Friday, 9 January 2015

Discovering our Calling

As Christians, we are a people of faith, right? So, is your faith where you feel it should be? Are you confused and full of doubt?
Do you have a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are in your life?
Do you find yourself getting frustrated or angry with people around you, with your circumstances, with yourself or with God?
Do you find yourself thinking: “If only I had different parents... if only I lived somewhere else... if only I had more money... if only I had married someone else, then my life would be better and I would be happy”?

If this is how you are thinking, let me suggest that you have completely missed the point.
The bible tells us that we are where we are by God’s design. God has determined the exact time and place we are to be born, the family we are raised in, our personal circumstances, and the country where we will live. Within that set of circumstances, he has a plan for our lives that fits in with his greater plan for the world. God has programmed each one of us, so that we are able to find fulfillment only as we fit into his plan for our lives. Anything less than that and there is a nagging sense of something not being quite right with our lives.

So your sense of fulfillment today as well as your reward in heaven for eternity depends on your finding your place in God’s scheme of things. How will you find out what is your calling?
God has created us with specific natures and talents and put us in specific places, which include our families. Our lives are woven together along with the lives of other people around us. All of us, depending on our circumstances, have certain specific roles in our lives. First and foremost, a person is an individual. Then he or she is someone’s son or daughter and often someone’s brother or sister. As we grow, we discovers other roles: as a student, a friend, a relation, a spouse, a parent, an employer or employee, a teacher, mentor or guide, etc. 

Each role carries with it a set of God-given responsibilities. Some roles are to our liking and we readily fulfill them, but others we don’t like so much and we tend to ignore or neglect them. Sometimes we are so focused on one role, that we forget that the others exist and that we have a responsibility towards them. For example, men, who are working often get so absorbed in their professional careers, that they forget they also have certain responsibilities as husbands and fathers. Women often get so absorbed in their roles as mothers, that they forget they have to be supportive of their husbands. And many completely forget that they have a responsibility towards themselves as individuals too. Young people often get so involved with their friends that they forget that they have certain responsibilities as students as well as towards parents and siblings. And then there are our social responsibilities too, which many of us tend to forget about.

Neglect of any role and over-concentration on any, unbalances our life. These neglected roles and responsibilities affect our lives in different ways: in deteriorated relationships, in financial problems, in wrong choices of job or life partner and in various emergency situations. People who are neglecting some important role in their lives or not fulfilling some role effectively are subconsciously aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction with themselves. They try to cover this up in many ways. Some people take to shifting the blame on others for their troubles. Whatever situation they are in is someone else’s fault. Others try to mask this sense of disquiet by having fun, buying things, indulging in some excess or trying to find satisfaction in some worldly way.

I believe that the key to true fulfillment is to get out of this negative pattern and find your true place in life. How do we do this? We ask God for wisdom to help us find his purpose for our life. And then we just do our best in the roles God presently has for us NOW, trusting that as we obey him in everything as far as we are able, God will unfold his purposes for our lives. 

James 1:5-8 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all he does.”

Most people ask for wisdom and keep looking for an answer. They see everything that is happening as God’s guidance and then are disappointed when things don’t turn out right. This leads to a lot of doubt and confusion and they begin to wonder whether they are getting any guidance at all! This is exactly what James is saying; asking for wisdom and doubting makes you double-minded and unstable, and with this kind of attitude, you cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord. 

So how do we receive? I believe, the answer is to just do the next thing that needs to be done and do it the best way you can and trust God to do his part in his time. Fulfill the roles God has given you as best as you can. God is not suddenly going to call you to something big without preparation. And the way he prepares us is by giving us small responsibilities. As we read in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), he will give us some responsibility according to our ability. Then he will leave us to it. If we neglect our responsibility, even what we have will be taken from us and we will be left unhappy and frustrated. But if we are faithful in little things, he will commend us and give us greater and more significant things to do. As we go through our days faithfully discharging the various roles he has entrusted to us, he will open doors of opportunity to greater things.

