Yes! I did promise some better approaches to hearing God’s call. Sorry to belabor the ones that aren’t so spiffy.
One of my favorites comes from Presbyterian theologian and novelist Frederich Buechner:
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Now that is flat out great stuff, both poetic and true. (He says it in a very winsome and whimsical book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC [retitled “a Seeker’s ABC” in the revised edition]. You’ll find it under “V” for “Vocation.”)
But what does it mean? Usually people quote just the second sentence, and that really is the heart of the matter. But taken together the little paragraphs makes several excellent points.
When we pick a path that we think will please God we often jump to silly conclusions.
Some put on a “hair shirt.”
Back in the day, a lot of Christians thought they needed to basically punish themselves for things they had done to offend God. So they would put on a “hair shirt,” scratchy goat’s hair righ on their skin. That would help them feel crummy all the time, and that would remind them that they were really really sorry for their sins.
These days it is more of a metaphor. Think of undergraduates who are afraid to go to “Urbana,” the huge IVCF missions conference, because they are convinced God will call them to someplace horrible.
If you define serving God as suffering, you are wearing a “hair shirt.”
And that says our assumptions about God’s character are pretty rotten. Is God really out to make your life miserable? No.
Some seek a “soft berth.”
On the other end of the spectrum we have the “prosperity gospel” in all its variants. Like they guy I saw in a late night infomercial who promised financial rewards for special prayers, or contributions, or some such.
One woman testified that when did what was asked, the next day a check arrived for $15,000. The preacher turned to look right into the camera and asked, “What could YOU do with an extra $15,000?”
More often it is subtler: we assume that God is going to call us to the happiest paths. We seek the easiest, most pleasurable life, and call that God’s will.
This too shows some crummy assumptions, particularly about God’s priorities.
Is it important to God that you become rich? Probably not. Thinking riches will make you happy is an illusion. It certainly isn’t guaranteed to make you generous, or loving or otherwise like Christ.
To hear God’s call you do need to listen to your life.
Even if feelings of guilt or greed can misguide you, your feelings are not irrelevant. God created you in his own image, and he is busy now restoring that image in you. God will surely use all that he created and redeemed to help you grow and follow — including your perceptions, your feelings and your thoughts.
To hear God’s call, you need to find “your deep gladness.”
So as you live your life you need to pay attention to the things that fill you with joy. Sometimes that joy is the sign that you are doing what you were created to do in the first place. Sometimes it means you are using gifts God put in you to fulfill his purposes.
Now if you find that it gives you joy to harm others, or to otherwise wreak havoc in God’s good creation, that is not so good.
But if what you love doing can actually help accomplish the things God wants done, then — WOW!
To hear God’s call you need to listen to “the world’s deep hunger.”
So at the same time as you are learning what brings you joy, listen to the world God loves so much.
What if you listened with care to the world? What if you heard the cries of the oppressed, the poor, the enslaved? What if you discovered some way that what brings you joy could actually help them?
And in fact there are countless ways to help people grow, to lessen the suffering that destroys souls, to bring light into dark places.
Find work that is both, not one or the other.
It isn’t just preachers. I’ve known of accountants and florists, writers and lawyers, custodians and police officers who do what they do because their deep joy meets some part of the world’s deep need.
In this complicated interconnected age, there is some way, some where, for just about every kind of joyful gift to become a serious and sustaining calling.
So that’s my suggestion for you: Find your deep gladness. And listen to the world’s deep hunger. Find the place they overlap. Then jump in.
(By the way, this post contains affiliate links to Amazon.)