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The harsh truth about finding your calling

This is a guest post from Jeff Goins: Perhaps one of the most puzzling aspects of the Christian life is this idea of calling, of finding your purpose in life and living it out. I know for me, it's been one of the hardest things to grapple with. As a twenty-something who's almost 30,…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

This is a guest post from Jeff Goins:

Perhaps one of the most puzzling aspects of the Christian life is this idea of calling, of finding your purpose in life and living it out. I know for me, it's been one of the hardest things to grapple with.

As a twenty-something who's almost 30, I'm able to look back on this first chapter of my adult life and pinpoint the big moments. Those significant times of dramatic growth. And in every one of them, there's one common characteristic: I was always doing something uncomfortable.

The lie of the American Dream tells us that if we could just bring order to our hectic lives, if we could just stabilize everything, then we could be happy. So we quantify success with material posessions:

  • A nice car
  • A big house
  • A great retirement plan

But in this pursuit of more, we find ourselves increasingly disillusioned with what we have. Maybe that's not all there is to a fulfilled life?

When I was 19, I thought the secret to living a great life was found in chasing thrills. I thought my calling would be something glamorous and full of danger.

Now, that I'm 29, I realize the truth. The mark of a true disciple, of someone who is passionately pursuing God's plan for their life, is obedience. Which is a nice way of saying "doing what you don't want to do."

For me, this means working on a spreadsheet when I'd rather hop a plane to Africa. It means saying no to that cool conference everyone is attending so I can answer emails.

We find our life's work not by chasing our dreams, but by submitting to a larger story. Which means occasionally stepping out of the spotlight and being okay with working in the shadows for a season.

It's not what I would've planned for myself, but it's surprisingly freeing. This is what it means to live out your calling: not always doing what you want — but doing what you must, what is required, what you are called to do.

The paradox, of course, is that this is the most fulfilled way to live.

Jeff is the Communications Director of Adventures in Missions. His new book, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, came out this week.

Comments (17)

  • I totally respect you Jeff, but I only partially agree with this. I think there is more to the story here. A couple of weeks ago I would’ve given you a big “Amen!” But now I’m just not so sure. Here’s why…

    Some history-I am the Artist behind S.D.G. Artistry and have been manufacturing and selling my work for the last 4 years. It’s been pretty amazing seeing God work in the process. There has been a TON of fun and an even bigger amount of stress over those last 4 years!

    About a year ago I felt that God was trying to move me in a different direction. That He was telling me to QUIT STRIVING. That’s hard for me because I LOVE work and would do it it about 16 hours a day if I didn’t have to eat, shower and take care of my family Lol. At that time I let go of my manufacturing warehouse and my 2 employees and moved back into my home studio. It felt SO right and God showed up and blessed me in ways I had only dreamed of with a BIG licensing deal! (Set to launch in January 2013 yay!) It was then that I knew I needed some expert advice. So, I hired Holley & Stephanie of Squee Inc. to help me re-brand myself because, well, I was clueless. Lol

    THEY are geniuses. One of the things they taught me was that the things that I do in my business that I HATE to do, the things that instantly put me in a bad mood and increase my stress level tenfold, are the things that God has gifted someone else to do. Here I thought doing things we hate was just part of being an adult, and then Squee comes along and sets me free. Truly-it was the most freeing feeling I have felt since I first met Jesus. I was given permission to live ONLY my calling, because someone else’s calling is to do things like ‘organize my shipping processes’, or ‘upload my products to Etsy with perfect, prompting someone want to buy it descriptions, for hours on end. They assured me that there are people that find great joy and personal self worth by not only doing those sort of tasks, but by taking them off someone eles’s plate. They told me to start praying that God would ‘build my team’. I got tears at the thought. God has a team for me. My own little working body of Christ that is fulfilling to all involved.

    When my team comes together, I will be able to spend my time and energy on MY CALLING while the other team members to the same. That is HUGE. Why didn’t I think of that before?

    So have I stopped shipping my own orders and uploading my products online? Not yet. Do I still hate it? Well, not nearly as much, because I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That God is building my team in His perfect timing and that these are tasks that I am not indefinitely stuck with just because I am an adult.

    I have a real calling to fulfill, and the enemy of our souls would just love to keep me tied up in tasks outside of that calling. Same with you. I’ve heard you speak, and read your writing Jeff, you are MUCH more useful for God’s kingdom at that conference than you will ever be staring at a spreadsheet in your office. Give that task to the man with the spreadsheet calling and make his day. 🙂

    Thanks for sticking with me through the longest comment I have ever written on a blog. Lol
    So many blessings to you,
    Sherri Ohler

  • Thanks for this Jeff. I completely agree – living like this is surprisingly freeing, despite what the world wants to tell us.

    Im on the verge of leaving a church, town, job and friends who I love to do what i am called to do – to plant a church with my friends. Its incredibly uncomfortable, it sometimes feels crazy, and a lot of the time I just don’t want to do it. But I know that this fits in with the bigger story. I know that obedience costs, but also as you say, that obedience brings fulfillment.

  • Hmm… I seem to know what he is talking about. I NEVER would have thought that I would be here where I am and to be honest, said “not now, not ever” to it. Wow, it’s funny how God pulls things together.

