God's Sovereign Plans Behind My Most Unproductive Days

John PIper, Ask Pastor John Podcast

Audio Transcript

How is God at work in our most unproductive days, when it feels as though we’ve accomplished nothing and fallen far short of our own plans and expectations? Those days are frustrating to us, but they are not outside of God’s sovereign power. It leads to today’s question on what efficiency looks like in the first place, a very good question from a listener named Melinda.

“Hello, Pastor John, thank you for this podcast! Back in episode 1115, about caring for those with dementia, you closed your remarks with this phrase: ‘God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours.’ Can you please elaborate on this? I struggle mightily with time management skills. I’m a homeschooling mom trying to balance kids’ needs and activities, ministry, household duties . . . and sleep. I feel overwhelmed with the need to be efficient every minute even though this does not come naturally to me. What should efficiency look like in the busy Christian life?”

I will explain what I mean by “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours.” But let me say first, right off the bat, that the reason I want anybody to know that is not so that they can get more done, but so that they do what they do in the right spirit. That’s the preface over everything I have to say.

Your Priorities

Now what do I mean by saying, “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours”? I mean that your priority may be that between 10:00 and 11:00 this morning you plan to run to the bank and get some cash so that you can be back in time to pay the teenager who is cutting your grass while a neighbor watches your two- and four-year-old for you. That’s the plan.

“Frustrating human efficiency is one of God’s primary means of sanctifying grace.”

You feel good — I’m making this up — that you very efficiently worked. You feel good that you worked it out. You worked it out so that the neighbor was available, the teenager could come, and you could get to the bank and get back before both of them had other engagements.

Those are your priorities, and you have an efficient plan: grass cut, kids watched, bank trip made, boy paid, everyone off to their next engagement. Victory. Efficiency. That’s what I mean by “our efficiency.”

God’s Priorities

However, God in this case has a totally different set of priorities.

Your neighbor was scheduled to be at a real estate office at 11:30 so she could join her husband to close on a new house — a house that, unbeknownst to them, has a flawed foundation. The teenager was planning to take his money from cutting the grass and pool it with some of the guys and buy some drugs that they shouldn’t be using. You hit a traffic jam caused by the rollover of a semi (which has another story behind it). You’re locked up on the freeway for an hour. You never even get to the bank.

You rush home as fast as you can, but you get there an hour late. You have no money to pay the boy, and your neighbor has missed her appointment. You are frustrated almost to tears.

Your efficiency proved utterly useless to accomplish your priorities. You failed, but God’s priorities totally succeeded. He wanted to hinder that boy from buying drugs, he wanted to spare the neighbor from purchasing a house that’s a lemon, and he wanted to grow your faith in his sovereign wisdom and sovereignty.

Now, that’s what I mean by “God’s priorities for efficiency in this life are not ours.”

Joseph’s Slow Journey

In my view, this isn’t happening just now and then; it’s happening all the time. When you read the Bible, you see in virtually every book the story of God doing things that are not the way humans would do them or want them done. God almost never takes the shortest route between point A and point B.

The reason is that such efficiency — the efficiency of speed and directness — is not what he’s about. His purpose is to sanctify the traveler, not speed him between A and B. Frustrating human efficiency is one of God’s primary (I say primary, not secondary) means of sanctifying grace.

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is one of the clearest examples, right? Joseph is hated by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, sold to Potiphar, accused of sexual harassment, thrown into prison, forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler, then finally — seventeen years in? — made vice president of Egypt so that he could save his family from starvation.

“You’re not being measured by God by how much you get done.”

The moral of the story comes in Genesis 50:20. Joseph says to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God had an agenda. God had a plan. God meant it for good.

It’s as if he said, “You guys, you rascals, were the ‘traffic jam’ that kept me from getting to the bank for seventeen years. But God was positioning me to be the savior of my people, and he was in no hurry. I was being tested at every single point. Would I trust him with his seemingly meaningless inefficiency? It wasn’t meaningless.”

