I got to help with orientation for some first-semester ministry students last night. They are entering into a two-year process of service and study, with the hopes of full-time ministry jobs. This ministry process is not easy. It is an evening program, so everyone has some combination of a full-time job, a family, or school. Each of these students feels called by God to serve in ministry. As I was preparing, this idea flashed in my mind:
Vocation is not a vacation.
Despite the students’ lack of free time, they have joined this program as their next step. I wanted to warn them that over the coming two years, they’ll experience pressure on their schedule to pull this thing off.
But when I thought about it, it’s bigger than that. Pursuing your vocations— your God-given roles — is a lifelong journey. It’s not going to be over in two years.
I needed the same advice. My vocation of writing is no vacation. Neither is being a parent to small children. Or a spouse. Each of these callings, as noble as they are, require more discipline and spiritual wholeness than I often have.
Too often, we romanticize God’s calling on our lives
If you’re operating in your calling, I’ve been told, you’ll be in the sweet spot. You’ll love what you do. It will energize you and give you purpose! Well, sure. That’s mostly true. But you know what no one has told me?
It is a ton of work. Grueling, hard work.
Incredibly rewarding. But still. Pushing a boulder up a mountain.
Why didn’t anyone tell me? Perhaps they did, and I didn’t listen. But I see this in people new to the working world, too. Our culture holds up the most successful people as winners. But how often do we listen to the story that got them there? Nearly every successful businessperson has a tale of perseverance and failure, but we don’t really enjoy that part of the story.
Just because God has called you to something doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, it will be hard.
If I had known this earlier, it might have saved me some grief.
All those times I quit? Or wanted to? I would have been in good company, and not felt like such a failure. Look at the ones who walked around with Jesus. They deserted him when his teachings got too difficult to understand:
Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”
Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”
After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him.
Do you see how it happens? People in the presence of the flesh-and-blood Jesus decide not to keep going. It’s too hard. It’s too confusing. It’s doesn’t fit their theology. And they drift away.
If you want to get to the top of the business world, you will need to sacrifice, work hard, put in the time, fail, guess, risk. You will need to push through obstacles, even if no one believes in you.
The life of following a vocation is similar. You will need discipline, hard work, persistence, and determination. You will need to try different avenues and risk looking like an idiot. You will need to hold onto your call even when it seems like there is no way it’s going to work.
Vocation is not an easy gift. It’s an invitation to a life of sacrifice and great reward.