My husband and I have had a long history of full-time Christian service. We met through a campus missionary organization and independently joined the staff of that group. A year later, we both recognized that not only was our calling similar, but our attraction to each other was too! And so began an adventure of listening to God together.
When my husband felt that God was calling him to seminary, however, I balked. It meant another move and certain poverty for three years, so I was less than excited. But as we prayed about it for almost a year after he first mentioned it, I became as enthusiastic as he was. And although I couldn’t take classes because someone had to care for our two little ones and earn some money, I felt that the call to seminary was a joint calling—mine as much as his. To this day, we refer to that time as, “When we were in seminary. . .”
Following seminary, we took on a church plant. Again, I say “we.” For although my husband was the pastor who got the paycheck, I contributed as much emotional energy—and close to as much physical energy—to establish this church, which is now healthy and thriving.
Nice story, right? Good, happy ending. Uh, not quite—because it isn’t the end.
Fast forward 27 years to the present. About two years ago, my husband felt the same kind of pull that he’d felt when God called him to seminary. Through numerous trips overseas, he began to feel compelled to help the pastors he met there. He realized that his pastoral training and experience were abundant beyond imagination to pastors in poorer parts of the world who were lucky to own a Bible. So he wanted to go with a missionary organization that trains pastors internationally. This time, it took me no time to jump on the bandwagon. This ministry seemed a perfect fit for his abilities and passions, and although he had to raise support, I could provide much needed stability until the funds were raised because I had a good, secure job. So, we saved money like crazy and he resigned as pastor of the church and joined the missionary organization.
All was going as planned until I suddenly lost my position when he had only 35 percent of his funds raised. We went from two paychecks to none since he couldn’t start drawing a paycheck until he had 50 percent of it raised.
My first reaction was not panic, but sorrow (the panic came later). I loved my job and felt it to be more than a job, but a calling. It was exactly suited to my abilities and was not just a paycheck but a ministry. I was immediately offered another job to take the place of the one I’d lost, but I felt no peace or passion as I prayed about it—and I turned it down, which showed me how strongly I feel about calling. I had experienced what it meant to be called and didn’t want to just go through the motions of obtaining employment merely for the paycheck.
The whole experience has been clarifying for me. I realized that even the job I was in had become routine. After almost 10 years, I had it down and was pretty much going through the motions. I hadn’t taken the time to ask God if he still wanted me to be doing it, but continued to plug along—unlike my husband who left his secure position to strike out in obedience.
So, I am now in a rather good place. I am open to anything God wants me to do and excited to find out what it is. And I’ve learned a few things through the whole experience about calling and what it means.
Take Time to Listen
I love that my husband has had the courage to leave the secure and known for the insecure and the unknown. The only way he could do that is by lots of prayerful time before God. He was in the same pastorate for 27 years, so periodically, he would take time to pray that God would show him if he was to stay or pursue something else. Always, the call to stay came back loud and clear—until a couple of years ago. Then the pull began to be in a different direction. It sounded like craziness for someone his age, but because he’d been faithful to obey in the past, he knew God’s voice in the present.
I am now in the same place for a different reason. I’ve lost my position, so I need to take time to listen to God. This certainly didn’t take God by surprise, and he knows exactly what he wants me to be doing that best fits with how he made me. Rather than jumping at the first secure position, I’m taking time to listen to what he wants me to do next. And I’m beginning to recognize ways that he was nudging me even before I lost my job.
Be Radical but Not Foolish
My husband and I are both very aware that there is a fine line between radical obedience and foolishness. We’ve counseled people in the past who said they felt callings that turned out to be just wishful thinking. One particular person felt “called” to an international speaking ministry. They wanted to quit their job and pursue it full-time. We knew this person’s unstable history and advised against it. The “calling” was merely a desire for affirmation that they hoped would come when thousands of people hung on their every word. We suggested that the person keep their job and begin speaking to smaller venues to see if God was in this calling or if their own needs were driving it. Fortunately, this person listened. Even the smaller speaking opportunities didn’t work out. But this person has found another ministry that is meeting many needs in their local church, while still keeping their day job.
How is that different than my husband’s calling to quit his job? Quite different in that his motivation was to help others and not primarily to meet his own needs. And he shared his ideas with many, many people before he resigned his position as pastor. Everyone he talked to immediately said that it sounded exactly suited to his passions and abilities. Not a single person thought it was a bad idea. Even his security-loving parents assured him that it sounded like a perfect fit.
And what about me turning down a full-time position when neither of us have an income? I agree that on the face of it, it sounds foolish. But I, too, talked to many people about it and got the same affirmation. Plus, we had some safeguards in place. We had saved enough money to get by for awhile in case we needed it in this transition. And I have a pretty healthy freelance writing career that brings in some income. That gave us enough of a cushion to have the luxury of taking time to truly listen to God and follow his leading.
So, if you are thinking of doing something radical, slow down and take some time to ponder it over. If you tend toward impulsive things, step back. God is not in a hurry.
Affirm the Calling
If, however, you are not impulsive but the slow and steady type, this challenge is for you. Have you taken the time to make sure you are doing what you are really supposed to be doing, or are you just going through the motions because it is the secure, safe thing to do?
If you love what you are doing, find great fulfillment in it, and are using your gifts, you are most likely exactly where you should be. Rejoice in that and renew the calling you first had.
But if you are feeling a bit restless and have lost your passion, perhaps God is trying to get your attention to lead you in another direction. Take time to listen. If he begins to nudge you in those times of listening, begin testing the idea. Present it to those who love you and know you best to get their opinions. If wise people affirm you, begin to find out what your options are. And even if it’s scary, take the first step in obedience. Because being where you are called to be is the most secure place in the universe.