How Do I Know What I Should Do With My Life?
Discerning Your Calling
By a Pioneer who served internationally
I used to organize student mission trips for a Christian university in the U.S. Our theme verse was from 2 Corinthians 5. Christians love to quote verse 17: If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come! We put it on mugs, banners and T-shirts. But I have yet to see the fuller context included in the celebration. We are made new AND made agents of reconciliation. Paul is clear; you won’t be one without the other. That call is not something to discern but to embrace.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20
Yet knowing you are called to the ministry of reconciliation doesn’t tell you how it should take shape in your life. So, how do you discern that? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. And the answers are likely to change during your lifetime.
Charting Your Course
Think of it like navigating a sailing ship. You have a heading and destination, but getting to where you’re going from where you are may involve big and small course corrections.
Sometimes, a steady wind blows you the way you need to go. Other times, you tack against a strong headwind. Waves may threaten to flip your boat, or you might feel dead in the water. And how do you judge your path and progress? You could refer to a compass and charts, or steer by the stars and sun. Certain sightings of land are strong indicators, while others may surprise or confuse you.
You may be sailing into uncharted territory, especially if your journey involves cross-cultural service. So, read about the journeys of those who have gone before you. And be sure to gather a crew to help you in the discernment process. Your crew should involve several people you’re close to in your church family. They can bring clarity and confidence at critical points in the journey and remind you that you don’t sail alone.
Consider These Navigational Cues as You Seek to Discern Your Calling
1. Gospel Need
Many people in our world have little or no opportunity to know the God who created them for a relationship with Him. Think through the weight of that, and let it move you emotionally. God loves them, could you? Would you consider them before others with more opportunity to hear the good news? It might significantly impact where you live, how you give and much more.
2. Skills, Abilities and Gifts
How has God made you? There may be things you are good at that could bless others. Consider opportunities that might arise from the skills and training you have. Look at how God has gifted you and ask where those gifts may be needed. However, he may also ask you to set things aside and retrain to meet a different need.
3. Present Focus
What’s pressing in on your decision-making right now? Do you have aging parents with particular needs? A son or daughter who requires special care? Or is your mind more on a favorite sports team you’d love to watch win the next championship? Some things are weighty and should affect your plans or timing, while others could be distractions.
4. Past Experience
Your past need not determine your future, but it might point you to how God has been leading you. Look at how He’s worked and led you in the past.
Have you just asked God about all this? We sometimes forget the simplest things. “God, do I go? Where do I go, and in what capacity?” The Bible encourages us to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5), but sometimes we forget that God loves to respond!
Even after exploring these cues, you may still have multiple good options and no clear indication of which way to go. If a fear of making the wrong choice is holding you back, don’t worry. If you are walking in God’s love, delighting in living life with Him and growing in Christlikeness, remember that you have been given freedom! Make a choice, knowing that God delights in you and will be with you in the calm and in the strong. Sail on with Him!
What “makes sense”? Given your answers to the above questions, how do the various pieces of your life fit together, and does that narrow down your choices?
This list is just to get you started. You or your navigational crew might come up with other questions you need to address.
Coming Back to the Center
Consider another metaphor that illustrates the process. Picture a daisy. The center of the flower is your life with God, right where you are. Exploring your calling is like following a series of flower petals stretching out. Just be sure to return to the center and keep the main thing the main thing.
You might think you are “called” to do X in location Y. But circumstances change, and you can’t do X in location Y. As a result, you have to begin the discernment process again. You may do this several times, or many times, during your life. But keep Christ your center; He doesn’t change. And even if you discern that you are to stay close to home and keep doing what you’re doing, remember that God likes to shake things up (Haggai 2:6). After a season of what you thought was a life-long call, you might return to these questions again.
Consider the amazing, multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-25 and 13:1-3). They didn’t stop making disciples in their city after sending Paul and Barnabas to other places. Similarly, the work God has for you may be different from someone else’s or from one season to the next.
So, pull on your slicker, grasp the helm and smell the salty air! It’s time to weigh anchor and carry God’s message of reconciliation across the street and around the world. May you find joy as you pursue these terrifying and thrilling questions with God.
Questions for Reflection or Discussion
- How is God leading you to engage in His global mission now or in the future?
- Do you have confidence (or how much confidence do you have) about that? Why or why not?
- Have you involved your church family in helping you answer your questions?
- What are various ways that someone with your skills can serve God’s global purpose?
- Can you do what you do now (professionally, vocationally) among the unreached? Do you have a group or place in mind, and if so, what would benefit them?
- Would your church support you if you wanted to become a professional missionary?
We wrote this article for Pursuit Groups, small groups designed to help people process and explore God’s plans and where they fit in those plans. Each group includes 5-10 people, is facilitated by someone from Pioneers and lasts about five weeks. Together the group explores a variety of topics including the biblical basis for mission, discerning your calling and overcoming barriers to missions.
Interested in joining such a group? Learn more or contact us.
- A previous article on discerning your calling.
- Why Not You? Why Not Now?
- A helpful worksheet for charting your course to the nations.
- What Does It Take to Go to the Hardest Places?
- Finally, check out Items May Have Shifted, stories of Pioneers missionaries who left everything and moved across the world to serve among the unreached—but later ended up someplace they never expected to go.
Stories from the pursuit
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New Book: Items May Have Shifted
”Items May Have Shifted” tells the stories of missionaries who left everything and moved across the world to serve among the unreached—and then were rerouted.
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