5 Things I Learned About Calling in My 20’s

5 Things I Learned About Calling in My 20’s

Mornings are often crazy for me. With my son’s preschool next door to my office, I am the one responsible for getting him ready and off to class. Our routine includes him climbing into bed with me right before my alarm goes off, an all-out war over him getting dressed, a quick breakfast, and a 30 minute commute that involves conversations ranging from our favorite colors to the meaning of life. (He’s deep for a preschooler.)

As other parents can attest, just making it into the office on time is a victory worthy of a nap. But yesterday morning, my rush through the door was blocked by our receptionist, Naomi. At 22-years-old, Naomi has been praying through and discovering her direction in life. Naturally, she has questions and loves to bounce ideas off of others.

As I came in, she was talking with one my other coworkers and hit both of us with an interesting one.

Now that you’re almost 30, how has your idea of calling changed? And is your life anything like you imagined it would be?

Her question came after weeks of wrestling with this idea of calling. Like most millennials, wisely or unwisely, it’s been the obsession of my 20’s, which will officially end for me in January.

These years have been marked by constant change. I began dating my wife, married her, and had a son. When it came to my career, I had two part-time jobs and two full-time positions. I also graduated college and dropped out of seminary. Meanwhile, I’ve had five addresses in two states.

It’s been a season of exciting changes and jolting twists. To answer Naomi’s question, I have to admit I’m nowhere near where I imagined I’d be right now. As we were talking, it surfaced five realizations that I’ve learned through my 20’s.

 

1. It isn’t static.

I entered my 20’s with a clear idea that I was going to immediately branch out and launch my own ministry. I wanted to travel full-time and speak at churches across the country. In reality, I got to do some of that but it never got bigger than a side gig.

Instead, I discovered that my passion for ministry is matched only by my gift for marketing. It turns out, most churches and ministries struggle to articulate who they are and need someone like me to help with that.  I love stepping in and working with organizations through those heart-level questions that ultimately define how they relate to donors and volunteers.

I’ve had several jobs through the years. With the exception of my current one, I took those positions with the sense that they were only for a season. I knew I was there for a time and I needed to invest in the responsibilities God had given me. However, I also knew not to get too comfortable either.

We often think of calling as a static, long-term concept. But God puts us in specific places for specific times. We don’t have to know our ten-year plans before we get moving. We must only be obedient in taking the next step when he reveals it.

God’s path is rarely straight, linear, or constant. I’ve found myself going through a number of detours, personally and professionally, that taught me more about Christ, myself, and how he can use me.

 

2. It’s not the same thing as identity.

Your calling is a component of your identity, not the other way around. American culture is often skewed towards doing over being. We focus on career as a central part of who we are. One of the first questions we’re asked when meeting someone new is, “What do you do?”

But what you do for a living isn’t the entirety of who you are. It’s an expression of the gifts, passions, and opportunities God has given you. If you confuse identity and calling, it becomes easy to lose yourself in your job and/or paralyzing indecision. Your identity should be centered in the reality of the risen Christ. Fall in love with the God who called you, not the calling itself.

 

3. It’s not always vocational.

Calling doesn’t always define your career. I serve in our student ministry with a guy who considers his calling the relationships with our middle school boys. He pours into their lives and wants to see them grow into mature young men. He views his job as the funding mechanism to support his ministry.

There’s nothing in Scripture that promises your calling will be a marketable trait. That said, it will define how you do your job, where you serve in the church, how you care for your family, the relationships you build with your neighbors, and so much more. You may be blessed with a calling that easily fits into an exciting career, but that isn’t a God-given right.

 

4. It can be revealed in failure.

Several years ago, I went through the experience of being fired from my job. It was terrifying and humiliating. But it was also a great learning experience. God challenged my tendency to define myself by my job, my faith in a steady paycheck, and my entire career trajectory.

The experience helped clarify my strengths, weaknesses, and areas where I desperately needed to grow. It also strengthened my convictions about certain things. It was a significant period of failure that led to an exciting course correction. I wouldn’t get to do the things I do today if I hadn’t been fired. That moment became one of the most defining moments of this decade.

Don’t be scared of messing up. You’re human. It will happen. When it does, determine to learn from it, grow, and depend on Christ to get through it.

 

5. You can’t let it paralyze you.

I know so many students and teenagers who obsess over this idea of calling. They’re terrified of making the wrong career move, marrying the wrong person, or living in the wrong place. It paralyzes them. This is partly why so many millennials are delaying basic steps into adulthood like moving out of mom and dad’s house.

At the end of the day, you still need a job and a place to live. Whether it’s fulfilling or not, you still have a responsibility to take care of yourself and your family. Don’t overthink every life decision – whether to date that guy or girl, which apartment to choose, which graduate school to attend, or which job to take. The same God who is sovereign over your calling is also sovereign over your path towards it.

