At a writing conference I attended last weekend, Andrew Peterson wrapped up his keynote by saying, “Sometimes we are so involved in discovering God’s calling that we forget to call out.” I’ve heard similar statements before. Well-meaning people have squeezed my shoulder and told me to stop worrying so much about my calling. Others have said that some decisions have nothing to do with calling and should simply be made. And still others have told me that the word calling shouldn’t be used because it puts too much pressure on the situation. I never listened though.
All my life, I have believed in the calling of God. Because if everything has a specific purpose, everything should be approached with prayer and discernment. I agonized over every career choice. I prayed for weeks about learning guitar. I even cried over whether or not I should join my siblings’ karate club. These weren’t necessarily big decisions either! It’s just part of who I am.
My deepest nature craves assurance, guidance, security, and purpose. I don’t like wandering, and I don’t like unknowns. Except now I find myself approaching a season of life where nothing is clear or specific, and it is a little scary. However, as much as I crave direction, I’m learning there are also in-between stages where we are simply asked to call out to God, trust, and live well in the moment we have been given.
Joseph’s story seems to be the perfect example of the confusion of calling. At just seventeen, God revealed Joseph’s calling in a dream. Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” ~ Genesis 37:5-7 NKJV
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could discover your calling in a dream? No stress. No agonizing. You just fall asleep and wake up knowing what you’re future is going to look like. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy for Joseph. His brothers hated him for it. Perhaps their abhorrence stifled Joseph’s enthusiasm. Maybe he would even begin to doubt if he remembered right. It was a dream after all. But then it happened again! Only this time his father rebuked him. Joseph’s calling was starting to seem less alluring, but this was only the beginning of his trials.
A little later when Joseph was sent to check on his brothers, their anger boiled over. Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.” We shall see what will become of his dreams!” ~ Genesis 37:19-20 NKJV
My struggles with callings immediately feel less daunting in comparison to Joseph’s reception. I am very thankful my family supports and encourages my dreams. But Joseph’s family? His brothers wanted to kill him. Instead, they humiliated Joseph, threw him in a pit, decided to sell him as a slave, and divided the twenty shekels of silver among themselves. It’s hard to even imagine such blatant cruelty.
Poor Joseph. I wonder what he was thinking at this point. Did he regret his dream? Was he chiding himself for ever sharing it? Was he doubting if it was even real? When the Ishmaelites bound his wrists and jerked him away from his home, did he cry, yell, or curse? Or was he so broken inside that he couldn’t say a word?
Joseph could have given up on God’s calling after this. He was a slave after all. Instead, something amazing happened. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house and all that he had he put under his authority. ~ Genesis 39:2-4 NKJV
Joseph prospered even in slavery because God was with him. Maybe Joseph thought to himself, “This is it. This is what I was called to do. My dream showed me in a position of power, and now I am in charge of Potiphar’s entire household.” However, this elation did not last long.
After a few twisted lies from his wife, Potiphar threw Joseph in prison. Joseph had done nothing but act with honor, yet he was once again being punished. He could have finally given up all hope at this point. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper. ~ Genesis 39:21-23 NKVJ
We know how the story ends. Joseph makes it out of prison by interpreting dreams, becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man, saves nations from starvation, and fulfills his calling. There is vindication, forgiveness, and healing. It’s a beautiful conclusion to a challenging story. But today it is these in-between moments of confusion that intrigue me the most. Getting tossed in a pit, serving as a slave, and working in a prison don’t exactly fit with Joseph’s calling to be a ruler. Yet in every circumstance, it was Joseph’s faithfulness to God that prepared him for his calling.
Joseph was diligent amidst uncertainty. He may very well have fallen on his knees and cried out to God in anger and confusion, but he always got back up. Joseph learned the secret of finding purpose in every situation presented to him. And because he called out, God made everything he did prosper.
These in-between stages of life always come. They are uncertain and frightening, but God is with us even there. Between the calling and the calling out, we still have a purpose. That is to live well, to love the people in front of us, and to seek after God with all our hearts. I often say I’m called to be a writer, but truly my ultimate calling is to serve God. And I can do that anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.
During that conference, Andrew Peterson urged the crowd to simply enjoy our calling. “Keep doing the things God has given you to do,” he said, “and you will live a wealthy life.” In that respect, maybe a calling is less about a purpose and more about living well for God. Maybe acting out a calling isn’t nearly as important as calling out to God.
I went to that conference praying that the next step in achieving my calling would be revealed. Instead, I ended up calling out to God. He met me in that place and reminded me to simply focus on Him. There was no clear direction, but the experience brought a deep peace. It was freeing to remember that living well in the moment God has placed you in is a holy calling in itself. Because in times of uncertainty, faithful diligence and persistent trust make all the difference.
All is Grace, Esther Noe
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to like, comment, and share! At this time in 2020, I wrote a poem with a similar message. You can read it here.