Paul’s Change of Plans

When Paul was trying to get to Spain, he did so with a good plan. He had a plan — he had a really good plan. He basically said, “I’m going to go to Jerusalem and deliver the money. Then I’m going to get on a boat, go to Rome, gather some support, and end my life in Spain.” What a great plan. But then he found himself in prison in Rome. What did he say?

He says it in Philippians 1:12–13: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

His priorities for efficiently getting to Spain were shattered, but God’s purposes to evangelize the imperial guard in Rome stayed right on track.

A Daily Plan

Here’s the implication for Melinda.

By all means, make your list of to-dos for the day. By all means, get as good at that as you can get. Prioritize the list. Get first things first. Make your plan. Do the very best you can. Go ahead and read a book about it.

Then walk in the peace and freedom that, when it shatters on the rocks of reality (which it will most days), you’re not being measured by God by how much you get done. You’re being measured by whether you trust the goodness and the wisdom and the sovereignty of God to work this new mess of inefficiency for his glory and the good of everyone involved, even when you can’t see how.

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The High Calling of Bringing Order from Chaos

Article by Tim Challies

There are many things we do in this world that grow wearisome over the course of a lifetime. Near the top of the heap may just be the constant battle to bring order from chaos. This world and everything in it are constantly drifting toward chaos, maybe even full-out hurtling toward chaos. And a million times in a million ways we take little actions to hold it back, to restore just a modicum of order.

God knows all about order and chaos. Whatever God created in the very first moments of creation was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). We may not know all that is caught up in that little phrase, but it is clear that whatever was there was incomplete, unformed. As God began to move in his week of creation, he brought order from that initial disorder. He organized, he formed, he made, he filled. From that unformed substance emerged the beauty, the order, of this world. But it emerged only by his effort, his will, his handiwork.

Then God created people. God created people in his image and assigned them God-like work: They, too, were to bring order from chaos. God created man and placed him in the garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Man was to serve God and to serve like God by tending this garden. This garden was beautiful and perfect, but it, too, needed handiwork. It was, after all, a garden. It was full of plants that would sprout and need to be tended, of hedges that would grow and need to be trimmed. God meant for his people to make this garden a place of obvious and visible order that would stand apart from the world outside the garden. And as man obeyed God’s instruction to spread out over the rest of the earth, he would extend this order outward, through the region, the continent, the world. This was man’s exercise of dominion, his work of subduing the earth and all that is in it.

This work of bringing order from chaos is dignified work. It is God-like work, God-assigned work.

This work of bringing order from chaos is dignified work. It is God-like work, God-assigned work. Victor Hamilton says it well: “The point is made clear here that physical labor is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working. Eden certainly is not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.” Man was created to work, to work within God’s good creation. And it is not only work that has dignity, but the specific work of bringing order from chaos, of bringing what is unformed into the state of being formed. That work would become even more important as sin entered the world and with it the consequences of sin—the thorns and thistles that would combat (literally) the work of the farmer and combat (figuratively) every other manner of work.

And even today, so much of the work we do in life is of this nature. So much of the work we do in our families, in our homes, in our churches, in our vocations, is the work of bringing order from chaos. And this is good work.

As parents we soon learn that our children come into this world in a state of utter chaos and anarchy, screaming when they want to eat, filling their diapers whenever and wherever they feel the urge. They grow into willful toddlers who want to rule the home, who want to exercise authority over their parents and siblings, who already show startling signs of rebellion against both God and man. Our task is to love them, to teach them, to discipline them, to urge them, to form them. We form them into people of order, of self-control, of self-respect, of selflessness, of godliness. Chaos gives way to order.

