place for our lives, but there happens to be One with a far greater plan for us than we could ever dream up on our own.
God has a plan for you. Think about that for a minute. Seriously. Stop reading, sit back and close your eyes and ponder this: God, the Creator and King of the universe and everything in it, God, the Uncreated One, has a plan for you.
How awesome is that?
To live into God’s plan for us, to let go of our own plan and slide ourselves off the throne of our lives, is to answer the call God has given us. God calls each and every one of us. God has called you to live for Him in a way that is unique to you and to the the gifts he has given you. Being called by God is not reserved just for Abraham, Moses, Peter, and your friendly neighborhood pastor. God has a specific calling for each and every one of his people.
I wanted to be a teacher, but God has called me to be a pastor. I can look back and see the different ways in which I slowly became aware of this call despite my stubbornness to recognize it at the time. There is an internal and external aspect to being called by God. The internal call is what is at work deep inside you. It is that small voice and feeling within that tugs at your soul as you feel something bigger than yourself leading you towards a purpose. It took me a long time to finally hear my internal calling. I did not want to give up my own plans to do something different. I did not want to be in school any longer than I already had to be. Finally, my junior year of college, I humbly submitted myself to what I already knew to be true deep down inside me. That meant I had to give up my dream of teaching elementary school. I had to go to school at least three more years (which turned into four). I had to give up on my plan. I was called to pastoral ministry.
The external call was recognized much earlier in my life and came through my church community. As I made my way through high school and had increased involvement in my church, God used others to recognize something in me. These people would ask me if I had ever considered ministry, or if I wanted to be a pastor. I would tell them it wasn’t really my plan right now, but perhaps it would happen later in life. You know, after my Nobel Peace Prize. Once I accepted my internal call, the external call was already in place to clarify and validate what I was feeling.
So here I am, in my final year of seminary, doing my best to live into my call. But ordained ministry is only one of many callings. All of God’s people have a particular calling. There is no good, better, and best calling, either. Each calling is to live into God’s plan and to do the good work he has in store for us. The place God calls us to work for him is called vocation, whether it is ministry, teaching, retail, photography, social work, driving a bus, or any other type of work. God has a specific purpose and place for you.
There can be a lot of uncertainty when we seek God’s plan instead of our own. However, we can find comfort and peace knowing that God is in control, and we are not. Allowing God to sit on the throne of our lives allows us to live into who he wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do. Our vocation should be where our passion finds a place to flourish. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, perhaps there is something greater in store for you. If you are merely content, what is missing? What gifts have others recognized in you that you are under-utilizing? What gets your fire burning?
I invite you to listen to the song below by All Sons and Daughters. May these words wash over you and be your prayer as you wrestle with your call, acknowledge your call, or celebrate your call. You have called me higher, you have called me deeper, and I’ll go where you will lead me Lord, where you lead me.
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