By Tom Walker
The title is filled with implication. Is there a specific vocation, or path to which God calls me? Certainly God calls everyone to salvation. And scripture makes clear that He also calls us to service. But does He equip and call some, or all, to specific roles at specific times and places? Scripture clearly affirms this. My view of “calling” is largely informed by my history in The Salvation Army where the call to vocational ministry as an officer at times has unfortunately been described using qualitative language. My limited experience first suggests this to be unique to The Salvation Army and second runs some risk of marginalizing God’s call to other roles or vocations. I wonder if a greater focus on the obedience to God’s call, whatever it entails, might provide a more solid footing for our discussions on this subject.
Having spent my entire adult life on university campuses, I’ve engaged a fair number of Christian young people concerned about finding God’s will for their lives. Most often they want to be certain that they find the field of study, the spouse, or the vocation that aligns with God’s plan and will for their lives. What advice should be offered to those who affirm Christ as their Savior, and are intentional in their walk; how can they know the specific direction God wants them to choose? And what if they follow advice concerning their personal walk and relationship with Christ but still have no indication that God is answering their question? In addition, a looming graduation increases their anxiety and often narrows their options
Scripture is abundantly clear that the ultimate purpose of a Christian is to become like Christ. And, of course, we don’t do that in a vacuum. We begin to accomplish that in relationship to, and in fellowship with, other believers who provide encouragement and accountability. And while community offers rich benefits, we also know that Jesus spent a great deal of time alone. In solitude He studied. In solitude He prayed and communed with his father.
At a point in my life in the distant past, I developed a habit of beating myself up for all the things I wanted to do, but did not. I desperately wanted (and needed) time daily in Bible study and prayer. Despite my noblest intentions I was unable to do these things consistently.
I happened upon a book by Steve Farrar. At the time of its writing he was a pastor, husband, the father of several children living at home, an in demand speaker, the leader of a men’s accountability group, and a writer under contract. I vividly remember the straightforward analogy he drew between physical exercise and practice of spiritual disciplines.
Given his specific circumstances, if he was able to get in some form of physical exercise three times a week, he deemed that to be adequate. Likewise, if he managed to exercise the spiritual disciplines at least three times a week that was acceptable. At the time I was an assistant professor quickly approaching a tenure process that required evidence of high quality scholarship, performance, teaching, and service. And with three children under the age of 12, you will understand that Farrar’s analogy released me from a huge burden of inappropriate guilt.
Fast forward twenty years. Life circumstances are dramatically different. Children are now independent and successful adults. Although responsibilities associated with work are significant, I find ample time for daily Bible study and prayer. As I have been more consistent in the practice of the spiritual disciplines I find that I long to be even more engaged in being a disciple of Christ.
I was recently reminded of the “WWJD” bracelets that were in vogue a decade ago. The serious recommendation of a Christian novel was trivialized (in some cases) to nothing more than a fashion statement.
The bracelets were to remind one, when facing every decision, to ask the question, “what Would Jesus Do?” Christian author and philosopher Dallas Willard pointed out the potential fallacy of the exercise. Simply asking the WWJD question, in the absence of actually following Jesus’ teachings and His word, is likely to be a vacuous and frustrating exercise. If you are seriously interested in learning to reason and respond like Jesus, you must live the disciplined, sacrificial, and focused life that Jesus lived. Willard suggests that Christians are called to live simply – primarily to avoid distractions. We all have experienced the angst of possessing some thing that requires or demands our attention. Taken to the extreme, one can become controlled (or ‘owned’) by the object(s). Beyond this, a simple lifestyle was modeled by Jesus. He compels those listening to His voice to“abide in him”, to be nourished and grow because of the lifestyle that He offers (John 15:4, 5). Living simply allows one to be relatively free, unencumbered and available for His purposes. Jesus lived a life of discipline and one of routine. I heard it said recently that “Jesus never sought converts”. Rather, “he called on followers to become disciples”. As a teacher of a performance art, I can attest that not all students, even talented ones, are disciples. But when a student chooses to become a disciple it is a transformational process, and one that is quickly recognized by the teacher! It begs the question whether one can appropriately be called a disciple of Christ if examination of one’s life reveals little or no practice of the spiritual disciplines?
I am confident that In His Steps and the ‘WWJD’ concept was well intended. But I think that Dallas Willard’s point should be well taken. There are no short cuts to Christlikeness. It requires discipline, commitment, and persistence.
My experience suggests a strong correlation between my desire to be like Christ and my willingness to engage in the spiritual disciplines. The result has been an abiding joy in studying, in praying, in teaching and encouraging others. I experience RESONANCE between the things I’ve grown to love to do and the transformed person I’ve come to be.
In conclusion let me share how I advised the students who questioned me about finding God’s specific will for their lives. I first asked the question, “Will you be obedient if God speaks specifically to the issue?”
And then, “Is there anything you would be unwilling to do if God so directed?”
“If your heart’s desire is to be obedient to God, isn’t it appropriate to assume that God now has some degree of responsibility in the matter?
“It’s like signing a blank contract. He requires that you sign first – let Him fill in the details as He chooses.”
So doing will give you confidence that yours will be the life you were meant to live.
 In His Steps, written in 1897 by Charles Monroe Sheldon was well-intentioned. It is one of the all time best selling Christian books. There is no intention to criticize the original intent of the book or it’s recommendations.