What is your greatest desire? What is the one thing that you would do everyday for the rest of your life if you were able?
There are good reasons that we have been taught to NOT trust our desire. Our desire is often corrupted by the depravity of sin. But often our life callings are driven by our deepest desires that have been resting in our soul just waiting to come to the surface and awaken our greatest joy.
How would we know if we can trust our desires when making really significant decisions? The prophet Jeremiah claims that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” There have been so many times that I have heard students proclaim that “God had told them” that they should date this person or quit that job. These claims are sometimes just a way of avoiding accountability (“God told me so who are you to question God!”). But sometimes they are the earnest conviction of a person that cannot tell the difference between God’s will and their own selfish desire. The answer to this dilemma is found in that same passage from the prophet Jeremiah.
The answer to the rhetorical question, “Who can know it?” is supposed to be obvious. God can know your heart. And more importantly, God can renew your heart. The promise of the transformed heart that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:1-2 is one of setting right our desires. There is no easy road to recognizing the difference between your improper desire and your rightly formed desire. This takes years of discipleship and a deep understanding of Scripture. The most important safeguard along the way is a trusted community of mature disciples, especially a wise mentor, that can help expose your improper desires for ones that desire God. As you begin to pursue your heart’s desire, it’s a good idea to check in with a mentor before you act on these desires. They can help you filter out those unholy desires.
If we can get to a place where are desire is formed by the will of God, then our joy is a trustworthy passion to help us understand our calling. In an earlier post, I talked about God’s call to accounting. Part of the reason that is a great example for me goes back to a story from my own life.
I remember very vividly sitting in one of my accounting classes in undergrad. After the class one day (I think we had received an exam back), the professor suggested that I should consider accounting because I was so good at it. I laughed at him. In retrospect that wasn’t a very kind thing to do. It was even less kind to follow that by saying, “That would be miserable. I hate doing accounting!”
I understand the importance of accounting full well. I can articulate the ways that accounting preserves justice and increases business efficiency. But I simply don’t like it. I wasn’t made to stare at numbers. God had a different plan for me.
It was about that same time that I realized that I absolutely loved studying theology. I had studied the Bible pretty diligently for the five or so years that I had been a Christian. But in my Pentecostal church, it was really rare to study serious theology. I started reading Augustine and Aquinas and Anselm. I could read them all day. I was enamored by questions of sovereignty and the early church’s figurative reading of Scripture. I was also reading a bunch of theologians that followed Paul Tillich. Every word that I read convinced me further that Tillich was not a theologian that I wanted to emulate, but I even loved reading theology when I didn’t like what they were saying. I was no less thrilled to read Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Spinoza, and Heidegger in my philosophy classes. I loved struggling with these big ideas.
When I went on to pursue a Master’s and Ph.D. in theology, I doubt that my colleagues in school were nearly as surprised as those folks from my Pentecostal church. They knew that I loved studying these books. I know full well that loving theology this way is not the call of every pastor. But I did love it. And that was an important feature of my understanding that my calling was not only to be a pastor, but specifically to be a theologian that pastors. In many ways I cannot distinguish between these callings because all of my pastoral work is done as a theologian. And all of my theological work intends to never lose site of the pastoral and church implications.
For that matter, at the heart of everything that I do is my heart and calling to theology. When I parent and when I learn to be married, it is always in a theological key. Decisions about purchasing a car or how to properly observe leisure time are all tinged with theology. But the great part of that is that my calling to theology never goes away. Like the title of this post, I imagine that theology has become a sort of soundtrack for my life that is always playing the background no matter what I am doing. That song just keeps playing. I think that is part of what it means to be called to something, it comes up everywhere when you are doing everything else.
Each person has these joys that are an important indicator of calling. Sometimes they start as mere hobbies for photography, music, science, technology, and writing. Eventually a person learns that the expertise that they have built up from years of studying according to their self-motivation has equipped them to serve the world in important ways.
We also have to recognize that we all take joy in many things. I enjoy my wife and my son. I enjoy my students. I enjoy football. Some of these passions will be more determinative of calling than others. But even my love of football has meant that I regularly attend the football games at my University of Indianapolis. This is an important time with my son (who attends with me for the sake of the hotdogs and candy that he gets while at the games). It is also a great way that students outside of the campus ministry have gotten to know me and my son. So even my joy for football has been important for what I am called to do as a pastor.
So as you map out your callings, don’t limit yourself to the ones with obvious vocational implications (science and literature). Pay attention to all that gives you joy, because that joy is an important indicator of calling.
This exercise is a pretty basic one. I want you to take out a piece of old fashioned paper and a pen. I want you to journal for 5-10 minutes without stopping. Just write continuously. If you run out of things to say you can just write the prompt sentence again and keep going. After you have completed the exercise, filings a friend or mentor to read it to. Maybe they can help you see other joys that you didn’t think to write about.
For your journaling, simply complete this sentence: “Every day for the rest of my life I would love to…”
This post is part of a 14 part series to help persons discern God’s call on their lives.
To see all the posts in the “What Am I Called to Do?” series