As church members we see the Lord save his people and they come into our churches with barely a shred of Christian character. They are addicted to sex or substances, they use their words to harm rather than help, they have only the smallest knowledge of God and his ways. So we disciple them, we teach, reprove, correct, and train them, we display Christ-like love to them, and eventually, inevitably, we see chaos replaced by order. We do this again and again as God saves more and more of his people. Chaos is chased away by order.

As people working in our vocations we do this same kind of work. We sweep and wax the hallways for the thousandth time, we edit the messy manuscripts, we train more inert people to drop 20 pounds and run 5 kilometers, we write traffic tickets for the people who insist on parking in fire lanes, we teach another class of ignorant students, we weed another bed of flowers. It goes on and on, day after day and year after year. But all the while it goes from chaos to order.

And then there are our homes, our homes which in mid-afternoon are clean and orderly and by early evening are little short of a disaster area. We take little actions and big ones: We sweep the floors, we empty the sink to fill the dishwasher, we replace empty lunch bags with full ones, we replenish the toilet paper, we shovel the toys back into their bins and boxes. Messiness departs and order arrives for another day or another hour.

This is so much of our work as long as we are here—the work of bringing order from the chaos that is always so close at hand. This work is good. It may be frustrating, repetitive, endless. But it is good. This work is good enough for God and good enough for God to assign to the very crown of his creation. It is certainly good enough for the likes of you and me.

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Adulting Is God’s Will for You

Article by Shar Walker

It only takes a few likes and shares for a word to become a brand-new hashtag, accompanied by memes, T-shirts, and paraphernalia. I noticed this with the word “adulting.”

“Adulting”—a verb form of “adult”—typically refers to a person (usually a millennial) doing an action (often mundane) that an adult would do. For instance, someone might say, “Paid my bills on time; I’ve done my adulting for the day.” This is my generation’s way of acknowledging, and sometimes making fun of, our entry into adulthood.

“Adulting” jokes expose the pulse of my generation. While most of the comments are of course in jest, at the sentiment’s heart seems to be a sluggishness to grow up, to take responsibility, and to do things we don’t want to do.

God’s Word directs Christians to a higher calling. Here are four biblical pursuits that speak to our generational fear of adulting.

1. Pursue Self-Control

When adulting is a choice, you can put it on or take it off at will. When I feel like paying my bills, I’ll pay them. When I feel like getting a steady job, I’ll start applying.

It’s all too easy to lack motivation in our everyday lives, leading us to neglect tasks that are important but not urgent. But the biblical virtue of self-control summons us to greater responsibility. Self-control isn’t just abstaining from bad thoughts or actions, but also pursuing what is good—even if it’s hard or not exhilarating.

The Bible frequently exhorts us to practice self-control in our words and in our works (Prov. 16:3218:212 Pet. 1:5–9). The two offices in the local church—elder and deacon—require self-control (1 Tim. 3:2Titus 1:8). All of us are to be fervent in spirit, not lacking zeal (Rom. 12:11).

Unlike optional adulting, self-control calls us to be faithful in the tasks of life we may not want to do, but are still responsible to perform.

2. Pursue Hard Work

In Genesis 2:15, the Lord places Adam in the garden to “work it and keep it.” Adam is to tend and care for his home. For all of us, work is a daily task.

Even though work has been cursed, it’s not a curse.

Of course, sin’s curse spoiled everything, including the ground, rendering work toilsome (Gen. 3:17–19Ecc. 2:17). Because of the fall, our work is now often frustrating. But even though work has been cursed, it’s not a curse. Work existed before the fall, and it will be fully redeemed at Christ’s return.

While often burdensome, work is from God’s hand and ought to be done for God’s glory (Ecc. 2:243:123:225:18–20). As we remember this purpose, we mustn’t assume we can hastily microwave our work, coasting by in sluggish apathy. As we labor in a fallen world, we are to do so with zeal and motivation (Prov. 19:24), with care in small tasks (Prov. 24:30–34), with humility (Prov. 26:16), with diligence (Prov. 13:4Gal 6:9), and with vigilance (Eph. 5:15–16).

