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Discerning God’s Call

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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?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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  • Mo86

    I’ve been desperately searching for God’s purpose/direction for my life since I became a Christian at 18. I’m in my 40’s now and still haven’t figured it out. I despair of ever doing so.

    • Taylosco

      I will pray for you that Jesus will touch your heart and mind and that the Holy Spirit will show you the way that He wants you to go and grow.  That hunger you feel can only be satiated in Jesus.  He is really and truly present in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church. Check it out- Jesus cannot be outdone in His generosity!!