Last week, Elise Amyx detailed some helpful strategies for discerning one’s calling in the context of community. The advice she presented is helpful in identifying your gifts and passions. William Messenger also offers some tips for listening for God’s vocational guidance in a piece written for the Theology of Work Project.
Messenger’s work calls to mind the following quote from author and theologian Frederick Buechner:
The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Echoing this quote, Messenger breaks down vocational guidance towards a job or profession into three areas:
- Paying attention to the needs of the world.
- Recognizing your skills and gifts.
- Pursuing your truest passions and desires.
Today we’ll explore the first of these: what does paying attention to the needs of the world have to do with calling?
According to Jeremiah 29:5-7, one reason we as Christians work to fulfill the Cultural Mandate is for the benefit of others, not just for ourselves. Our work is intended for the shalom, the peace and prosperity of our surrounding culture. Jeremiah writes,
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Where does the world most need shalom? This is a good question to ponder when thinking about calling. Messenger writes,
The single strongest indicator of what God wants you to do is probably your awareness of what needs to get done to make the world more like what God intends.
The needs of the world aren’t limited to huge, global problems. Messenger expands the definition of “need” in this instance to mean “simply anything in the world that needs to be done.” Needs falling under this broad umbrella could include:
- The needs of your family. Proverbs 13:22, Proverbs 14:1, 1 Timothy 5:8, and Titus 3:14 are a few of the many verses in the Bible mentioning the importance of earning a living to support you and your family.
- The needs of individuals in your local community. Proverbs 14:21 and Luke 3:10-11, among other verses, offer a biblical example of actively meeting the needs of those around you.
The needs of the world, of even the small part you inhabit, can seem infinite. Messenger suggests starting with “needs for which you are personally responsible, such as raising your children or paying your debts.” In addition, some clarifying questions can help you focus on needs you may be called to focus on:
- What needs are you in a good position to meet?
- What needs are you willing to address that others aren’t?
- What needs do you find especially pressing?
You can’t meet all the world’s needs, but we have all been gifted by God in unique ways that enable us to meet what needs we can. Messenger concludes,
The point is that God has given everyone the ability to recognize something of what the world needs. He seems to expect us to notice it and get to work, rather than waiting for a special call from him. There is no biblical formula for translating the needs of the world into a precise job calling. That’s why you need to seek God’s guidance in the various forms of discernment available to you.
Identifying needs of the world can certainly help direct you to a field of work involved in solving whatever problem you’ve selected. Yet even if you don’t feel a call to a specific kind of work, you still possess a skill set that can bring shalom through other means – volunteer work, for instance. In other words, determining needs you can meet doesn’t need to be limited to helping you select particular, paid work.
In the coming weeks we’ll explore the other two areas – skills and passions – in greater detail.
Content in this article was adapted from “Discerning God’s Guidance to A Particular Kind of Work,” published by the Theology of Work Project.
What needs of the world can you meet? Which ones are you willing to meet? Which ones do you find pressing? Leave your comments here.