So let’s not despise our normal, everyday responsibilities—those unglamorous tasks we think of as “adulting.” Though we may desire to do great things for the Lord, it’s easy to forget that the greatest work has already been finished for us at the cross, and that God wants to be faithful where he’s intentionally placed us.

The greatest work has already been finished for us at the cross.

Each day, no matter how mundane, is an opportunity to experience the Lord’s renewed mercies (Lam. 3:22).

3. Pursue Discipleship

Discipleship involves sharing our lives with one another. As Paul tells the believers in Thessalonica, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thess. 2:8).

I recently picked up The New York Times bestseller Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, written by 28-year-old Kelly Williams Brown. Some of the steps to becoming a grown-up include: buying bulk toilet paper, doing weekly cleaning, being aware of current events, and not wearing wrinkled clothes.

But the beauty of gospel discipleship is that we have far greater resources than a book of tips to teach us how to live. In the church, those who are younger learn from older saints (and vice versa) how to honor God with our lives. God has given us a precious resource for adulting: gospel community shaped by his Word.

4. Pursue Wisdom

In a society that fights against the inevitability of aging, the Bible champions wisdom that comes from years of faithfulness to God.

When I talk to godly older saints, their words drip with the wisdom and understanding that only come from decades of walking with the living God (Job 12:12Prov. 16:31). And while their bodies waste away, their inner self is clearly being renewed each day (2 Cor. 4:16). This is wisdom worth pursuing.

In God’s kindness, he gives both his Word and also the fellowship of his saints equip us to “adult” well. Even on days when we feel we just can’t.

May we heed the warning to not be content with childish ways, and may we seek the wisdom that allows us to discern good from evil, and what’s good from what’s best (Heb. 5:11–14).

Shar Walker lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, with her husband, Paul, and works on staff with Campus Outreach Lynchburg as the regional women’s director. he is a contributing author in Joyfully Spreading the Word: Sharing the Good News of Jesus (Crossway/TGC, 2018).

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4 Things to Remind those Graduating

Article by Sara Barratt

Graduation is a time of paradox—excitement combined with fear, beginnings blurred with endings, plans riddled with uncertainty. But it’s only the start of the rollercoaster called adulthood.

It’s been two years since I received my high school diploma. I’ve been on a learning curve about life, God, and navigating the culture as an “official” adult. Since graduation, I’ve messed up, made mistakes, and grown a lot. I’ve gained experience and knowledge I wish I’d known years ago. But I’ve also seen the handprints of wise individuals upon my life who shaped and molded me before graduation day.

Here are four pieces of life advice that can support and equip the grads in your life as they venture into the world.

1. Plans and Dreams Change (But God Doesn’t)

Inside one of the many graduation cards I received, there was a small but power-packed piece of wisdom: “God’s plan will take you places in your life you haven’t thought of yet.”

Unlike many other graduates, I didn’t have a perfectly mapped out four-year plan, complete with college, degree, and subsequent successful career. I graduated two years early (homeschooler’s perk) armed with a desire to minister to teens and a passion to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly how that plan would unfold.

The pressure for a new graduate to appear successful and confident is excruciating. This is intensified by the well-meaning individuals who ask, as a form of small talk, “So, what are your plans now?” Not having a ready answer—or a traditional one—can turn a simple question into an agonizing struggle for grads who feel the pressure to perform according to everyone’s expectations.

One of the most encouraging truths you can share with a graduate is that even if their plans falter, God’s vision for their life is still secure. His purpose may (or may not) be different than what they were anticipating, but he will lead and guide them every step of the way.

That’s a truth they’ll be able to hold onto throughout their entire lives, even when graduation is a distant memory.

2. A Degree Is Optional (But Integrity and Maturity Aren’t)

In our culture, college has increasingly become a prerequisite for success. Going on to higher education can open a world of possibilities. Yet often we’re so busy caring about our grad’s career goals that we forget about their soul.