As I look back on the past decade of life, there are several things I’d do differently. More than anything, I’d relax a bit more and enjoy the ride. I’ve learned as much through failures and trials as I have through victories. So if you’re 23 and scared about not having life figured out yet, don’t worry. Hardly anyone else does either. God is still using you in ways you may not see.

At 29, I’ve never been less sure of where I’ll be in ten years. I’ve also never felt more at peace about it either.

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God’s Unlikely Cast of Heroes

God’s Unlikely Cast of Heroes

Since my earliest days, my parents have always dragged me to church.  I grew up learning all of the Bible stories, even the Veggie Tales versions of them.  Seriously, it’s hard not to imagine Jonah as an asparagus who jumped off a pirate ship piloted by a cucumber.

If you’re like me, you’ve known these biblical characters and their stories from birth.  You’ve heard about these great men who were chosen to do amazing things for God.  We heroically lift them up, making them seem larger than life.  We talk as if their faith was superhuman and that’s why God chose them.  But when you really look deep into God’s cast of heroes, it’s remarkable that he even looked in their direction.

 

Abraham

We don’t really know anything about Abraham before God called him out.  While he had some amazing faith moments, he also cowardly told Pharaoh that his wife was really his sister so the Egyptian ruler would have his way with her and not kill him.

 

Jacob

Abraham’s grandson was known for tricking others.  He cheated his older brother out of his birthright, failed to follow through on his commitments, and made plenty of enemies along the way.  Oh, and did I also mention that he played favorites among his multiple wives and his twelve sons?  And yet God changed his name to Israel and built a nation from his offspring.

 

Judah

He was Jacob’s son and once slept with his daughter-in-law.  Don’t worry, he thought she was just a random prostitute!  His offspring only became the biggest tribe in Israel.

 

Moses

This guy was a privileged murderer with a pathological fear of public speaking.  But after running away from his responsibilities and his people, God appeared to him in a burning bush and made him their deliverer out of slavery.

 

Samuel

He was a great prophet but a terrible father.  In fact, Samuel’s sons were such horrible men that the people demanded he appoint a king just so they wouldn’t take over after he died.

 

David

He was a man after God’s own heart but he also had multiple wives and still managed to cheat on them with another woman.  Oh, and after he got her pregnant, he killed her husband!  And then became a critical part of Jesus’ ancestry…

 

Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab

All women with sordid sexual histories (like incest, adultery, and prostitution) and all mentioned by Matthew as a part of Jesus’ genealogy in a day when even the most respectable women weren’t considered worthy of mention.

 

Solomon

David’s son prayed for wisdom, amounted unbelievable wealth, and got drunk on his own success.  I don’t know what possesses a man to marry hundreds of women but he did it.  Yet, under his leadership, Israel experienced some of its greatest days.

 

Peter

One of Jesus’ closest disciples was also a lowly fisherman who publicly denied him three times while he was being hauled off for crucifixion.  But read the book of Acts and you’ll see a guy who spread the Gospel in the face of constant danger and became a central figure in the early Church.

 

Matthew

Another one of Jesus’ disciples.  He was a tax collector, a profession that pretty much requires selling out your entire community so you can get rich.

 

Paul

He imprisoned, tortured, and killed Christians.  His career took a serious left turn when Jesus appeared to him and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  He also spread the Gospel across the Roman empire in spite of beatings, abandonment, and even a shipwreck.

 

Timothy

Paul’s protégé was fatherless, young, and so nervous that he had persistent stomach issues.  He later became one of the key men Paul counted on to raise up the next generation of church leaders.

 

What about you?

Are you that parent who can’t get it together?
Is your personal life less than perfect?
Is your marriage falling apart?
Do you struggle with crippling anxiety or depression?
Do you feel like a self-serving coward?
Do you have serious regrets in your past?

 

Let’s take it a step further…

Have you killed someone in the heat of the moment?
Have you been juggling hundreds of women at once?
Have you sold out the ones you love?
Have you scammed your own relatives?
Have you dressed like a prostitute to get your dead husband’s father to impregnate you?

All of these characters would have to check “yes” next to at least one of these questions.  And here’s the kicker – you don’t find these details hidden in the footnotes of Scripture or in the back of some long-forgotten commentary.  The biblical writers went out of their way to mention their issues.  They weren’t trying to turn these people into spiritual superheroes.  Rather, they were making the opposite point: 

 

These are the kinds of people God uses.

Broken people.  Hurting people.  People who would make great headlines on a Jerry Springer episode.  He takes a young kid and puts him in leadership over corrupt old men.  He takes a prostitute and uses her bloodline to birth Emmanuel.  He takes a forgotten fisherman and uses him to lead the Church.

If God would pick any one of them, do you really think he wouldn’t use you?

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