Handling Your Calling

By Frank Decker –

Over the years I’ve attended countless mission conferences and other events in which a seemingly endless variety of Christian work is represented.  There may be a passionate plea to sponsor a child living in poverty, or to finance the drilling of a well to provide clean water for a village, or to help fund a missionary family moving overseas. So, how does one sort through or filter one’s response to an overabundance of need in the world without erecting some type of protective fortress around one’s heart?

In the last issue of Good News, my colleague Ruth Burgner wrote about “compassion fatigue” and the essential role of prayer. I wish to continue on this theme of how conscientious persons of faith can respond to a sea of physical and spiritual need. And I think a key to understanding this is found in recognizing the nature of our calling.

The word “call” is often used to describe the motivating factor in someone’s decision to engage in missions or other ministry. We often hear about one’s call. “When were you called to be a missionary?” “How do I know if I have ‘a call?’” I used to refer to the initial time when I first felt drawn to full-time ministry, and subsequently to foreign mission service, as my “calling.” I no longer do so. Rather, as I now teach our fledgling missionaries, I understand our most fundamental calling as reflected in Luke chapter six when, after spending a night in prayer, Jesus “called 12 disciples to himself.” Our fundamental calling is to Christ. What follows in the context of my life as his disciple can be seen as periodic callings or, better yet, “assignments.” I have found this understanding to be liberating for a few reasons.

These Spirit-led assignments can provide direction for my life. When God recurrently breaks my heart about something, I could very well be receiving a clue about my next assignment, because the manifestation of darkness in the world today that most stirs your heart can serve to chart the course of your next stage of ministry.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” Frederick Beuchner once said. The forms of darkness manifested in our world are many, including substance abuse, suicide, human trafficking, substandard housing, non-potable water, child abuse, orphans, racism, homelessness, toxic relationships, the plight of refugees, a lack of basic healthcare, and those who have no access to the Good News. Of course, I could go on and on.  And while it is unlikely that any of us mortals would be equally and thoroughly brokenhearted by all of these aspects of darkness, I believe that God speaks to us by thoroughly breaking our heart about something.

Secondly, because ministry assignments address different forms of darkness, there is grace in knowing that these assignments are varied within the body of Christ. So, let’s say that I am convinced that my energy in this season of my life should be focused on helping refugees, and one day I hear in my church an impassioned plea by someone who has discovered the great need to adopt or foster a child. Let’s say that as a result of her zeal the speaker even implies that everyone who loves Jesus should adopt or foster a child. If I have a firm understanding that much of my energy and resources involve addressing darkness in another manner, I can be protected from an undeserved sense of guilt or obligation. (At the same time, if I am not passionate about addressing any form of need as part of my life in Christ, then I must be wary of the danger of developing a sort of Teflon coating that would protect my heart from conviction.) 

Finally, ministry assignments can be seasonal and are likely to change in the course of one’s faith walk. The thing that excited me the most when I entered ministry 38 years ago is different than the prevailing ministry that has motivated me to get out of bed for the past 15 years or so. I think this change happens as we mature and go through seasons of life and stages of faith. 

As followers of Jesus our primary call is to Christ himself, and as we walk with him we are beckoned to respond to the needs of a broken world with sensitivity and compassion. When we each discern the specific manner that we are drawn to respond to that invitation, we witness the advance of God’s kingdom on earth. A colleague of mine once said, “The type of workers needed today are those who will stand on the edge of darkness and say ‘Something has got to be done about that.’” What aspect of the darkness breaks your heart?

Frank Decker is the Vice President for Training and Formation at TMS Global – www.TMS-Global.org.

Comments

  1. Dear Frank, Excellent and thoughtful “read”. Thank You. As I am in my mid 70’s, What you have written about rings true. I am reminded of:
    Ephesians 2:9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
    Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. (Nlt)
    It is God which has brought us the seasons of our works.

  2. Peter Huber says:

    Frank,

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and helpful article. I appreciate your perspective and response to our Lord’s leading in writing it.

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