Colleges and degrees help graduates navigate the world of business, finances, and to get (and hold down) that little thing called a job. But there’s more to the substance of our lives. Grads need to consider their future work, but they also need to remember their souls.

Grads need to consider their future work, but they also need to remember their souls.

Integrity, honesty, compassion, self-giving, and spiritual disciplines uphold graduates through the trials and tough times every adult faces. Focusing on the heart and pointing them to Jesus, we will encourage grads to be giving, sensitive, Christ-following individuals throughout their lives.

3. The World Will Tug at Your Heart (So Stand Firm)

A few months after graduating, I scribbled a few sentences on a scrap piece of paper:

Do I need their applause, approval, or acceptance? Should I alter my life to impress them, even if it’s not what would impress the Lord? Should I be swept into the current of what’s popular and lauded?

I don’t recall what I was referring to, or who “they” were. It’s a snapshot, though, into the mind of someone struggling to be accepted in a culture unaccepting of anyone who varies from the status quo.

As teens head off to colleges and jobs, they’ll encounter a whole new level of peer pressure. New classmates and co-workers will influence—and perhaps change—them. Post-graduation is a season where commitments are tested and integrity tried.

That’s why it’s vital to send them off strong and equipped, committed to standing firm on truth. Point them to Scripture. Hold them accountable. Encourage them to find—and join—a local church. Model integrity. And most importantly, pray fervently. As you do, you’ll help them stand strong.

4. Keep God First (Always)

The most powerful way you can help set grads up for success is by pointing them to Jesus Christ. Our human counsel can, and will, fall short. His never will.

As I think about the comments I received during graduation, I mostly heard things along the lines of “Reach for the stars” and “You’ve got this!” My friends wanted the best for me, and I’m thankful they cared enough to encourage me. But most of the words were hollow.

What if, instead of, “Reach for the stars,” we told our grads, “Reach for Jesus”? What if, instead of, “You’ve got this” we reminded them, “God’s got this”? What if we created with our words, and actions, a climate of desperate dependance on Christ? What if we prompted them to keep God first, no matter what?

We would have a generation of graduates more passionate about Jesus and more devoted to the things of God.

We only have so much influence over our graduates. So in addition to supporting them and cheering them on, point them to Jesus. And don’t forget to pray for their endeavors and successes. Pray they don’t give up after failure. Pray God leads them every day of their lives. Pray God places wise and godly people—and a healthy church—in their path. Pray they’ll stand strong and fix their eyes on Christ.

Those beloved grads are in God’s hands, and he’ll never let them go.

Sara Barratt is an 18-year-old lead writer and editor for She’s passionate about pointing teens to Christ and reclaiming truth from the lies of the culture. Connect with her at and on Facebook.

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What's My Calling? And is that Even a Good Question?

Article by Kevin DeYoung

Graduation season is upon us.

And that means in addition to much pomp and circumstance, many young people are thinking about what’s next. They are asking the question (and probably will for years to come): what is my calling?

As the Just Do Something guy, it will come as no surprise to hear that I think the language of “calling” is vastly overdone in Christian circles. Here’s what I find in Scripture:

We have an upward call in Christ to be with Jesus and to be like Jesus (Phil. 3:14). We have been called to freedom, not bondage (Gal. 5:13). God has saved us and called us to a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9). He has called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). Not many of us were called to noble things (in the world’s eyes), but, amazingly, we have been called to Christ (1 Cor. 1:26). And if called, then justified, and if justified, then glorified (Rom. 8:30).

In other words, I do not see in Scripture where we are told to expect or look for a specific call to a specific task in life.

And that includes pastoral ministry and missionary service.

