I first stepped on African soil nine years ago. I traveled to Ghana, West Africa, for a short-term mission trip, and my heart was changed forever. After my amazing experience, I longed to be a full-time missionary. When the timing seemed right, I left my career, sold my car, gave away most of my possessions, and moved to Ghana. I loved every second of being a missionary, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. But only seven months into my time there, my dream appeared to be coming to an end. My body started ailing, but I kept working—I didn’t want anything to interrupt my calling. It was my hope that I would be there for the rest of my life. But at church one night, my pain became overwhelming. I looked to my husband and whispered, "I need to go. I’m not well."
I never quite recovered after that. Once my family learned of my illness, I was rushed back to the States within 24 hours. I cried the whole way—I still cry. One question rings in my mind: Did I hear God right? Looking back, I think I did, however,it didn't end up looking like I thought it would. Maybe it was only supposed to be for a short season, or maybe I'll serve as a missionary in another way. I'm still praying for understanding.
This can happen any time we’re seeking ways to serve the Lord. I once met a pastor who overheard me talking to some friends about how I missed working with children. He offered me an opportunity to serve at his church. There were many red flags after just a few initial conversations. In my eagerness to serve, I ignored the warning signs and the advice of friends. It was later confirmed that the pastor was only interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with me. I was working in an environment safe for children, but it became crystal clear that this was a dangerous place for me. Did I hear God right? Yes, I heard him telling me to work with children, but this wasn’t the place to do that.
Along the same lines, we have a tendency to assume that giftedness equals calling. Perhaps your peers call on you to speak because you are charismatic, write because you are eloquent, teach Sunday school because you are good with kids, or head up the mission trip because you’ve been to the destination before. Just because we have these gifts doesn’t mean God is calling us to use them at every opportunity. We still must ask ourselves, “Is this the will of God for my life?” I’ve found that oftentimes it isn’t, especially when my heart isn’t in it from the beginning. God’s will isn’t imposing. Our call isn’t a heavy burden or an unwanted obligation, but a combination of giftedness and desire. When we take on ministry opportunities with a sense of obligation rather than passion, we’re not setting ourselves up to thrive. I’ve served in ministries where I spent every day regretting I said yes. Sometimes God will surprise us, and transform our hearts’ desires. Other times he won’t. While we can make the best of any opportunity, the decision to volunteer half-heartedly can have a negative impact on both us and others.