In the lead-up to the first Christmas, it’s said that some wise men and a group of shepherd’s followed a call from God to a manger in Bethlehem. There they would visit a beautiful newborn baby who was born to change the world. There are many Biblical references to God’s call on our lives. But what does it mean to feel God’s call? And how do you know if you’re living it out? It’s one of life’s biggest questions and it’s a constantly evolving journey.
Rev Michelle Cook, presbytery minister for mission development in the Uniting Church Presbytery of Tasmania, spends her days helping people to figure out where God is calling them. Michelle will be the keynote speaker at next year’s Summer Spirit event, held in Perth in February. Through workshops, discussion and reflection, Michelle will lead some big conversations on how finding out more about ourselves can help us to understand who and where God is calling us to be.
Michelle explained that a calling is like being driven towards a space that feels out of your control. However, it’s also a fluid thing; experiencing a call doesn’t mean it will be your call for the rest of your life. She said it’s about asking ourselves each day, ‘what does God want me to focus on right now?’ Rather than trying to figure out what God wants for us for the rest of our lives.
“Every person who commits themselves to Christ has a calling,” she said. “And the call might change from time to time.”
While Michelle was called to ordained ministry, she said a calling can come in many forms. It may not come in terms of our careers, but in the way we live out our lives.
“God calls people to all sorts of things,” she said. “God calls us to ‘be’ as well as to ‘do’.
“Sometimes the conversation is around what job you should do – to be a teacher, a nurse or a doctor – but people are also called to be a person of faith wherever they are. Their vocation is to be a person of faith in that place. It doesn’t matter what job they have, God calls us to be a person of faith.”
When we think in this way, Michelle believes it can take the pressure off trying to figure out where our life is heading – especially for young people trying to decide on a career and worried about failure if things don’t turn out the way they think it should.
“It makes failure and success a different question if you are in God,” she said. “It turns it on its head.”
Paul Montague, First Third specialist for the Uniting Church WA, said that young people looking for a calling or a passion, independent of purely how to make a living, is a great thing.
“I believe every young person moving into adulthood should seek to attain some manner of mastery,” he said. “I don’t think it’s especially important whether they earn their living by that mastery or not. Whether it’s video editing, Latin dancing, playing cello, Thai cooking or horse grooming; pursuing excellence in something offers massive rewards in terms of confidence and identity.
“A young person feeling good about their skills and effort in something they enjoy will have energy to invest elsewhere. As far as the chances of it becoming a career go, it’s remarkable how often us doing the thing that makes us most alive also gives life to others.”
Paul believes that the church has a vital part to play in helping its younger members discern their way.
“The church can be a wonderful resource to kids and young people because a congregation can be such a wonderfully intergenerational loving and supportive community,” he said.
“I consider the old saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ to be utterly true. This rich dynamic comes to life when a child or young person is part of a big loving ‘extended family’ whose members take the time to really know and really listen to each growing person and to gently offer their insight and experience.
“Ultimately, a loving community becomes the place of ‘safe landing’ from which a young person can test their metaphorical wings. This nurture should be spiced with some challenge and growth-provoking opportunities. I think this is where we can step up our game.”
It’s not just young people who wrestle with these questions; most of us at some point will consider our direction throughout life. And while not all, some of us are called to a specific ministry within the church.
Rev Nick Stuurstraat is one such person, who was called to be a minister of the Word early in his life. After many years of fulfilling ministry in various congregations, as well as Navy and prison chaplaincy, Nick officially retired in 1998.
However, the call to ministry is so strong to him, that he continued serving voluntarily in congregational ministry for a further 17 years. Due to ill health, in September this year he retired from congregational ministry for the second time, which was celebrated with Glen Forrest Uniting Church, where he has served for the last 13 years. Despite this, Nick still feels that God is calling him to serve the church and is back on the preaching roster twice a month.
“When someone asks you ‘we haven’t got a minister, can you preach?’ what would your answer be?” he said. “You can’t say ‘I’m not interested’. You are called to share the Gospel.
“Throughout my ministry I have found the most amazing ways in which God works.
“I have felt, immeasurable times, whether it was in visiting or preaching, that God was using me and talking through me,” he said.
For many people, figuring out their calling can be agonising and filled with doubt. Even Mother Teresa, a missionary devoting most of her life to serving in India, doubted her call and indeed in the existence of a God at all.
Michelle said that it is a process which requires immense reflection and discussion. It is important to find a mentor who you can trust will be honest and who will keep your confidence.
“You want someone who will ask you hard questions and challenge you a bit,” she said. “That could be a friend, a parent, a relative or a leader in the church.
“It’s someone that you recognise as being able to ask those hard questions, but also listen to you and not tell you what you should do.”
Want to try and figure out where God is calling you? Here’s some ways you can explore God’s call on your life.
- Summer Spirit will be held on Saturday 27 February at All Saints Floreat Uniting Church. The theme will be ‘Who me? Discovering the gifts within’. For more information contact Alice Boomer on 9260 9800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Explore Ministry Evening will be held on Wednesday 9 December, 7.30–9.30pm at Bicton Uniting Church. Come and explore the various ministry opportunities within the Uniting Church. For more information call Kerry George on 9360 6880 or email email@example.com.
- A Period of Discernment is a process within the Uniting Church which helps members to figure out God’s call on their lives. It is available for anyone in the church to discern their call, whether it be within their local congregation, in the community, in their workplace or in a specified ministry. To find out more contact Rev Craig Collas on 9321 9964 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.