Although I’ve told the story of my “call to ministry” hundreds of time, I do not see biblical warrant for thinking that God picks up the phone in a special way to dial up pastors and missionaries for their life’s work. Moreover, I worry that by emphasizing the need for a supernatural hear-from-the-Lord call to ministry, we end up convincing some people that ministry and missions are for them (when they aren’t), while unintentionally leading other people (who should be serving a church or overseas) to conclude that they can’t sign up without a special word from God.

Does this mean we should abandon the language of “calling”?

Not necessarily. There’s no rule that says we can’t take a word from our English Bibles and then use that word in a different way in normal conversation (e.g., it’s tilting at windmills to think we are going to outlaw “church” in reference to a building). But if we are going to use the language of calling outside of the biblical pattern, let’s be careful about how we use the word.

I love talking with seminarians about discerning a call to ministry if we mean, “How do I know this is a wise, appropriate step for me to take?” as opposed to, “How do I know that I’ve received a special word from God himself that I must be a pastor?” Most ministry books talk about three aspects of a call: an internal call (I desire this), an external call (I have recognized gifts for ministry and discernible fruit of maturity), and a formal call (I have been offered a position by a particular church or ministry). Those three elements make good sense as a prudent approach to making good decisions.

In fact, these three factors can be used to determine almost any kind of “call.” Should I be a doctor? Well, are you really interested in medicine and in helping people? Do your trusted friends and family members think this is a good fit for you? Is there an opportunity for you to enter into this profession? Of course, at times we push ahead in the face of opposition and try to pry open closed doors. But in general, in a society where we have many choices in front of us, it’s good advice to find something we like, something we are good at, and something that others are asking us to do.

In short, if this is what is meant by “calling”—know yourself, listen to others, find where you are needed—then, by all means, let’s try to discern our callings. But if “calling” involves waiting for promptings, listening for still small voices, and attaching divine authority to our vocational decisions, then we’d be better off dropping the language altogether (except as its used in the Bible) and labor less mysteriously to help each other grow in wisdom.

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Where Does God Want Me To Work?

Article by David Mathis

How do I find God’s will for my life? It’s always a pressing question on the college campus, and especially in our day of unprecedented options. Like never before, in an anomaly in world history, students loosened from their community of origin, “going off” to college, now make decisions about their future with minimal influence or limitation from their adolescent context.

“God wants to take you by the heart, not twist you by the arm.”

Before asking, “Where is God calling me?” we would do well to first ponder, “Where has God already called me?” — not that your current callings won’t change or take a fresh direction in this formative season of life, but for a Christian, our objective calling from God always precedes our consciousness of it. If it is from him, he initiates. He makes the first move. This is true of our calling to salvation, and also true of any “vocational” assignment he gives us in the world.

Consider Three Factors

For the college student or young adult who may feel like a free agent — considering options and determining for yourself (and often by yourself) which direction to take — it’s important to acknowledge you are already moving in a direction, not standing still. You already have divine callings — as a Christian, as a church member, as a son or daughter, as a brother or sister, as a friend. And from within the matrix of those ongoing, already-active callings, you now seek God’s guidance for where to go from here.

Given, then, that you are already embedded in a context, with concrete callings, how should you go about discerning God’s direction after graduation? Or how do you find God’s will for your work-life? Christians will want to keep three important factors in view.

1. What Kind of Work Do I Desire?

First, we recognize, contrary to the suspicions that may linger in our unbelief, God is the happy God (1 Timothy 1:11), not a cosmic killjoy. In his Son, by his Spirit, he wants to shape and form our hearts to desire the work to which he’s calling us and, in some good sense, in this fallen world, actually enjoy the work.

Sanctified, Spirit-given desire is not a liability, but an asset, to finding God’s will. The New Testament is clear that God means for pastors to aspire to the work of the pastoral ministry. And we can assume, as a starting point, that God wants the same for his children working outside the church.

“Desire is a vital factor to consider, but in and of itself this doesn’t amount to a calling.”

