Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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How Do I Find My Calling? (thoughts on the poor questions we ask)

montana fields

You may have noticed, everyone is talking about calling. You can find articles written about calling on nearly every major online website. I went to Relevant Magazine yesterday, and sure enough one of their most popular articles was on calling. They publish about one a week on calling.

You can’t really blame them, because publishing organizations like Relevant aren’t the problem. They get paid when people read and share their stuff. If people are reading and sharing articles about calling, it pays to write about calling.

But I have one major issue with this—a cart-before-the-horse sort of issue.

If there is a calling, there must be a caller. And if the caller gives you a calling, would it not make sense to know the caller, more so than knowing any specific thing about what calling might be all about? I think so. Os Guinness takes a similar stance in his book The Call, a book I’d recommend.

I believe this is the most overlooked, under-discussed aspect of calling. We’ve gotten the subject all turned around. It won’t take long to find an unending supply of opinions about how to find your calling. But finding intimacy with the one who calls? That doesn’t quite meet the immediate need, and it certainly doesn’t sell ads.

It may be that the thing we need most is the thing we’ve overlooked to find a more satisfying short-term answer. The itch has been scratched, and all we’re left with is a bigger itch.

This is one reason why I unapologetically encourage our church to take a long gaze at the expanse and power of God every week as we gather. Scripture presents us with a constant theme: it is only from that place of seeing the expanse and power of God that we begin to understand our place.

It’s not so much that we don’t know enough about calling to truly understand the call, it’s that we don’t know the Caller, and therefore can’t see where He is pointing.

(Image: Digital Nomad)

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A Mindset I Struggle to Embrace: People Over Ambitions

date with the wifeThis past Monday night my wife Rose and I went on our first date since our little girl was born, back in January. Yikes, too long. That’s not the point of this though. At some point in the conversation she asked me:

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Rose had an interview last week so she must have had overly obvious interview questions on her mind.

A few years ago I may have come up with the same answer I gave Monday, but in the back of my mind I would have wondered about the great things that may lay ahead. I am goal driven, pursuing excellence. I need projects to keep going. My ambition fuels my everyday pursuit of ordinary things.

While my answers in the past were often simple, rooted, I had unsaid desires for something that could be seen as significant. Often I would not voice these dreams because I knew they were more about me than anyone else. Hardly a dream worth living if you ask me.

On Monday night my answer was simply, “I want to be here.” No underlying dreams left unsaid. No faux humility in the answer, I meant it. I mean it.

While relationships and ambitions are not so easily distinguishable, often pursuits in life are broken down to either being about the people around us, or the goals we desire to achieve. The age-old question of whether happiness is found through relationships or ambition isn’t really a fair question, but it is one we ask quite often.

In examining several studies, an article in The Atlantic had this to say:

In Canada and the United States, having frequent contact with neighbors was associated with higher levels of well-being, as was the feeling of truly belonging in a group. “If everyone in a community becomes more connected, the average level of subjective well-being would increase,” they wrote.

This may explain why Latin Americans, who live in a part of the world fraught with political and economic problems, but strong on social ties, are the happiest people in the world, according to Gallup…Meanwhile, wealthy states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California were among the least happy, even though their inhabitants have ambition in spades; year after year, they send the greatest number of students to the Ivy League (read the entire article HERE, it’s well done, to say the least).

I don’t think it would be fair to distinguish the ministry of Jesus as being either about relationships or ambitions. He is the most significant person in history, and he focused the bulk of his time to handful of men. But in my own sinful nature, my ambitions are often distanced from the relationships I hold closely.

I’m continually a work in progress, but my aspirations for the next 5 years are almost exclusively about the people I am nearest. How can I bless them? How can I pray for them? How can I be nearer to them?

Just as incarnation came before glorification, so relationships should come before ambitions. Yes, Jesus had more impact on the world than any other human, but this world changing ultimately came through the people He focused on.

As I’m learning, a life of fulfillment comes through those relationships, not the bigger ambitions I often have in view.

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Commitment Inspires Love

This Saturday I’ll be performing a wedding for a couple that I’ve known the better part of a decade. It will be wonderful to see a lot of old friends and to celebrate the coming together of this young couple.

