I really didn’t understand the experience of calling when I was young. My seminary’s entire student recruitment effort was built around the concept, so I got plenty of exposure to it, but I misunderstood a fundamental part. I thought a calling simply meant you used your passions for kingdom impact. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not complete, either.
A calling certainly begins with passions. These passions are the fire in our heart. They are lit, often, by a combination of interest and dissatisfaction. My own calling began as a stew of interest in writing, film, computers, and the discipline of communication, applied to my faith and annoyance at a lack of meaningful connection to church practice. I knew little outside of my limited experience. I stumbled around my passions, and along the way, God moved.
When I was 21, I was inspired by Solomon’s prayer for wisdom – I am young and know next to nothing, but I’m here, so give me a discerning mind – and prayed a similar, church communicator’s prayer: Lord, I don’t know a thing but if you give me equal mastery of oral, written and visual communication, I’ll use it for the sake of your kingdom.
Much time passed after that. I did little things here and there. I hung out in the production truck for my downtown United Methodist church’s broadcast ministry. (This was 1991, and the only screen in a church in my town was on the back door.) I worked at a CBS affiliate in town for a while – “associate producer” meant I was the evening news grunt – then as a youth director at my church. It seemed like nothing was happening. But really, it was. I was being formed for a ministry that didn’t yet exist.
Passions give birth to enthusiasm, and when we’re enthusiastic, we want to push and drive. That ambition can be quite helpful. The ironic part is that when it comes to calling, pushing doesn’t work as well as letting go. The counter-intuitiver trick is to surrender our passions, which came from God anyway, back to God, and then wait. And wait we will. There can be awfully long waits between word and action.
Consider Mary, who was floored by an angel and then left alone for years, with only memories and the occasional sign and wonder to keep her focused on the vision she’d been given. Or Abram, who left his hometown with his AARP card looking for his promised son and passed through his destination on the way to a twenty-five year detour.
As Christ followers, our passions exist for a greater purpose than our our own satisfaction. Learning to subject our passions to God’s direction is the other part of what it means to be called. We must go through a process of preparation to fulfill the passions we’ve been given.
Maybe you’re just beginning this process of preparation. Maybe you’ve been preparing forever, and now something new is happening. Maybe you’re already doing one thing you were called to do, and another thing shows up. The beautiful thing, and the thing I hope is happening for each of my church communication friends, is that when the distance between vision and reality finally starts to come together, awesome and unforeseen destinations appear.
There’s a big difference between feeling good and following Jesus, and you can’t shake a true call. If I’ve learned anything since my own life transitions began in 2010, it’s that when I am fully surrendered, God moves in ways that are both surprising and fulfilling, and that the marriage of call and passion creates a very full heart.
How is God calling you?