There are few things more attractive, more noticeable, than someone who's pursuing an activity he or she loves and is good at. We've all had the remarkable experience of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher who engages and awakens the deepest parts of who we are. I have a friend who runs a gardening service, and as I listen to him talk about keeping a family's yard looking nice, the joy and skill he brings to what he does are obvious.
It's an amazing and fulfilling thing to live life in line with God's design and calling on your life. But it can seem difficult and overwhelming to discover it. Here is my suggestion: Pay attention to who God made you to be.
What gives you life? What are you good at? What do you love to do? What consistent patterns are noticeable in you that may be clues to your design and calling? Before he met Christ, the apostle Paul was an activist and a zealot—an articulate opponent of the church. When he met Christ, he continued to be an activist and a zealot, but he changed for whom he worked. Acts 9:20 says he at once began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. He didn't change who he was by design, but he did change the Lordship in his life
Noticing what you're not good at is also valuable information. We only have so many "yeses" we can give, so don't spend them on what you don't do well. After having spent years paying attention to who God made me to be, I know I shouldn't say "yes" to volunteering in the church nursery. The kids in the nursery agree with me. But there are people who really love that work, and the church nursery is a remarkable place when they're the ones in it.
We each have a unique design. You may be able to learn by watching someone else, but your calling isn't her calling. Don't get caught in the comparison trap like the apostle Peter. In John 21, right after Jesus says three times to Peter, "Take care of my sheep," Peter looks at John the disciple and says to Jesus, "Lord, what about him?" (v. 21). It's as if he's saying, "Yeah, I heard what your calling for me is, but before I decide, I'd like to hear about John, compare the callings, and then decide."
Jesus replies to Peter in words that are pretty direct and a bit harsh: "What is that to you? You must follow me" (v. 22).
So, while I'm no help in the nursery, I've found things I am good at—things that make me feel alive, that others notice I do well. When I'm teaching a group of people or leading a meeting, good things often result, and I get the sense this is what I was made to do. Teaching and leading—these are my spiritual gifts and a large part of my calling.
Finally, remember that God's calling for your life goes way beyond what you do. It's who you are, where you belong, who and how you love. In our culture's preoccupation with success and celebrity, it's easy to approach calling in a way that's not much more than those two things covered by a thin veneer of spirituality. Parker Palmer wrote a wonderful book called Let Your Life Speak that directs us to discover and live a life wherein our God-given design intersects with what the world needs. I think a life lived operating in the gifts God has given us—and mindful of meeting the needs of others—is a life that beautifully reflects the person of God. The world could use more people like that.
Nancy Ortberg is a church leadership consultant and popular speaker. Formerly a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, she now lives in California with her husband, John. The couple has three children, Laura, Mallory, and John.