The apostle Paul received his call to ministry on the road to Damascus. I received mine in the Song River Cafe (Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia). I was having supper with some church friends after Wednesday night prayer meeting. (Baptists are specialists in prayer and feasting.)
For some time I had been very disturbed by one fact. People were being won to the Lord but many of the faithful were also drifting away from the church. Churches were crying out for solid bible teaching and effective leadership. What was Jesus doing? Was He asleep at the wheel? Hey, hello. We were clearly in need of more pastors. Why wasn’t Jesus calling out more people into the pastoral ministry?
That evening at the Song River Cafe, I made one fatal error. I posed my questions to a spiritual mentor, Roger. He replied that Jesus wasn’t at fault. He was calling out His people into the pastoral ministry. Trouble was, His people were not responding. Then Roger said the magic three words that changed my life: “You, for example.”
At that moment, a number of thoughts went through my mind. First, the image of the dental clinic I had planned to set up began to fade away. (Did I mention that all this happened when I was in my final year at dental school?) Next, I thought that my parents were going to go ballistic. (I was their only son and the only one in the immediate family to be a doctor of sorts.)
Still Roger’s comments felt sure and true. This fateful encounter happened in 1977. It changed the whole direction of my life.
Looking back, I am grateful for that encounter. Of course the pastoral ministry didn’t quite unfold as I thought it would. Does anything? Still, I was glad that God gave me some indication as to my life?s work.
I know of many who are still struggling to discover what God wants them to do with their lives. Perhaps their Damascus Road/Song River Caf? moment is still to come. Perhaps not.
I have been around long enough to know that, for His own good purposes, the Almighty does not grant dramatic vocational epiphanies to everyone. How then is one to discover his or her calling?
If God is the Author of our lives, it is fair to assume that He has left us some clues as to what he wants us to do. I believe He has and I call these clues the ABC clues. They are:
A — Abilities (What do you do well?) B — Burden (What are you concerned about? What keeps you awake at night?) C — Circumstances (What are the concrete realities of your life at the moment?)
Let’s use Paul as an example. A. What did he do well? He was a gifted preacher and evangelist (among other things). B. What was he burdened about? He was obsessed with the salvation of the Gentiles and his own people, the Jews. C. What were his circumstances? They varied throughout his life. For example, there were times when he was in prison. At such times he couldn?t go where he wanted to to preach the gospel. So he shared the gospel with his captors. And he wrote letters. His vocational calling remained the same but he expressed it in ways that were shaped by his circumstances.
Hypothetically then, we could have someone who is gifted in teaching and has a burden for the people of Bhutan. But this person has to care for an aged father and can’t go to Bhutan. He could teach the people in his hometown about the challenge of Bhutan. Indeed he could extend that teaching through email and the World Wide Web. At some later date, when he no longer has to care for his father he could actually go to Bhutan and minister there.
Or we could have someone who has a burden to set up businesses that provided goods and services that people needed, and to run such businesses with Kingdom values. She is an excellent leader and motivator. But she doesn’t have adequate capital to start a business yet. She could start by working for an existing company to learn the ropes and to save up enough capital before launching out at some later point in life.
Life is a precious gift. It is our Christian duty to be good stewards of this gift. So we ask the Lord for some clear indication as to where He wants us to invest our lives. However, we need not be passive while waiting for our Damascus Road/Song River Caf? experience.
Take some time and reflect on the following: A. What are some things you do well? It will probably be some combination of natural abilities (Exodus 35:30 ? 36:1) and spiritual gifting (1 Peter 4:10).
B. What are some things you are burdened for? You will be surprised as to the sheer variety of things people are burdened for. They range from: the lives of the unborn, the efficient running of organizations, realizing untapped business opportunities, the fate of the lost in Bhutan, etc., etc. … If we believe that the Lord is the Lord of all of life we will not make any artificial division of life into spiritual and non-spiritual compartments.
C. Finally, reflect on the present circumstances of your life. How do they impact the exercise of your strengths in the arena of your burden? Most of us need to be more creative and flexible on this score. The unfolding of our lives is rarely a straight road. I have come to realize that God often does this on purpose!
Having a mentor or spiritual friend to walk with us as we seek to discover our vocation is also very helpful. Such a friend can give much needed encouragement and objectivity. And sometimes a prophetic word.
I wish that all of us, like Paul, could say at the end of our lives, that we have finished our race (2 Timothy 4:6,7). That our lives have been lived like an offering poured out to the glory of God. That our lives had meaning. And that requires struggling to find and do what we have been called to do.
For most of us, discovering our vocational callings will be a journey and a process. But you never know. Anyone for supper at the Song River Caf??
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan