God’s call on a life…

praising man 90I delivered this lesson on the first night of our 20s/30s group that Mike and I started.  The group is called “The Longing.”

September 27, 2007
The Longing Launch Night

You are witnessing the fulfillment of God’s will on a life.

We stand here tonight, humbled.

That the God of the universe would work
in the lives of two crazy kids
who spent years in parking lots
complaining (yes, actually complaining) that there was
nothing for us.

I have known Mike for just over eight years.
Through every one of those eight years,
he spoke of this night.
And God kept that flame alive in his heart.

And here we stand
as a result
of one man
following
the call of God
on his life.

I stand here as evidence
to chasing Jesus as He has danced through my life.

My breathlessly amazing adventure has look a little something like this over the past year:

  • August 2006–God confirms that He is calling me out of my previous church
  • September 2006–I attend Calvary for the first time
  • October–I join a Tuesday night Bible study
  • January–I lead a Tuesday night Bible study
  • February–God calls me to write a newsletter; He also leads me to write Bible studies for my small group based on the church readings
  • March–He dumps a vision, missing, and format in my head for the newsletter; it all gets approaved by church leadership
  • April–“…groundswell…” launches
  • May–He calls me away to a retreat–where He clearly declares: “Jen, it’s not about what you know; it’s about what I know.”
  • May–I learn that Bryan and Liz are longing for “the longing” as well
  • June/July–Mike and I start planning; I write my first full Bible study
  • August–in a whirlwind ten days, my grandmother dies–at her memorial, my uncle connects me with a literary agent, we get Danny’s approval for “The Longing”
  • September–“The Longing” launches

A year ago I could not have imagined this time, this space, or standing here in front of you.

You may be sitting there
thinking,
“That’s great for you, but how am I supposed to know God’s call on my life?”

Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5.

I become more and more convinced that God has uniquely designed us to connect with a certain scripture–and from that scripture, our individual selves resonate in the Spirit and could share the whole gospel.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-20 is mine.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances.”

If you are unsure of God’s call on your life–and even if you are certain of it, this is how you can know God’s will.

Check out verse 18 again: “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

What is His will?
Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all things give thanks.

You may be sitting there thinking
“Yeah, you’re all inspired, of course you can rejoice always!”
or “You have no idea how hard it is to give thanks in my circumstance.”

I stand here as a testimony to the power of this scripture.
I shared with you the whirlwind of my past year.

Two years ago, my story was very different.
After finishing my Ph.D. coursework,
I couldn’t buy a job.
I was an unemployed doctorate.
It took six months to find a job.
And God moved me to Eugene.
Two weeks after I started my job,
I realized that my boss would not be
anything remotely close to a friend.

To say I was miserable would be a profound understatement.

I prayed for deliverance.

I applied for job after job.
And God was allowing me to do it,
but when I would ask Him, He would say, “Go ahead.”

I was convinced that the only way out
was a change in circumstances.
He brought me to 1 Thessalonions.

“rejoice always”

Are you kidding?
How was I supposed to rejoice
when every day was a battle.
When laughter was far from the front
and I dreaded going to work every day.

He told me to rejoice.

“But how?”  I asked.

He answered, “pray without ceasing.”

That one I could handle.
I could cry out in aggravation
I could petition.
Praying continually was required,
because it was the only way I could make it through the day.

Petition after petition went up
and it seemed that the answer wasn’t coming.
All those job applications,
and nobody was calling.
I couldn’t even get a call
for a position I had already had!

I kept praying for a new job.
and God quietly spoke verse 18:
“in all things give thanks.”

Oh, God, You’re going to have to help me with that one.
And He did.
Thank You that I have a job that pays the bills.
Thank You that I have a door to my office that I can close at lunch.
Thank You that I can read my Bible at lunch so I can make it through the rest of the day.
Thank You for perfectly timed emails from friends,
sending words of encouragement.
Thank You that You are in control (why aren’t You changing it?)

As I began to find reasons to be thankful,
it became easier to be thankful.
In meetings where a colleague would explode,
I was praying continually
that God would keep my composure,
and then thank Him afterwards
for exactly that.

And then,
then
I could rejoice.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

His will was not that I would be abused.
His will was that I would change.

“Transformation is the goal.  The desire for transformation lies deep in every human heart.” –John Ortberg, from The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The Christian life is not about changing our circumstances.
The Christian life is about changing our lives.

Think about that.
The Christian life is not about changing our circumstances.
The Christian life is about changing our lives.

We often attack life in a commando kind of way.
We try to be other peoples’ Holy Spirit.
We see our workplace as a location to change hearts.
We see the grocery checker and wonder if God wants us to change her life.

We are called to preach the gospel.
What better testimony to the power and benefit of following Jesus
than to live it every day.

“When morphing happens, I don’t just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them.  They appeal to me.  They make sense.  I don’t just go around trying to do right things; I become the right sort of person…These are audacious statements.  Ordinary people can receive power for extraordinary change…The primary goal of spiritual life is human transformation.” –John Ortberg, from The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Jesus isn’t so much interested in changing our circumstances.
He is interested in changing our lives.

I prayed fervently for a new job.
He more fervently wanted me to have a new perspective.
When I began to breathe every moment
as an opportunity to learn from Him,
my work experience began to change.

My boss was the same.
My co-workers were the same.
The culture was the same.

But my attitude had changed.
I still struggled,
but I based every breath on the living hope of the gospel.
That Jesus was there.
And He cared.
And He changed my perspective
from one of seeing my “career” as the point,
to seeing Him as the point.

And because I saw knowing Him as the point,
He was able to give me the whirlwind adventure
that has been my past year.

I can honestly now agree with the apostle Paul when he writes to the Philippians that:

“Whatever things were gain to me, those thing I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  I count all things to be loss in the view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and my be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him…” –Philippians 3:7-10

My career means nothing–
it is merely a way to support my writing habit.
I have a doctorate degree–a Ph.D., considered to be the premiere graduate degree–
it truly means nothing.
Except that I can use the research and teaching skills I learned
to fulfill the call of Jesus on my life.
My body is nothing.
My bank account is nothing.
It is all nothing,
unless it answers Jesus’ call–then it is for His use.

Answering the call of God on your life
must start with knowing Him.
And when the call comes,
chase Him wherever He leads.

It may not be easy,
but it will seem easy.
There is work,
but the work is so exhilarating
that you would never choose
to do anything else.

We are each created with a God-ordained purpose.
It is the cry of your heart.

“Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” –Soren Kierkegaard

“I am disappointed with myself.  I am disappointed not so much with particular things I have done as with aspects of who I have become.  I have a nagging sense that all is not as it should be…Some of this disappointment is trivial…Some of this disappointment is neurotic.  Some of this disappointment, I know, is worse than trivial; it is simply the sour fruit of self-absorption…But some of this disappointment in myself runs deeper.  I am disappointed in my life as a father, a husband, friend, neighbor, and human being in general.  I think of the day I was born, when i carried the gift of promise, the gift given to all babies.  I think of that little baby and what might have been: the ways I might have developed mind and body and spirit, the thoughts I might have had, the joy I might have created.

“I am disappointed that I still love God so little and sin so much.  I am disappointed at my capacity to be small and petty.  I can convince people I’m busy and productive and yet waste large amounts of time watching television.  Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much.  I am disappointed in my lack of disappointment.

“Where does this disappointment come from?…The older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem–my failure to be the person God had in mind when He created me.   The word itself is apt: I am in a state of dis-appointment. I am missing the life that I was appointed by God to live–missing my calling.”  –John Ortberg, from The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Answering the call
means being so in-tune with Jesus
that you are breathing His breath,
thinking His thoughts,
and doing whatever He says.

In it, you will find exhilaration
that cannot be matched
by anything this world can offer.

“The good news as Jesus preached it is that now it is possible for ordinary men and women to live in the presence and under the power of God.  The good news as Jesus preached it is not about the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die.  It is about the glorious redemption of human life–your life.” –John Ortberg, from The Life You’ve Always Wanted

To sit at my computer and write this lesson
or write a Bible study
brings chills to my arms.
I begin to yearn for a time
when I can do
exactly what Jesus is asking.

We call worldly ways “fun”
and godly ways “discipline.”

I stand here as living testimony that the last year of my life,
truly living and breathing the call of Christ
has given me more fun,
more laughter,
more fellowship,
more friends,
and more energy.

It is the service, the place,the activity
that quickens the pulse,
widens the eyes,
and causes you to dance.

With God’s help, you can become your God-created self.

The lilies of the field are gorgeous.
and this created universe is vast.

But Jesus’ desire for you to live a transformed life far outshines nature’s glory.
1 Thessalonians 5:24 reassures us: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”

Surrender your heart to the incomprehensible vastness of the love of Jesus.  He is longing to show you the life He has in store.

 

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