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Bible

How Can You Tell When God is Calling?

05.01.2018

Professor Kelli Worrall explains how to discern God’s call on your life.

Jodie came to my office one afternoon last week, contemplating “the call of God.” She is preparing to graduate, and she doesn’t yet know what the future holds. Should she stay in Chicago and continue in her current administrative job? It pays decent money, and the ministry she works with on the weekends would also love to keep her around. Or, should she take a riskier route and pursue an unpaid internship with a ministry on the West Coast?

Working with this organization sounds like her “dream job,” but sorting out the logistics—the housing, the transportation, the funding, etc.—feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Or, should she return home to Tennessee to live with her parents for a while? She would treasure the time with them, and she could save money more quickly for graduate school. But other than family, there’s nothing much for her there, and moving home feels like taking several steps backwards.

At one point, Jodie looked over at me with wild eyes, grabbed ahold of her hair with both hands, and pretended to rip it out at the roots. “Why can’t God just make it clear?” she cried.

What Does God Want Me To Do?

As a Bible college professor, I have conversations like this on a regular basis. Several times every semester, students show up at my door, asking for help to discern: What does God want me to do? What is He calling me to? How can I know for sure? Or even—certainly He can’t want that!

Okay—let’s be honest—it isn’t only my students who are asking these questions. Even though I am well into my forties, I sometimes still wonder and pray in this way. God, should I continue down this path or should I take a turn? Should I say “yes” and walk through this seemingly wide open door, trusting that You will give the strength? Or, for the sake of my family, my health, and my own relationship with You, do I need to say “no”? Or, Lord, this is so hard; does that mean it’s not Your will?

In November 2015 Dee Ann Turner wrote an instantly popular Relevant magazine article called “4 Keys to Discovering Your Calling.” And because “calling” is often on my mind, I read with great interest her four points:

  • Your calling is the thing that gets you up in the morning
  • It’s what others tell you that you do best.
  • It’s the way you use your energy to make an impact.
  • And it’s the moment and the activity in which you feel God’s pleasure.

These are helpful points to consider. And I do agree with them—to a certain extent. Certainly it is wonderful when God calls us to something that lights a fire in our soul. Certainly people may occasionally acknowledge our strengths, and I enjoy pointing out the abilities I see in other people. God gave us those skills, no doubt, and He doesn’t intend for them to go to waste. Certainly, too, God sometimes allows us the satisfaction of experiencing our own effectiveness, of seeing a project succeed or a problem solved, and it is certainly rewarding when this is the case. And certainly there are seasons when we sense His great pleasure throughout the process.

Certainly these things are true.

What If Your Calling Isn’t What You Expected?

However, as we see in the life of Mary and so many others throughout Scripture, hearing and heeding the call of God shouldn’t mean searching for something that is self-satisfying. Rather, it often means following His footsteps into the hard and even impossible places. It sometimes means being willing to stay in that space for as long as it takes—maybe even for a lifetime.

Because . . .

Sometimes our calling causes us to cower under the covers. Sometimes we respond with uncertainty and fear when we hear Him speak our name. Sometimes, we respond with dread. Because sometimes God calls us to do crazy things. Sometimes He calls us to build that great big boat when there is no sign of rain. Sometimes He wants us to go to Nineveh and risk our very lives to share His good news. Sometimes He calls us to care for people who seem downright impossible to love. Sometimes those unlovables live in a distant land across the sea. Sometimes they reside right under our own roof. So we love, not because we feel compelled. Not because the prospect propels us out of bed at the first light of day. We love simply because He commands us to and because He loved us first.

Sometimes our calling doesn’t make logical sense. Sometimes when He blinds us with His brilliance and we fall to our knees—ready to obey, others will dismiss us and doubt our place. Sometimes our calling seems far beyond our reach. Sometimes we feel shockingly ill-suited to the task. Sometimes when the burning bush beckons, we think of innumerable excuses to explain why we are not the best person for the job. But we get up and go. We march into Pharaoh’s court with our knocking knees and our stuttering speech because He who calls will also equip. He promises His presence and His power. And these things are more than enough.

Sometimes we won’t get to see the results of our work. Sometimes we may not see any measurable effect. Sometimes we will labor for years and see not one soul saved. Sometimes we won’t get to build the Temple or enter the Promised Land. Sometimes our prophetic cries in the wilderness seem to fall on deaf ears. Sometimes our witness will land us behind bars. Yet we keep our eyes on the eternal prize and strain our ears only to hear the ultimate “well done.”

And sometimes we don’t feel His pleasure. Sometimes we sense only silence. Sometimes we endure only the piercing pain. Sometimes we sit in the slimy belly of the fish. Sometimes we may beg for the cup to be taken away. “My God, My God!” Sometimes we feel forsaken. But we take up our cross and we follow Him.

So, yes, sometimes God’s calling looks like a miraculous virgin birth or the parting of a sea. And sometimes it looks more like a wander in the wilderness. Sometimes it looks like a nail-scarred hand. And sometimes—blessed Sunday—it looks like redemption and an empty tomb. Always it looks like discipleship and requires obedience.

So may we have courage to face the furnace when necessary. May we have the tenacity to circle the city for the seventh time. And—regardless of whether it comes via an angelic announcement or a burning bush or a still small voice—may we have keen ears and willing hearts that will hear and heed God’s call.

Kelli Worrall is a professor of Communications at Moody Bible Institute. This essay is excerpted from Pierced & Embraced: 7 Life-Changing Encounters with the Love of Christ (Moody Publishers).


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