The following is a brief autobiography, as submitted as my first paper for a class I am taking at Asbury Theological Seminary:
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint [or ‘the people are discouraged’], but blessed is he who keeps the law.” So states Proverbs 29:18 in the English Standard Version, perhaps more commonly recognized in its King James equivalent: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” This verse describes my relationship with God succinctly.
My Calling, Values, and Pursuit of Holiness within Christ’s Mission
When I have sensed God’s calling to specific ventures or within moments in life, I have been motivated to pursue sanctification and achieve particular goals. I have come to recognize my primary passion and talent—the discovery of which Gordon Smith advocates is an aspect of our calling in Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential—is in teaching. “Some [teachers] are found in classrooms, but not all. Some are scholars, but not all. A teacher has the conviction that the main problem in the world is that people lack understanding; if they could just understand, they would know and live the truth” (Smith, 65).
Several values that are important to me are related to teaching, and even those that do not have a direct connection suggest a particular teaching trajectory as my calling. Expressing myself clearly in an effort to be known by others is a priority for me. As such, authenticity and integrity as characterized by honesty and sincerity are cornerstones of my personal ethos. I likewise have a firm belief in maintaining the sanctity of commitments. Having been raised in a Wesleyan environment, I have a strong sense of justice and a dedication to the pursuit of lifelong growth in holiness, knowledge, wisdom, and love.
I have long held that the ultimate end of the Church until Christ’s return is to fulfill the Great Commission:
Jesus came and spoke these words to them, ‘All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. You, then, are to go and make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you and, remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. (Matt. 28:18-20, Phillips)
The key injunction for the Church in this section is to “make disciples,” the process of which is a particular kind of teaching that I understand God to be calling me to.
To be a disciple-maker is to share life intimately with someone. It goes beyond evangelism, conversion, exhortation and preaching. It is to train a person to perceive reality in a new way and to live life according to this perception. It is far more than teaching with words: It is showing in practice and everyday life. It is being completely honest about people’s struggles and limitations and making a commitment to stay with someone through whatever happens in life. It is Jesus sharing everyday life with his disciples until his death.
In order to mentor others into discipleship, it is thus vital that I continue to grow more in love with God and into his holiness to fulfill my calling.
While this may well be my general call, specific steps are yet to be determined. Most of my adult life has been an exercise in ambiguity. As focused and driven as I am when a goal is set before me, I have unfortunately learned I am conversely prone to regression and backsliding when I do not see a clear objective.
I relate all too well to Smith’s warning regarding distraction:
Many gifted people fail to achieve their potential for the simple reason that they are too easily distracted. They are not focused. Many are complaining or nostalgic about the past. Either they are bitter because something was “taken” from them or done to them that they view as having hurt or limited them, or they are nostalgic about some previous chapter of their lives. (Smith, 144)
This was my experience when I became a youth director at a young age.
I clearly felt God’s direction to become a youth minister at my home church at age 21. In retrospect, I was far too young and emotionally immature to have taken on such an endeavor, but I was indeed called, regardless. I was successful for a while, but the spiritual burden soon became more than I knew how to bear. I asked God for help, but he seemed silent and distant. I felt like I had been abandoned. Smith accurately describes my past demeanor: “At times our vocation is undermined because of pride…And the consequence is that we are consumed with ourselves” (Smith, 126).
I became consumed with self-pity and overcome with stress to the point of quitting. I imploded in sinful regression. The consequences of this implosion dominated nearly a decade and in many respects (both good and bad) will be a part of my life forever. I see now that God was calling me to a new and deeper place of dependence on him, but I had no way of comprehending this at the time.
This period galvanized a lot of the values and beliefs I had already established. It also created a large amount of damage from which I was forced to admit I needed (and continue to need) healing. God led me to the end of myself in many respects and continues to do so in other ways. He guided me to a wonderful church community that has facilitated his healing, and he has been making adjustments as needed to my spiritual, emotional and philosophical foundations. Chief among these readjustments is the particular brand of vocational humility echoed by both Smith and Os Guinness. Smith writes:
God often calls people to the obscure, the ordinary and the mundane. Some of the most important work that God accomplishes in the world is fulfilled by ordinary people doing ordinary work…And some people miss their vocations because they are looking for the heroic. (Smith, 140)
Similarly, Guinness in his book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, quotes Oswald Chambers as stating:
We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes. (Guinness, 201)
Where I Am Now
I struggle with finding peace without striving to do something massive to change the world for God. I am also not sure how to navigate the path of sanctification in a healthy manner when I do not have a clear goal to pursue. In part, the answer is in taking whatever single step God gives me at a time. As the step he has most recently given me was to attend seminary, I am allowing this experience to be one of God’s guides for me.
One result of seminary thus far has been taking the “Spiritual Transformation Inventory,” which is one means in which God is choosing to continue to heal me. I have struggled with depression, panic and despair since early childhood, so I was not expecting my scores to come back positive in every respect. I was surprised, however, at how accurately the descriptions for my negative scores reflected many of my struggles. It humbled and convicted me.
While I did have several strong and encouraging scores, I scored almost completely at the bottom on all the “anxious connections” to others, community, and God. I was also very low regarding “negative spiritual coping” and “distant connection to God.” The corresponding descriptions were painful but true. People in this range were described as having constant feelings of pain and anger in their relationships with God and others. The need for others could be warped so as to lose feelings of self-worth, and the need for reassurance could lead to demanding comfort from others in ways that reinforce rejection. It described coping via despair, withdrawal, and expecting God to spontaneously fix problems.
I wish there were clear and easy answers to address these issues. Of course continued prayer, counseling, and scriptural saturation are needed. It will ultimately be acts of God’s grace that continues to heal me. I pray the strong value I place on commitment (specifically regarding God) will continue to be reinforced with grace and strength. There is also solace in the fact that God is refining me to relate to people who struggle with the same issues so I can listen to, understand, and speak into their lives. I suspect there is no small number of such people in the West.