Jesus told many parables to illustrate his messages. When he spoke, people were amazed at his wisdom. How do you think he acquired all this wisdom? The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ education. We only know a little bit about his birth, the visit of the shepherds and of the magi and the first time his parents presented him in the temple as a baby. Then there was the incident when he was 12, when he stayed back at the temple instead of going home with his parents and discoursed with the elders there. After that there is total silence about him until he comes to John to be baptized at the age of 30. The last thing we read about Jesus before he started his ministry is in Luke chapter 2 verses 51 and 52: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Which means that whatever was expected from him, he did, and did well. Not only was God pleased with him, people were also pleased with him.

We can try and make some educated guesses about Jesus’s life during those hidden years. As a child, he must have been a good natured, cheerful and obedient boy. If he was to be a sinless offering on behalf of all mankind, he had to be sinless as a child too. Which means, he was an excellent son. He was obedient, courteous, helpful and kind. He loved and honored his parents and showed respect and deference to his elders. His father Joseph must have taken him to the synagogue regularly and he would have learnt and memorized the scriptures diligently – so he was also a very good student. 

Where do you think Jesus learned to love little children? After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had other children. So Jesus was an elder brother. I’m sure his siblings would have been normal children and made their share of mischief. He must have had to gently correct them and teach them by example. He would have protected and defended them, played with them and taught them. He would have perfectly played his role as an elder brother.

Joseph was a carpenter and would have taught the skill to Jesus. Jesus must have learnt diligently and become very skilled at the trade. Whatever Jesus did, he would have done it to the best of his ability and so would have been a very good and skilled carpenter. So as a professional, he discharged his role well too.

Sometime after the age of 12, Jesus lost his father. Perhaps he may have been 15 or 16, but probably not much older. Now, he had to take on the role of head of the family, as he was the eldest male child. He would have had to work hard to provide for his mother and his brothers and sisters at an early age. He had to take on the role of a father and provider and he discharged that too. We see that he didn’t enter public life till he was 30 years of age. Why? Probably because until his brothers were old enough, skilled enough and responsible enough to take over the financial and moral responsibility for the household, he could not leave his family without support. Jesus took his role as provider of the family very seriously. 

He also must have had to teach his brothers the trade in the absence of his father. He would have discharged his role as teacher and mentor also very well. Because of the excellent quality of their work, the family business would have flourished. He would have been a good businessman and very responsible with money. He may have even had hired servants, so he may have been a good and considerate employer too. Finally, when his responsibilities to his family were over and he could leave them in charge of his younger brothers, Jesus only then entered into his ministry of teaching and healing. 

Jesus was also a good friend, to his 12 disciples and to Lazarus, Mary and Martha. We can see how perfectly Jesus discharged every single role God entrusted him with, including his role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! And don’t forget, even on the cross, he made arrangements to have his mother looked after and gave her to his beloved disciple to comfort him as well.

Did Jesus have a smooth life? Most certainly not. He had to learn many lessons the hard way. He lost his father early and had to take on the heavy responsibility for his large family. He must surely have had a few difficult customers. Perhaps some people tried to cheat him too. Everything Jesus taught to his disciples and to the public must have been from his personal experiences, which means that he must have faced many trials and temptations. He could talk of forgiveness, because he must have experienced hurt and injustice and had to forgive. He spoke of loving your enemies, so he must have had enemies and learnt to show them love. Everything he taught others, he must have practiced himself again and again until it was second nature to him. Remember, that though he was Son of God, he was also son of man, and restricted himself to all the limitations of men, so that he could identify himself with us fully.

My guess is that his own brothers probably resented him. At some point they must have got tired of having this goody-goody brother who could do no wrong. We get a hint of what their feelings were for him in John 7:1-5. The Jewish leaders were looking for a way to kill Jesus, so he did not go to Judea, but went about preaching in Galilee. But his brothers taunted him and told him to go to Judea and do his miracles there openly for the world to see. Can you imagine that his own brothers actually tried to send him where his life would be in danger? Did you ever wonder where his brothers were when Jesus was being crucified? None of them was anywhere near the cross. Leave alone any love for Jesus, not even concern for their distressed and grieving mother brought them there.  Jesus saw that and, rather than leave her in their care, he entrusted her to John, who would honor and cherish her and take care of her.

