In times past on this here blog (you can find it in the archives, I’m too lazy this morning to find specific examples for you), I’ve processed thoughts about Christians and “calling.” Just one of the many things I’ve been re-thinking over the years. I’m sort of re-visiting this subject this morning.
A huge switch in my thinking regarding my own calling began a few years ago when I was hosting a men’s study group for some young guys as part of our outreach in our house church. We were working through a popular men’s book at that time, Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. In the book, John presented a quote by Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
This led into an ongoing discussion (both in the book and among our group) about identifying the deepest desires of our heart, on the idea that this would give us a clue as to what God actually wanted us to do with our lives. It proved to be life-changing for several of us, and one guy even began pursuing a career change because of it.
For me, it was a paradigm shift because my whole idea of “ministry” and “calling” was based so much on my idea of God’s plan for my life, without any regard for personal dreams/desires. It was all about subjecting my will to His (and there are many people who would nod their head “yes” to this idea). Believe me, I know the theology behind this all too well; I know the heart of man is rebellious, and Christ-following involves a constant submitting of our will to God’s will. I do not deny it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that God created each of us in His image, and gave each of us gifts–and I believe He gives us dreams, too, deep desires, things we want to do with our life. I’m not talking about sinful impulses–this has nothing to do with what is or is not sinful–I’m talking about dreams, life directions, that kind of thing. The desires that lie deep in our soul and won’t go away.
This was the first time I had considered that maybe those deep dreams/desires were there for a reason–that maybe those weren’t just what we wanted, but also what God wanted. That maybe God put those desires there when He formed us, to give us a clue for His plan for our lives. Before this point, my whole idea of “calling” revolved around querying God to tell me what He wanted me to do (and, frankly, listening to the church, and particularly leaders in the church, telling me what they thought God wanted me to do). It never occurred to me that God had already told me something about that–lodged within the deepest desires of my heart.
To this day, my son The Director eschews the idea of “following his parents into ministry,” because he saw us so consumed with doing what we believed God wanted us to do, often at the cost of suffering. He was terrified that if he truly submitted his heart to God in this manner, that God would make him forfeit his own dreams in the process. It took him a long time to begin accepting the idea that maybe his dreams of being a filmmaker were God’s will for him.
Another key moment for me happened a couple of years later, when we were considering leaving Tulsa, and contemplating where we ought to go next. A dear friend in ministry lived a couple of hours away, and was part of a loose-knit spiritual community, and while we were visiting up there, they extended a sincere invitation for us to come and sojourn with them–to be there as a worship leader, to get “healed up.” It was very tempting for me, especially, to be invited so warmly in contrast to the rejection I’d experienced in Tulsa. These were people who actually valued my gifts, and what I had to say, and that was huge for me. The Wild One and The Director were not so tempted; for them, it was simply too close to the spiritual climate we had experienced.
Even so, as we discussed it on the way home, at one point The Wild One said, “Maybe we need to do this–for you. Maybe you need this outlet for leading worship at this point in your life.”
I opened my mouth to say, “Maybe you’re right.” Instead, what came out of my mouth surprised even me.
I said: “You know–this isn’t even what I originally wanted to do.”
The seed that book had planted in my heart years before suddenly sprouted leaves.
In that instant, I looked deeper–I looked past the identity I’d created for myself as a church worship leader, and the identity crisis I was having at the time as a displaced worship leader, and I remembered that my original intent was not to be a church worship leader at all. (I had initially envisioned going into the music industry, in fact.) I wanted to serve God in music in some way, but the worship leader thing? That had actually been other people’s idea, a good application for what I’d had to offer. I eventually settled into that role (very comfortably, I might add), simply because I was really good at it, and so I’d come to the conclusion that this must be God’s will for my gifts. Also, the churches I’d been part of insisted that it must be so.
I’m not saying I wasn’t supposed to be a pastor; I still feel that starting the church in Tulsa was the leading of the Lord, for reasons perhaps only He knows. But I do remember how He told me, the words that played in my head and heart: “The only way to see what you desire to see in Tulsa is to start it yourself.” I had not dreamed of being a pastor; I felt no compulsion to become one. I simply started a church because we needed to create a special vehicle to carry what we believed God wanted us to bring. But the role of “pastor” had not actually been my deepest desire.
Driving in the car in that moment, I realized how much I’d allowed other people over the years to shape what I perceived to be my calling, for reasons that may or may not have even been pure in heart. Even though the people who had invited me were sincere, I sensed that same pull from them as well–like they felt they knew better than I did what I ought to be doing. I had to silence those voices, to dig deeper, to find out what I really wanted to do, and let that be my compass toward reshaping my sense of “calling.” I needed to get past all the noise and find the truth.
That is a process that is still ongoing. It takes a little time to undo 30 years of programming. But I’m getting there.
So what have I learned about my own calling so far?
I’ve learned that my gift is not worship leading. Worship leaders in their current form have only been around the church for about a century or so; I believe the gifts of God have a more timeless value to them. My primary gift is to create music; worship leading is just one of many possible applications for that gift.
I’ve learned that my calling transcends context. My journey has taken me out of institutional Christianity, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken my calling. It simply means I must find a new context for it. (I’ve got several things on the burner right now that I happen to be very excited about, and will share in a future post.)
I’ve learned that I have a deep desire to make a positive difference in people’s lives, primarily through encouraging them. I used to think I could only do that in the church (in fact, offering encouragement was what I loved best about pastoring). But I have found ways to do that even with the local musicians here, without all the church-y stuff attached to it, and I’ve found it to be just as personally fulfilling as anything I did in the institutional church setting.
I’ve learned that I still desire to play music on a larger scale than just the local church platform. That alone requires that I re-think some things.
The upshot of all this is that I’m still on a journey to pursue the deepest desires of my heart, because I am beginning to recognize that this is a compass for me to fulfill the will of God in my own life. I am not just asking, “God, what do You want me to do?” I’m asking, “What do I really want to do?”
Because in a way, they are essentially the same question.