I watched it, and I found it to be quite thought-provoking. I definitely agree with Pastor Driscoll’s message in this video; that as Christians we are to pursue not what we might demonstrate potential for, but rather what God has called us to (or our individual specific “purpose”). Overnight I spent a lot of time thinking about the practical ramifications of this.
Watching it, I experienced a little familiar discomfort, that as a Christian I might be pursuing not what my true purpose is, but rather what I have demonstrated potential for. So could this article I’m writing here be in some way an attempt to justify myself and convince myself to carry on going as previously?!
Firstly, if you can, please watch the video. I think it is particularly useful that Pastor Driscoll differentiates between “good” Christian ministry – genuinely good, genuinely holy, – and what someone’s true calling might be.
Secular potential versus Spiritual Calling?
This was a point that I initially made on Facebook (copied and pasted from there!)
I think that God might give us some gifts or skills that might combine to form some apparent potential in one area, while He would prefer us to use that combination of gifts in another way. For instance, someone might be blessed with physical strength and dexterity which might appear to show that they have potential as a professional athlete, while God might want them to use their strength to work as a missionary in places where physical strength are required.
I have nothing against secular potential. However, if we know that God’s will is for people to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, then arguably, our expression of our secular potential (at least in this example) does nothing to further this. So you are a Premiership footballer? That’s great but how does it actually impact on winning souls for God?
On the other hand, if this is what God has actually specifically called you to do, then please do it!
Going deeper, however, it can be easy to simply contrast between secular work, or non faith-based work, and Christian ministry, with the idea that something with a Christian flavour is our calling. However Pastor Mark makes the point that there may be a specific area within Christian ministry that is more truly our calling than other aspects of Christian ministry that we might (equally?) demonstrate potential for.
And yet, while I believe that all this is true, going beyond this, I believe that there might still be a legitimate place for personal initiative and creativity – and even stumbling and confusion – in deciding/working out our true God-given purpose.
Pastor Mark uses the example of Jesus who was specifically called as a preaching missionary. I think that most Christians would agree that Jesus had a very very specific purpose – and necessarily so. Not just anyone could go to the Cross and die for the sins of humanity, after all. This is the reason why I don’t particularly think that Jesus is a good example to consider in the purpose question. Perhaps for the rest of us our purpose does not have to be as sharply defined as it was with Jesus – simply because it does not need to be.
Jesus also happens to be God. There are a few things that are true of Jesus which will never be true of anyone else – and there are a few other things which could only become true of us after lots of prayer, time immersed in intimacy with God. And while Jesus might have attained these latter things perfectly, we can only ever hope to have an imperfect grip on them while we remain down here on earth. Jesus as a man was perfect. He heard perfectly from God, without any sinful nature to get in the way. So Jesus could definitively say “This is why I have been sent”. Can the rest of us always categorically state that “This is what God has said”, on any issue? I accept that for some people on some issues, like Pastor Driscoll, God might make His voice and His will utterly clear and indisputable. But for many other people, He might reveal His will in less distinct ways. This is part of the mystery and beauty of God – if we think we have free will, then how much more does He have free will! And He uses it to do exactly what He likes, He relates with people differently, He speaks directly to some people, indirectly to others.
Part of growing as a Christian is learning to distinguish this voice of God, the way He speaks to us.
A place for confusion?
Sometimes speaking to Christians, you get the impression that if you are “in the will of God”, then everything will happen smoothly, whereas roadblocks or obstacles indicate that you are “out of the will of God”. This is my favourite analogy as follows: It might be “God’s will” that you should drive a car, but that doesn’t mean that you would just be able to get into a car and perfectly pull off, conducting perfect manoeuvres straight away. You still have to go through the process of actually learning to drive, making mistakes, forgetting to pull up the handbrake, or to check your mirror. And yet, in that process of learning, making mistakes and facing obstacles, you can still consider yourself to be comfortably within the will of God. So also I believe that when as Christians we are trying to make our way in God, in growing in Him, even when things get messy and confusing, as they usually do, we can still be confident that we are generally in the will of God.
A place for passion?
I believe that if God has made it very clear to you what your calling is or should be, then of course you should go out and pursue that. I also agree with Pastor Mark that you should spend serious time in prayer to find what this will could be. But if, after that, you still have not received any distinct words from Heaven, then I believe that it is legitimate to follow our passions – even our potentials within the boundaries of God’s word, the Bible. I believe it is good and right to spend time thinking (and praying) and also planning, considering – the best and most creative way to use our skills, our passions, our potentials to fulfill the will of God. It is like this – God has already abundantly revealed His will for us, contained in the Bible. We know that God wants people everywhere to come to the saving knowledge of Christ. We know that that is His will. We know that God wants the Gospel to be preached to all people. We know that that is His will. If we can find a way of expressing our passions and our potentials within that where God has not individually given us anything more specific, then I say let’s throw ourselves into that! I think that even within that broadly defined will God is capable of directing us as He wishes, if we have started wrongly. Or, to put it another way, God might speak to some of us and “call us” through our passions and potentials, even as He chooses to speak audibly to some others. This is Tosin being pragmatic, to prevent anyone from endlessly beating their heads if they fail to “hear from God”, even while passions are blazing in their heart.
Doing things because you have to
This is a very important consideration for me. Sometimes, something might fall outside of what God has specifically called us to do, and yet we might do it because we feel we have to. For instance, I don’t particularly feel “called” to translate the Bible. I do it because I feel I have to, because no-one else has produced an open modern translation of the Bible. If there was another open translation available, I would not be producing another translation. However, by translating, I am facilitating something else that is part of what I do feel called to do, or what does lie within my passions – spreading the Word of God by simply recording and broadcasting the words of the Bible. Similarly just over a year ago, in “interesting” circumstances, the idea was raised of my starting my own church. I have never felt the slightest “calling” towards starting my own church (and it is not something I have ever felt the least passion for – quite the opposite, actually), and yet the idea had occurred to me several times, even before that. If I did start my own church, it would be because I felt I had to – because I have despaired of ever finding true, biblical, powerful Christ-centred teaching in any of the churches that surround me. (The alternative would be to dump church altogether. Which would be the better option?)
And now we reach the biggest part of this issue for me. It is one thing to talk about our calling. However, practically speaking, we also have to support ourselves financially. How are we to regard our efforts to support ourselves in relation to our spiritual calling? Paul was a tentmaker by trade, and yet talking about himself he did not say “Called to be a tentmaker”. He said “Called to be an apostle”. Does this mean that our secular trade is completely removed from our spiritual calling? So in practice, could we make money from anything that is decent and legal and that does not contradict God’s standards?
Something that might be different about our times compared to Paul’s day is that work to earn money takes up SO MUCH time in our day. Our Western society and everyday living systems are capitalistic to an extent that was probably unimaginable in the days in which Paul lived. So in practice, our secular trade might take up so much time that it would negatively impact on our spiritual calling which God has called us to do. As Paul himself said: “The love of money is the root of all evil”. (It might not necessarily be our own love of money that is the problem, but rather our need to earn money to survive in a world which does love money). For a long time I have maintained the opinion that our modern “work” and its demands are the key reason why we as Christians have less time to pray and to do God’s work. So as Christians, how do we deal with this? Perhaps we are to live as simply as we possibly can, so we can spend less time working for money and more time working for God…?
Photo of fresh passion fruit by Maya2015ap on Pixabay