In 1 Peter 5:2, we find this remarkably good news about how God’s heart for our good and enduring joy stands behind his leading us vocationally. The text is about the pastoral calling, but we can see in it the God who calls us into any carefully appointed station. God wants pastors who labor “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” How remarkable is it that working from aspiration and delight, not obligation and duty, would be “as God would have you.” This is the kind of God we have — the desiring (not dutiful) God, who wants workers who are desiring (not dutiful) workers. He wants his people, like their pastors, to do their work “with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage” to those whom they serve (Hebrews 13:17).

So also, when the apostle Paul addresses the qualifications of pastors, he first mentions aspiration. “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). God wants workers who want to do the work, not workers who do it simply out of a sense of duty. Behold your God, whose pattern is to take you by the heart, not twist you by the arm.

Desire, though, does not make a calling on its own. It’s a common mistake to presume that seeming God-given desire is, on its own, a “calling.” Aspirationis a vital factor to consider, but in and of itself this doesn’t amount to a calling. Two additional factors remain in the affirmation of others and the God-given opportunity.

2. Do Others Affirm This Direction?

The second question to ask, then, after the subjective one of desire, is the more objective one of ability. Have I seen evidence, small as it may be at first, that I can meet the needs of others by working in this field? And, even more important than my own self-assessment, do others who love me, and seem to be honest with me, confirm this direction? Do they think I’d be a good fit for the kind of work I’m desiring?

Here the subjective desires of our hearts meet the concrete, real-world, objective needs of others. Our vocational labors in this world, whether in Christian ministry or not, are not for existential release or our own private satisfaction, but for meeting the actual needs of others.

“You may feel called, and others may affirm you, but you are not yet fully called until God opens a door.”

Our desires have their part to play, but our true “calling” is not mainly shaped by our internal heart. It is shaped by the world outside of us. We so often hear “follow your heart” and “don’t settle for anything less than your dreams” in society, and even in the church. What’s most important, contrary to what the prevailing cultural word may be, is not bringing the desires of your heart to bear on the world, but letting the real-life needs of others shape your heart.

In seeking God’s will for us vocationally, we look for where our developing aspirations match up with our developing abilities to meet the actual needs of others. Over time, we seek to cultivate a kind of dialogue (with ourselves and with others) between what we desire to do and what we find ourselves good at doing for the benefit of others. Delight in certain kinds of labor typically grows as others affirm our efforts, and we see them receiving genuine help.

3. What Doors Has God Opened?

Finally, and perhaps the most overlooked and forgotten factor in the discussions on calling, is the actual God-given, real-world open door. You may feel called, and others may affirm your abilities, but you are not yet fully called until God opens a door.

Here we glory in the truth of God’s providence, not just hypothetically but tangibly. The real world in which we live, and various options as they are presented to us, are not random or coincidental. God rules over all things — from him, through him, to him (Romans 11:36). And so as real-life options (job offers) are presented that fulfill an aspiration in us, and are confirmed by the company of others, we can take these as confirmation of God’s “calling.” Not that such a calling will never change. But for now, when your own personal sense of God’s leading, and good perspective and guidance from others, align with a real-world opportunity in the form of an actual job offer in front of you, you have a calling from God.

“It is finally God, not man who provides the job offer.”

And we can say this calling is from him because God himself, in his hand of providence, has done the decisive work. He started the process by planting in us righteous desires to help others; and he affirmed the direction through our lived-out abilities and the affirmation of friends. Now, he confirms that sense of calling by swinging open the right door at the right time. It is finally God, not man who provides the job offer.

God not only makes overseers (Acts 20:28) and gives pastors (Ephesians 4:11–12) and sends out laborers into his global harvest (Matthew 9:37–38) and sends preachers (Romans 10:15) and sets wise managers over his household (Luke 12:42), but he makes dentists and plumbers. In his common kindness, he gives school teachers and entrepreneurs and social workers for the just and unjust. He sends executives and service workers. He gives you to the world in the service of others.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for and pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

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