What if your calling from God feels selfish?
Missionaries have long had to wrestle with that question, particularly when family members resist the idea that obedience to God means they won’t see their loved ones for years at a time. When one family agreed to follow God’s call to serve in an orphanage in Kenya, a relative lamented, “They get to go have this great adventure and we’re left here without them!”
Or what if your calling from God seems like bad timing?
Jesus encountered this when He invited a disciple to follow Him. The man responded, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” The timing of the call was inconvenient, preposterous even. But Jesus made it clear that following Him was more important that anything else (see Matt. 8:18–22).
And what if your calling from God is put on hold?
David had been anointed king of Israel, and then had to wait for years—enduring oppression in the process—until he finally took the throne. The lag time between God’s calling and His confirmation can be puzzling. Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Esther, and the great saints of the faith in Hebrews 11 all had to wait for God’s timing.
Writer Jen Pollock Michel has wrestled with each of these questions in her own life. When she was a freshman at Wheaton College, she received a phone call: her father had suddenly, unexpectedly died. She was going to have to cancel plans to do a summer mission trip. For the next few years she had to navigate the grief at home with the academic demands at college.
After graduation, Michel married her college sweetheart and began her career as a high-school French teacher. She left teaching when her first child was born. When her third child was three years old, Jen began to feel a calling from God to write or study or teach . . . but not return to teaching French. She decided that a graduate program in biblical exegesis would be good preparation for this call, and she met with a seminary professor to discuss applying to the program.
But only a week later, she discovered that she was pregnant again—and then she learned that she was pregnant with twins. The calling seemed to be put on hold—there was no way she could begin graduate school with five children underthe age of 7! “I would love to say that I was as equitable as Jesus’ mother when she learned of her unexpected pregnancy: I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled (Luke 1:38),” Michel said. “But I wasn’t. I was disappointed. I was confused. It certainly felt then that I would have to delay, if not entirely give up, the desire for ministry outside of my home. There was a struggle on the way towards
Although she embraced God’s clear calling to be a mother, the call and desire to write and study and teach never left. But now that she had five children to care for, it felt like claiming the time for this kind of work seemed selfish. Aren’t Christians supposed to deny themselves? Aren’t we suspicious of things that we want? Shouldn’t we focus on serving others, not our desires?
Michel turned to Scripture to find answers to these questions, and that pursuit inspired this issue of Today in the Word. She has also written a book that expands on this topic, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith (InterVarsity). “As I began to write the book, I wanted to make sense of the place ‘wanting’ had in my life as a Christian,” Michel said. “I couldn’t entirely trust myself to want. Yet it seemed I needed desire. What did it look like to biblically maintain the tension of desire? That’s what I wrote to understand.”
As we see from the first pages of the Bible, we are not the first people to wrestle with these questions. And mercifully God has not left us to our own devices. Even our innermost heart’s desires can be shaped and molded and conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
This exciting exploration has captivated Michel. “I’m bold to ask the question, What do I want?,” she said. “It’s a valuable question of orientation, really. In light of the Lord’s Prayer, for example, do I want the kingdom to come? Do I want God’s name to be made holy? The examination of my desires leads me to confession. But it isn’t only an accusing voice. Actually, desire can be one signpost toward calling. In writing the book, I risked on the belief that my desire for ministry was good and God-given. Seven years ago, I thought I’d have to give up that desire. But now I’m coming to see that God’s plan was a ‘not yet’ rather than a ‘no.’ And I’m so grateful.”
As we each continue our journey of growing more like Jesus, may each of us find confidence in our calling and a deeper desire to love and serve Him.
Jen Pollock Michel’s book, Teach Us to Want (InterVarsity), is available from your favorite Christian book retailer.