The point I want to make here is that God trains us the same way he trained Jesus for his calling. Jesus was trained the hard way; why should we expect it to be different for us? Every experience in Jesus’ life, both good and bad served to prepare him for the work God called him to do. The same is true for us too. Jesus submitted to God’s training and discipline. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus was made perfect through what he suffered. God prepared him for his ministry for 30 years. Do you think he is going to call you for any work without preparing you for it?

God is not arbitrary in calling us. He works many things together: our nature and specific talents, our circumstances, our desires and interests, the needs of the people around us, our collective experiences, our contacts. Some people discover their calling early, others quite late in life. Others are doing something that they do not find fulfilling and are just plodding on, with a vague sense of having missed something. I believe this is because they have short-circuited God’s plan for them by going their own way and neglecting God’s commands. 

If this is the case with you, let me suggest something I do myself from time to time. Sit down and think about every role you have in your life and evaluate how well you are fulfilling it. Work out how to correct the imbalances, because only then you will find fulfillment or satisfaction. Finding out God’s plan for your life may take time, as it will take some redefining of some of the roles in your life. But it will be well worth it, as there is no way else you can find true fulfillment. The center of God’s will is the best and safest place to be, because that is where you have God’s favor and his help is available to you. 

As you faithfully fulfill each role God has given you, you will be equipped for your calling, because every role and the experiences you accumulate as you fulfill them prepares you for it. Your calling may be big or it may seem small. It may be for ministry or it may be for some secular work. It may even seem unimportant, but in God’s economy, the janitor who turns up regularly and on time and arranges chairs faithfully out of love for God is as important as the evangelist whose preaching causes many souls to be saved. The old lady confined to her bed, who prays fervently, is as important as the missionary who leaves his home and goes to a dangerous mission field. A mother diligently bringing up her children in the fear of the Lord is as important as a surgeon performing a heart operation, sometimes much more. God sees a devoted heart and uses anyone he chooses to fulfill his greater purposes.

God’s Word contains guidance on how to fulfill every role we play in life. As we seek to please him in obeying his commands, we begin to find our relationships improving and our lives turning out to be much better than before. We become more successful in whatever we do, whether it be studying, parenting, our work, our hobbies, our health or our ministries. As we submit to his training, we find doors opening in some area of our lives, and as we prayerfully go through these doors, we find before long that we are finding fulfillment and our calling becomes more and more clear. God is training us for the role he has for us in his greater plan.

Ultimately, our calling is to love God, trust him, follow him and obey him in everything as far as we are able. He knows our weaknesses and he is a merciful God, who weaves our circumstances to accommodate them and still makes something beautiful out of our lives. When we fail because of our weaknesses or because our strength runs out, God is able to pick us up and tie us back into the pattern he is weaving with our lives into the vast and beautiful tapestry of his greater purpose. He molds us like a potter and each of us fulfills a special purpose in his greater plan. We may never know it till we reach his kingdom, and then it will be revealed to us. Until then we only have to trust him and fulfill faithfully whatever roles he has given us for now.

For those of you who feel that there are roles in your lives to which you have not done justice, I would suggest that you take a day or two to do a serious and prayerful evaluation of your life. Identify all the various roles you have, especially those that God has given you and write them down on a sheet of paper. Then look at what occupies your time and attention every day and how it is contributing towards fulfilling your various roles. You will probably find, as I did, that because of a lack of clarity, you have been spending a great portion of your time and energy on things that are not contributing to any of the important roles in your life. But just becoming aware of these roles will help you to identify things you need to do on a day-to-day basis to move forward in each of these areas.

Remember that your first and most important role is as a child of God. Neglecting this role will guarantee that you will never fit into the purpose God has for your life. What are you doing to fulfill that role? Are you nurturing your relationship with God? Are you spending enough time in studying his word and in prayer? Are you looking to him for day-to-day guidance? Are you obeying his commands? Are you holding on to his promises for the future? Your relationship with God will determine how you fulfill the other roles in your life. This is because all the guidance you need on how to fulfill the other important roles in your life is available in his Word, the Bible. As you read and pray, God will guide you step by step in how to fulfill your responsibilities towards your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, your employer, your employees, your church, your domestic helpers, even your pets! As you focus on making one small improvement at a time, you will find your life gradually changing for the better and opportunities opening up that you had never thought possible. And, as you walk faithfully in small things, he will gradually give you charge of bigger things.