In my meetings with them leading up to this marriage ceremony, we’ve discussed the role of vows informing love. I often hear love described in emotive terms. I love coffee (when it tastes good). I love sports (when my team wins). I love my wife (when she makes me happy).

Everyone, it seems, loves love.

But if marriage is based on this understanding of love, I do believe it will fail. Because the way we understand love is so fragile. At any point in time, I will not feel the love as it relates to any of the things I adore, including my wife. But my love is inspired first by my commitment to something, or someone, rather than the emotional state I’m in.

Stanley Hauerwas says, “We do not fall in love and then get married. We get married and then learn what love requires.” 

I heard one pastor recently share his desire for couples to wait until the wedding to say “I love you” to each other. And while that is obviously extreme, it leads us to a closer understanding of how the Bible teaches love. Love is first and foremost a commitment to someone—to be near them, to be with them, and to grow in Christlikeness alongside them.

When the fleeting emotion of love is a dry well it is vows that sustain love. This is true beyond marriage. As we place ourselves near people, it is our commitment to live as Christ in their lives that sustains our ability to love them.

Jesus was given a mission from God the Father to spread His love on earth to humans, and no doubt there were plenty of times when he must have wondered why we didn’t get it. So many times he must have wondered why His disciples couldn’t quite figure it out, and it was the mission He had been given by the Father that made his commitment possible.

In our humanness we’re all prone to wander, prone to lose the emotions that can often sustain us, and in those moments it is the commitment we have made that sustains the love.

It is not love that makes the fulfillment of vows possible; it is vows that make the fulfillment of love possible.

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Finding Clarity in the Chaos

clarity chaos

Back in April I had two days in a row of interactions with negative feedback for things I had spearheaded. This was following the failure (in my mind) of two projects I was intimately involved with. I was frustrated with the failure but it was the negative feedback that lingered in my head and heart for days and days.

It was four or five days after the negative feedback that I realized their feedback had wounded me, in a deep way. My frustration over the negativity continued to grow day by day. I was, quite obviously, in a bad place.

Certainly it wasn’t those conversations that put me in a bad place, I was in an unhealthy place prior to them, but they helped unearth the ignorance I had toward the chaos my life had become. My identity was wrapped up in all the wrong things. My value was intertwined with projects, not people. I had become my work.

I had lunch with friends last week, and in our conversation about this one of them mentioned how they had just finished the greatest accomplishment of their professional life one month prior. And it was a huge success. She said, at the time it felt like such a huge deal, but now, two weeks into her three-week vacation, it hardly mattered.

What changed? Her perspective.

Following my reality check of, “I’m not a good place right now,” I didn’t change much in my life. I still went to work. I still operated as a husband and a dad. All I did was eliminate a few things I enjoyed but knew were unnecessary for me to carry on with life. My goal was to create a little extra margin so that I could gain a better perspective on life.

Slowly, but surely I began to see where I had gone wrong, and how simple negative feedback had caused such a dent.

Margin, quiet, and disconnecting all helped provide the clarity for me to see beyond the chaos.

All of our lives have a tendency to float toward chaos. Work, family, hobbies, chores, etc, can easily become so overwhelming that it’s difficult to enjoy any of them. The good news it that you don’t need to take a month off of work to create margin and to find clarity in the chaos.

Try this instead.

  • What’s one thing you could eliminate from your daily life?
  • How much time does that free up?
  • What are you going to do with your extra time that is life-giving? Who are the people you’re going to make space for with that extra time?

Take these three steps, without taking a vacation, and I promise you’ll have better clarity. I’m still writing here today because this helped me immensely.

(Image: Diego Orlandini)

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Beyond the Letter

Dont-cross-the-line

When it comes to sin, avoiding the act is priority number one. In light of this, few put emphasis toward the acts that lead to sinful choices, behaviors, and habits. With so much focus on human decision as it relates to sin avoidance, the more subtle places where sin begins are easily ignored.

When it comes to establishing boundaries, I often tell dating couples to create spatial boundaries (we won’t be at this place at this time) rather than physical boundaries (we won’t do more than this). The spatial boundaries make it so the physical boundaries are relatively unimportant.