  • I can relate to that, too, Sherri. I think for everything, there is a season. A time to strive and a time to rest. Thanks for your perspective.

  • So true Jeff, When God revealed to me that my comfort was not his concern I was as relieved as Sherri Ohler, above. Now I don’t strive for it either and it is so liberating to be out on a limb and hearing my calling more clearly. Sometimes we busy ourselves so much with comforts that we are deaf to our higher calling.

  • I so relate to the fun conference part to stay home and answer emails. I am really bummed tonight because I can’t go to my first writers conference tomorrow. My husband is sick with fever today and I have to cancel everything. Bummer he is sick and bummer I can’t go. 🙁

  • I agree. Sometimes we picture our calling according to our understanding and perspective, and then it feels like we are steered in different direction by God – when God is actually showing us the bigger picture. Many times our detours are because of what we assumed and not what God had said. The best place to be is to be able to walk in your calling

  • Jeff, I agree to a point with you on this. Where the divide occurs is where you state this,

    “We find our life’s work not by chasing our dreams, but by submitting to a larger story.”

    As I have been living out my 30’s, for the past handful of years, I have been finding that the pursuit of our dreams is a necessary ingredient to working out our callings. If they weren’t, God wouldn’t put dreams within us (much like He did Joseph in the OT). God desires for us to have dreams and chase them, but only according to how He needs for us to chase them. This is where the responsibility ingredient comes into play, because this is where I am back on track with you,

    “Which means occasionally stepping out of the spotlight and being okay with working in the shadows for a season.”

    Responsibility to working out our calling will have us focusing on a dream God has put before us, and this will prompt us to work responsibly toward that dream which will place us in the areas of life that will remove us from the spotlight for a good while until He desires for us to be in His spotlight in this world (living out His dream).

    See, I have learned our God-given dreams are a part of His larger story (they are His callings for us) – and by submitting to them, we will be compelled to work toward that dream not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of fulfilling the dreams He’s given us. How I’ve been learning to discern the difference between my dreams (ones I want…not what God does), and His dreams, is that His dreams will not prompt us to compromise the important aspects of our lives. Sacrificing of ourselves ought never to mean sacrificing our responsibility to our family or work, it just means exactly what you did outline here…the time the rest of the world either cries out of us, or seeks to make us feel guilty for not doing as they do, will be the areas of time needed to be sacrificed.

    I have been learning this more and more since becoming a mama four years ago, and I am just now starting to really live out what He has been teaching me about dreams and our responsibility to them.

    So in general, I am agreement with you…the divide again however is our viewpoints on dreams. Perhaps though we may not be so divided and we just word it differently?

  • Thanks, Marni. Yeah, it might just be semantics. I believe God can use our dreams to guide us to our callings, but I also think we can waste a lot of time focusing on our smaller stories instead of the larger one. I’m not calling for martyrdom or masochism by any means. I think we are meant to enjoy our life’s work, but I also think in order for it to be truly satisfying, it has to be bigger than us.

  • Jeff, agreed. The smaller aspects of our lives can wind up being the very distractions the enemy enjoys seeing us get caught up in, because it thwarts our true calling…hence it silences us, and attacks God. If we all can simply see that our smaller stories (dreams) are a part of the bigger story (The Dream…His dream…our calling…all about Him), then we start living in His dream, His story for our lives and this world, and living out our calling; and this brings (as you point out) satisfaction. Keeping our eyes on Him as our north star, amidst the visions and dreams He places in our hearts, will keep us on the right course no matter what circumstances happen around us or to us. It is a tricky lesson to learn, but we must be willing to know when to use our dreams simply as a tool to adjust our focus on Him by letting Him have our dreams He gives us, not as a replacement of Him. I believe firmly this is where mankind gets messed up concerning dreams, because they can easily become our idols. But they won’t be such if we know who they came from, whose they belong to, and we give them up back to Him to work out in and through our lives.

  • Wow! I prayed, cried, literally bawled this morning during prayer time. I’m a writer, have little computer knowledge (the more I learn on it, the more I find out that I know very little!). My editing skills lack although I’ve studied and worked hard, the editing world keeps changing too. What’s popular today changes tomorrow as far as words, quotes, semi-colons etc. I don’t have the finances to get help or a team. The problem is: I love to write about Angels and demons and love to write novels. I do write smaller pieces etc. But my stories are good (I’m told) and they come so easy. I have six novels finished and a ton more ideas. I have one self-pubbed and one ready to be released by a traditional publisher. She wants to keep only authors who can self-market and has an exact money figure that the author must make before she will take on any more of their work. I’m stressing, don’t want to, but I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that God would give me stories, and send compliments if He didn’t want me to do this. It comes easy but oh, the rest is soooo hard and yes, stressfull. It just zapps the joy right out of my heart.
    This fit today for me so well. Would you all pray that God would send me a team to help that would get the joy of helping get God’s Word out to a hurting world that needs a touch of positive love? My stories are loving with great positive endings. 🙂 Thank you so much my brothers and sisters in Christ. 🙂 Hugs, Paulette L. harris.

  • Glad it touched you, Paulette. We’ll pray.

    Interestingly, my family (with Joe Bunting, writing coach) is on vacation just 30 miles away from Glenwood Springs. Loving the weather and the views.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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