Discerning Individual Vocation & Responsibility
The author Fredrich Buechner describes, “God calls you to the place where your great gladness meets the worlds deep need.” I love this quote because so often I see people who blindly pursue their own great gladness, ‘their bliss’ as another author says, without consideration for the world and it’s great spiritual cavities. Also, I see people, good people, who watch a documentary on West African genocide, environmental degradation, or the plight of the urban poor and feel emotionally compelled. One pursues their dreams without regard for the world; the other neglects their gifts for the sake of the world. God’s call seeks out the nexus between deep gladness and the world’s need.
Let’s return to the story of Moses. Because he was adopted by Pharaoh at a young age and was therefore familiar with the inner-workings of the Egyptian leadership, but still an Israelite, he was uniquely suited for his role in God’s deliverance of Israel. God used who Moses was to answer the cry of the Israel. We might also think of Nehemiah who was uniquely fitted for rebuilding Israel because of the leadership he had learned while in exile, as the king’s cup-bearer. While it might not always be our deep gladness it is the fundamental intersection of our giftedness and the world’s need, most often as it’s expressed locally.
William Wilberforce wanted to be a Pastor. He had recently come to a real and personal faith in Christ and was wanting to do all he could to serve God. He was also suited to be involved in the government. He came from a family, he had the opportunities. It was John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” that told Wilberforce “It’s hoped and believed that God has raised you up for the good of the nation.” It was only a bit later that Wilberforce begin to sense that God was calling him to remain in politics to seek the abolition of the slave-trade. Early on in this journey of discernment he wrote a letter to John Wesley asking for guidance. The following is Wesley’s response.
Unless the divine power has raised you to be as Athanasius contra mundum, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be fore you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a "law" in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?
That he who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,
I personally wrestled with finding the nexus, the intersection between my ‘bliss’ and the world’s deep hunger. For the longest time I wanted to become a writer. I was able to get published at a fairly young age in small variety of literary journals. I was excited with my success. In addition to the excitement friends, professors, my parents, they were all encouraging me to go forward with pursuing a life as a writer.
I began to fashion some future for myself where Kandice and I lived in some urban studio with a artsy loft in some hip part of a hip city. I’d drink too much coffee, get published. Kandice would take pictures. It’d be grand. I applied to an incredibly academic MFA program on the east coast. I didn’t get accepted. The disillusionment that accompanied that experience didn’t send me into despair, rather it sent me into a hunt for the intersection of personal bliss and world’s need. Was it in continuing to pursue a life as a writer? Was it back into ministry?
It was in this time of discernment where I felt God say, “I am calling you to teach and build up.” This was both encouraging and challenging. I felt that what that call meant in my immediate situation was to not pursue the idealized writer’s life I had once imagined. What was clear to me was that involved ministry. What also became clear to me was that in order to be taught I needed to commit myself to a season being taught. Off to study theology Kandice and I went.
Those nine words I sensed God saying to me in that particular time of discernment now function as a filter for all I pursue or say “yes” to. When I’m presented with an option I ask myself it it participates in my sense of call: as a Christian, as a Father, as a Husband, and also as one who has been called to “teach and build up.”