In Think Like a Five Year Old, I write that, whether we know it or not, each of us has a vision for future creative work. Much of what I write about is learning how to (re)discover and live out your creativity. In order to be more creative, understand this: God created us to flourish through creative expression.
When we create good things, we’re actually co-creating with God, building a new world through which all would know and experience Jesus–and through Jesus experience the same abundance we experience when we follow him and live out God’s creative calling on our lives.
That’s a more theological sentence than I usually write, but what I am saying is that this means whether what we make is church-y or just everyday, our creativity isn’t random, but understood in the context of a call from God.
Called has traditionally been a church-y word. In the past few years, though, it has been showing up a lot in non-church-y writing, particularly to millennial audiences, probably because it’s noble word. It describes creative work for a purpose.
Can you be called to create?
To learn more about your creativity, it’s good to learn about calling. Let me tell a story about a time that a boy literally, audibly heard God calling out to him, and six things about creativity as a calling.
(You can follow along if you want in 1 Samuel 3).
1. A Creative Calling Contains an Unrealized Image of the Future
In the beginning of the story we meet a boy named Samuel. Samuel lived during a time when, as the text says, “visions weren’t widely known.”
This description is both scene-setting and foreshadowing. Not many people had vision, and people had stopped creating. That is what is about to happen to Samuel. As Samuel lays in his bed, God calls him.
Takeaway: Calling and vision are interconnected. One way of knowing you’re hearing God speak to you is that you see a vision for the future – for yourself and for others.
2. A Creative Calling Requires Our Full Attention
Samuel hears something, but doesn’t understand what, so he says, “I’m here,” then goes to see his mentor Eli, thinking Eli is calling him.
When the beginnings of a creative vision first stir in our hearts, we may not recognize it, or we may mistake it for something else. It may not look or sound like what we expect. That’s because we don’t yet know how to listen.
But props to Samuel. He lay still, and even though he didn’t know what was going on yet, he heard God speak. He wasn’t distracted.
Once, I was desperate for a life answer, for God to tell me what to do. I prayed, as sincerely and as fervently as I’d ever prayed. In return, two odd words popped into my head: “Seek first.” It wasn’t what I expected, and at first I was annoyed. I wanted to fix a problem, but instead God said, “Hello.”
Takeaway: The first thing to wait for isn’t marching orders but God’s presence. If we are still, God will speak to us.
3. We Need Help Recognizing Our Own Passions
When Samuel visits Eli, Eli tells him to go back to sleep. Crazy kid, stop waking me up.
This exchange happens a second time.
Here, the storyteller interrupts the narrative to inform us that the word of God hadn’t yet been revealed to Samuel. Aha! So, calling can come first. You don’t have to already have your junk fixed.
A third time, God calls Samuel, and a third time, Samuel visits Eli. But finally, a different result: Eli realizes that it is the Lord who is calling the boy. Eli helps Samuel understand what is happening.
Samuel never recognized his own calling, even after three times. He needed someone wise to help him, who is experienced in recognizing when God moves and speaks. The mentor helped Samuel figure out what was happening.
I first received a calling – a creative vision – when I was 21. I had a thought and wrote it down in a journal. There was no emotional experience at first. Just a natural feeling that what I’d written down made sense as an idea to help me direct my energies and passions. I didn’t share it with anyone, primarily because I didn’t realize it was going to change my life. It wasn’t until two years later, when I met two men who would become mentors, that I began to recognize what I’d written in my journal.
Take away: We likely do not recognize the noise we’re hearing in our hearts. We need mentors in our lives, good ones who have heard God speak before, who will help us make sense of our seemingly indiscriminate passions and interests.
4. God’s Creative Calling Isn’t Just For Our Pleasure
When we hear what God says to Samuel, the first thing is a surprise: God’s word isn’t all fun and games. (Sorry.) God’s calling to Samuel is God directed, for God’s benefit, and for God’s glory.
Quietly, we expect a creative calling to be for the purposes of fulfilling our passions, but sometimes when God speaks to us, it has nothing to do with us.
In Think Like a Five Year Old I write about knowing and pursuing passions. This might be misconstrued as doing what you want and hoping God will sanctify our desires. But as Samuel learned, the thing we’re called to do isn’t just the thing that gives us pleasure. Instead, it’s the source of our “un-peace.” It’s the thing that keeps us up at night. Joy is a part, certainly, but not the primary raison d’etre.
Here’s something important about calling: We are called to do something not for purposes of consumption – our own ultimate comfort – but for purposes of creation and the building of a community.
Take away: Test the calling you believe you hear. If the main goal is your comfort, it’s not from God.
5. Your Reaction May Be Unexpected
After God’s done speaking, Samuel is afraid to talk about it.
If we’re able to learn how to listen, and we actually receive a word from God, we may not like it, or we may be shy to share it.
God’s vision wasn’t pleasantries for Eli. Perhaps what we hear isn’t helpful for those around us, so we’re reluctant to share. We may want to dismiss it or pretend it will go away.
God has spoken to me a few distinct times in my life. When I say “spoken” what I mean is that what I have experienced is a rush of vision. On one occasion, I was driving on the highway, and I had so many ideas flying through my head and such energy! that I pulled off into a rest area and wrote for an hour. Each time this has happened to me, though, it hasn’t been for myself, but for the sake of the church. When I was younger and it happened, I would get emotional. As I have gotten older, my desire for personal emotional experience has shifted to concern for the impact on the people around me.
Takeaway: Even if the next step is obvious, don’t expect it to be easy.
6. God’s Creative Calling May Take a Long Time to Come True
After the big night, time passes. A lot of time. Samuel grows.
Takeaway: Our creative vision won’t come to pass quickly. It may take a generation. In fact, if it’s the kind of thing that can be built in a month, then it’s probably too small and not a creative vision.
I believe that we each have a set of good things that God has designed for us to do with our lives. These tasks are creative and they are re-creative. In other words, they are part of the world-redemptive work of advancing God’s kingdom.
If you’re looking for guidance or direction about your career or your next creative project, Samuel’s story may offer some wisdom for your creative calling.