By Jonathan Lê, with an excerpt by Jonathan Gibo
If someone were to tell you that they have an urgent message from your parent or significant other, how would you know if it were genuine? It’s hard to imagine this scenario in the age of digital communication, but we do get messages from malicious sources claiming to be what they’re not. You have hopefully bulked up your cyber-savvy over years of exposure, practice, and others have shared their experiences with phishing scams, fake-news, and malicious pop-ups. But how would you be able to discern a genuine calling or message from God? Is there a tried-and-true way to train up your spiritual-savvy?
The author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus Christ supersedes all human pursuits and allegiances because he is better than angels and offers better hope than the Mosaic Law could promise. When faced with suffering and confusion, knowing that Christ is so good gives us hope to persevere. As we explore how to discern God’s will, Hebrews is a great book to understand how God’s plan unfolded throughout scripture and how it applies to us now. As we take a look through Hebrews, we can see how God’s plan unfolds which can give us wisdom for today.
Read Hebrews 13:1-21 together and discuss observations you make about the author’s claims about God’s overall plan and will.
How Do I Know What God Is Calling Me to Do?
Jonathan Gibo has served on the staff of Cru both in the States and overseas. In speaking with a diverse body of students over many years, he has found three distinctive ways the Lord seems to call us: (1) the Story of God, (2) the passions and experiences of our lifetime, and (3) through intervention. The following comes from an article1 he has written:
The Story of God
The Lord has given us a calling that speaks to us from his Word. This biblically derived calling is divine revelation, or as the old Scottish Moderator in the coronation of the King of Britain called it, “the lively oracles of God.” The Word is a present help in guiding our lives. It sets the parameters of our life choices, and, at times, the Lord will call us directly through the text in some timely verse or story brought to mind. Yet we all must know the ongoing story of God, that he is restoring the world and that we are made to partner and participate with him in that restoration. We must know that he has made us stewards of creation and his image bearers. We must know that we are Greatly Commissioned (Matthew 28:18-20) to make disciples of all nations. We must all know that we are called to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The Word of God is living and active, Hebrews 4:12 tells us, and it helps us to discern what the will of God is for us and how our hearts will respond to it.
Passions (Intrinsic Calling) and Experiences (Extrinsic Calling)
The Lord works throughout our lives to build us for what he asks of us, and when we delight ourselves in the Lord, he gives us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). So, as we seek him and submit to him, as we love him and surrender to him, the Lord shapes our hearts to reflect his. And, as our hearts are conformed more and more to the image of our maker, we can trust more and more that its desires come from him. The heart that pursues its own passions is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9), but when we are submitted before the Lord and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Simultaneously, it’s also important to note that the Lord leads us through our lives’ experiences to shape us for the things to come. It’s no accident that we’ve been placed in Epic, or gone on that summer mission, or that we see the World as desperately in need of the Gospel of Jesus. It is no accident when your heart is overcome with grief for the plight of those who are trafficked. It is no accident when your heart breaks for the entertainment industry or any number of other ways that you see the brokenness of the world. The Lord takes your passions and experiences to give you a unique perspective on the world around you. That is the calling of the Lord in your life, written in long-form throughout a lifetime.
We must also know, too, that the American Dream is not a biblical dream. And in humility and surrender, we must consider what portion of our desires comes from the flesh and what part comes from the Word. We must ask the Lord to help us to walk in faith, not fear, and with courage. The Lord does not call all of us to go to another country, nor does he call all of us to vocationally work in ministry, or not-for-profits, or in tech, medicine, or entertainment.
The Lord also clearly intervenes at times in our lives to cause us to choose something. We see this all over the Bible: in the calling of Saul to the service of God, in the setting aside of Barnabas and Saul, in the calling of Samuel (the prophet), in the anointing of David—the list goes on and on. God intervenes. In my own life, I know that there was a time in my senior year of college when the Lord intervened to STOP me from going on STINT2. “Wait. Not yet,” he said. It wasn’t an audible voice (which is vital to distinguish), but it was a clear impression from outside of my thoughts. I knew that the “going” was a part of God’s Word and was a part of my passions and experiences. The Lord went on to put me through grad school for free and showed me my calling more clearly to be a minister of the Gospel for a more extended period than just one year.
What I love about the interventional calling of the Lord is that it sets us free to live in the first two types of callings. When we are reading the Word and submitting in prayer and offering our lives with the open hands of surrender in the power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to choose, knowing that the Lord has given me the mind of Christ and that he will intervene when he wants me to choose something specific. Likewise, you can see the calling of the Lord in your life in the Word and your passions and experiences, knowing that the Lord can intervene to cause you to choose anything he wants explicitly for you.
Lord, I surrender everything to you. I want what you want. I want to be radically indifferent to any other draw. In the power of your Holy Spirit, I will go anywhere you want me to go, say anything you want me to say, do anything you want me to do, and give anything you want me to give. I recognize that no matter where you lead me, I am responsible for making disciples of all nations. I ask for the wisdom to discern and the courage to walk the path that you have set before me. In all things, would your praise be first and foremost on my mind, and would you put to death my ego so that I might serve you more readily. Lead me in the path of life. Would you increase and I decrease. Amen.
To sum up, there are three ways God’s calling comes to us: through his Story as recorded in the Bible, our life’s passions and experiences, and intervention. Here are some questions to help you begin discerning God’s calling in your life:
For Old Testament readers: How would you describe what God ultimately wants for his people (who represent a kingdom where He is King) to be and do? What’s God’s solution/reaction when they fail?
For New Testament readers: Based on the life of Jesus, what are his priorities? Was his mission completed before he returned to heaven? When he appears post-resurrection, how would you describe his mission?
What has been a consistent or growing passion of yours over the past 3-4 years? What has continued to break your heart? Boil your blood? Kept you up at night?
Where are you positioned to make disciples of Jesus? What do you need to do that? Where might you get what you need?
1 “How Do I Know What God Is Calling Me to Do?” by Jonathan Gibo
2 STINT: Short-term international internship