It’s too easy to rely on yourself for following a specific boundary, without recognizing how weak you may be. Why rely on something weak? I think that’s a question that Job would have thrust into this conversation. In my reading of Job 31 I was struck by how strict he was in all areas of life, guarding his heart and his mind in every direction.

“I made a covenant with my eyes
    not to look lustfully at a young woman.
For what is our lot from God above,
    our heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is it not ruin for the wicked,
    disaster for those who do wrong?
Does he not see my ways
    and count my every step?” -Job 31:1-4

Job recognizes the power of God to bring disaster on those who choose to ignore His desires. He says there is a great heritage for those who are part of God’s family. Job, then, continues his specific warning about what disaster may come:

“If my steps have turned from the path,
    if my heart has been led by my eyes,
    or if my hands have been defiled,
then may others eat what I have sown,
    and may my crops be uprooted.” -Job 31:7-8

For most, this seems extreme—an over-the-top attempt to avoid sin. Job is focusing on his eyes, his steps, his heart, and his hands. Whereas we may ask for help to not abuse a good thing, Job is focused on wisdom in every direction, each step, each glance.

This shouldn’t be seen as extreme, rather it is wise. It is wise to recognize the frailty of human fortitude, the power of Satan’s schemes, and the capability of each situation to present a new trap for sin. These traps are rarely things that come out of nowhere. They are subtle habits and behaviors established with a few off glances, a few steps in the wrong direction.

Job is only concerned with following the letter of the law because he knows that providing space for the heart of the law to be honored means the letter need not be the focus.

If sin is a misplacement of affection, Job has sin avoidance correctly placed: it is about giving God his rightful place in our lives and honoring the heritage He has established.

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What is Real Belief?

From Tyler: Today’s post comes from Barnabas Piper, a guy who is not only a fellow PK, and a fellow depressed fan of Minnesota sports, but a great writer who is approaching a difficult and worthwhile subject with his latest book. Be sure to check out his book after you read his post. 

barnabas piper help my unbeliefBelief means a range of things and can be used in a variety of ways. I believe my wife when she tells me something. I don’t believe the Minnesota Vikings will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. I believe in a thing called love. I don’t believe in Santa Claus. Each of these statements is easy to understand by its context. But when people say they believe in God, what does that mean?

It may mean they believe God exists in some form. It may mean they acknowledge God’s moral standard as a general guideline. Or it may mean they believe fully in God’s word and God’s way and look to Him as the object of their faith. While each of these is an accurate statement and a proper use of the term belief, only one of them is real belief. That is the third use.

It is real because it is the sort of belief that makes up faith, and faith is what shapes a life. We can believe in God in the other two senses with no faith whatsoever, but the third use of belief is the makings of real faith. Faith cannot exist without it; it would be empty of any substance, faith in nothing. But when we believe completely in the reality of God and the rightness of His word and way, it will give a shape and direction to our lives. The effects will be visible.

This is the kind of belief Christians seek. It is not a black-and-white belief, either present or not. It is more like the sun. Some days it will shine brightly and shed God’s light on and through all of your life. Other times it will be obscured by clouds of distraction, by our delusions of belief (those assertions we assent to in our minds but which mean little in our daily lives), by fear or doubt, or by something else. But being obscured doesn’t mean it is doused. Sometimes it just takes time to break through those clouds. And like the sun, belief burns hotter in certain seasons of life than others. As Christians, we yearn for an endless summer of bright, warm belief.

For many Christians, though, we go through all the seasons. We go through the frigid, cloudy depths of winter when belief shines through only enough to remind us that it’s still real and that warmer, sunnier times will come. We go through times when we don’t see the sun for days or weeks and the cloud cover is thick. But real belief always shines through eventually, sometimes in blazing glory and sometimes in subtler hues.

It shines through because its object is imminent and immovable. Belief is only as real as what is believed in and what impact it has on our lives. When belief is brilliantly shining, that is God shining through the believer. Belief leads to faith, and faith is the means by which God shows up, whether it is big or small. That is why the realest belief is that which is wholly and unreservedly in God.

Barnabas Piper blogs at The Blazing Center, is the author of The Pastors Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith, and co-hosts The Happy Rant podcast. Piper writes for WorldMag.com, contributes to numerous other websites, and speaks frequently at churches and conferences. Barnabas serves as the Brand Manager for the Leadership Development team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

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