“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.” Bob Goff, Love Does
Last month, I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Africa with my team at All We Are. It was an unforgettable experience serving with my friends, seeing our work in action, and meeting wonderful people on the other side of the world whose lives are so different from my own.
I am so appreciative for every ounce of support I’ve gotten from friends, family and even acquaintances who have heard about our organization because of my trip. I love being able to share about this work I care so deeply about, and being able to actually go there and see it firsthand has been life-changing.
But that’s not what I want to talk about in this post. I will be doing plenty of writing on the trip over at the All We Are blog, so please follow us there for those posts! Today, I just felt the need to share some of my thoughts on serving, as a follower of Jesus (and, I might add, just a regular one, not a Bible scholar, so forgive me for any imperfections or glaring heresy).
I’ve observed in talking with people about my nonprofit work, or just about service in general, that the topic of “calling” comes up frequently. Specifically, this idea that my volunteer work is the fulfillment of a God-given calling, and that each of us has such a calling on our lives, and it is our job to seek it out and devote our lives to it. And I’ve heard from some people that they are not currently serving in any capacity because they have yet to figure out what that calling is for them.
What Are We Called to Do?
Here’s my issue with this whole “calling” idea. I fear many of us can get so wrapped up in this concept of an uber-specific calling that we forgo the explicit calling God has placed on each of our lives: to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), to give to the poor (Matthew 19:21), and to seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17).
I don’t believe this commission is to be fulfilled once it’s convenient—when you’re done getting your degree or raising your kids, or when you’ve finally worked enough 80-hour weeks that you can afford it. It’s not an option reserved for people who have more resources, more free time, or are otherwise better equipped than you.
I’m sure people will disagree with me, but here’s what I believe: calling is more about giving everything you can, right now, to further the kingdom of God—to reach people in need, to bring hope to the world—than it is about hunting down some unique, specialized mission designed specifically for you. It is more about meeting immediate needs in whatever way you can, than pursuing some lofty spiritual position. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable stuff. Grueling stuff. Boring stuff. Stuff that doesn’t necessarily require your talents or take your breath away. Like spooning soup into bowls, or putting cans of food into bags, or helping kids sound out their words at a school where they might otherwise slip through the cracks.
How Do You Answer the Call?
Can you fulfill this call to serve through your full-time career? Sure, and I know plenty of people who are doing incredible work for the kingdom through the work they do everyday. From indigent attorneys who thanklessly represent individuals who can’t afford it themselves, to nonprofit leaders who are serving on the frontline of the world’s neediest communities, to missionaries giving their entire lives up to serve, there are tons of people who are fulfilling the call through their vocation.
But I also work with a nonprofit organization whose operations in the U.S. are 100% volunteer-based. Regular people with regular jobs at regular for-profit companies, who give their time and resources and talents to a cause they believe in because they understand that life is about more than just living for themselves. And I have the privilege of knowing so many people who spend their free time volunteering with their churches, serving in their communities, mentoring youth, feeding the poor. Sometimes those people use things they learned obtaining their Masters degrees. Sometimes they simply use the two hands God gave them.
Prepare for the Call
That is not to say that God isn’t calling you to something bigger down the road. But if He is, what sense would it make for you to have no experience in actually doing the work of service by the time that happens? In fact, I would argue that you’re more likely to find yourself in a place where God is calling you into something bigger if you have laid the groundwork with your life beforehand. David didn’t become king the moment he was anointed by Samuel. He spent about 15 years fighting battles on behalf of his people and being tested in every way imaginable, before he ever got to sit on the throne.
Those battles had to be fought before David could become Israel’s king. That work was preparation for the work he would do as the ruler of a nation, in service of God’s people. Because people needed saving immediately. Battles had to be fought right then and there, not just off in the distant future when he would be king. In his book The Last Arrow, pastor Erwin McManus writes, “The great tragedy would be to live your life waiting for that moment to come instead of living your life preparing for when the moment comes. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Everything you do today that seems insignificant will find its significance. You should never see any task as too small for you. If small is what you are entrusted with, that’s your stewardship.”
In your community and your world, there are needs that need to be met right now. People are starving, now. Children’s futures are at stake, now. The world won’t stand still waiting for you to be ready to serve—it needs you now.
About five years ago, I helped my friend edit a few words for a grant proposal. Then I helped him start a Facebook page for his fledgling organization. We would go on to campaign for medical gloves for the Ebola crisis, soccer gear and uniforms for needy kids, and eventually solar power for schools. And it wasn’t until last month that I finally got to set foot on African soil and see the impact of it all.
I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing every step of the way; I was just open to meeting the need. If you really want to answer the calling on your life, open yourself up to be used by God, right now, in whatever capacity you can. I can just about guarantee you will find a need you can meet. I don’t know if it’ll take you to Africa. It might only take you next door for now. As long as it takes you out of yourself and into the shoes of someone else, you’re in the right place.