For the next two weeks I’m privileged to be teaching a course on Christian ethics and contemporary culture at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary in Montreal, Quebec. This morning’s class focused on the issue of calling and the Christian life. We discussed some of the ways in which God’s call to follow Christ comes to different individuals in a variety of circumstances and in a variety of means.
As background, we read Alissa Wilkinson’s short essay, “Vocation Takes Patience.” Discerning God’s call takes patience, a virtue that can be in short supply during the long nights of doubt and worry.
In our discussion, we allowed for the possibility that God might make clear his purpose for someone’s life in dramatic fashion, such as that experienced by Augustine, “Take up and read.” But apart from such miraculous instances, we identified a couple of significant influences for helping us discern the shapes of our callings.
First, we discussed individual experiences, intuitions, and feelings. Very often God gives us a particular desire or disposition as a way of orienting us towards particular ends. Of course these are not infallible, and indeed often manifest the brokenness of sinful humanity. But our personality traits, our interests, and our passions are ways in which God can communicate his will for us.
Similarly God provides us with communities of influence, such as friends, family members, and fellow church members, who can provide perspectives on our own abilities and proclivities in insightful ways that we often cannot see for ourselves. God can work through the encouraging or challenging (or rebuking) word of a friend who sees what we cannot.
The discussion also touched on cultural expectations as significant. We often hear about ways in which business people feel disconnected from the church. But it is equally true, as one of the students observed today, that in the eyes of the world a career in law, business, or medicine or some other praiseworthy endeavor is expected. It is perfectly acceptable on the world’s terms to go to college to maximize earning potential. In such respects it is counter-cultural to pursue a career that might mean a smaller paycheck or lesser social status. The pastoral ministry can all-too-often fall into this category.
The dynamic of the sacred and the secular, and corresponding callings, also was threaded throughout the conversation today, and I expect this dynamic to provide some fruitful discussion over the next two weeks as well.
One of Frederick Buechner’s famous quotes has to do with discerning God’s call: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What are some ways to discern what makes you glad and what the world needs?