Lately, I'm hearing a lot about "calling" and following wherever Jesus leads. And I've been right there on the front row, soaking it up. When I read on this site about Jennie Allen's book Restless, I bought the eBook and read it all that same day (not the pace I'd recommend; it's one to work through!). A few weeks later, I did the same with Jenni Catron's book Clout. Meanwhile, my church is focusing on what it means to really be a disciple, no matter the cost.
When we hear these calls to radical discipleship and bold leadership, a lot of us have our spirits pierced and want to sign on–as we should. "Here I am. Send me!" we say with Isaiah. "Anything! Anywhere!" We're ready to lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus into even rough waters. Go to Africa? Start an orphan care ministry? Plant a church in the inner city? No matter how big, Lord, we'll do it!
But what if God asks us to do something small? That can be the hardest calling of all, especially for those of us who feel passionate about following him with abandon and making a difference in the world.
I've told God I'll do anything he asks, then waited for the next assignment. And he seemed to say to me, "Will you be faithful to keep writing these church announcements?"
Um, of course, Lord, but...don't You have anything more? Harder? Not so safe?
For you it may be something different. "Will you stay in your current position? Work in the nursery? Serve in the local soup kitchen instead of Haiti? Lead another Bible Study with only the same four women?"
Last year, I felt strongly that God was calling me into a new ministry, though I had no details. I expected a door to open any day, but instead I saw doors close. After a few months, I cried out in prayer late one night, asking God to please call me somehow the next day! And first thing the next morning, I was asked to do a new ministry task. A task that seemed small. A task that turned out to be tedious and stressful, requiring several volunteer hours a week, very much behind the scenes. Given the timing, it almost felt like a divine joke.
Yet the same day I got the assignment, one of my devotionals was on Zechariah 4:10, which says in part, in the NIV, "Who dares despise the day of small things...?" Or in the NLT, "Do not despise these small beginnings." Message received.
I determined to stay faithful in what I was given, and I sought God hard along the way. Eventually I was relieved of that task, but meanwhile nothing new presented itself, and my husband, who wasn't even seeking a new ministry opportunity, was given a big, daring one! At least in Zechariah the small beginnings paid off. Mine weren't seeming to lead anywhere.
During this time, a Bible study asked for my definition of success. I pondered what would make me feel successful, and it hit me: Success isn't achieving a particular result. Success is obedience and faithfulness to God–doing whatever he wants me to do, wherever he has put me.
It isn't measured by what I accomplish relative to what I think I should have accomplished, but by how I respond to God and whether I've done what he's asked. Even if what he's asked seems less worthy than what I'd hoped to give him.
I say, "But God, I could do this for you!"
And he replies, "Yes, but will you do what I asked?"
If we accomplish great things in Jesus' name–apart from his leading–they're hollow and they will not last. If we do small things, unnoticeable to other people, because of his leading and out of love for him, those things will have eternal value. We're often proved the most in the smallest things–the momentary choices to follow, step by step, high or low. Of course we should be willing to die for him, but also to live for him however he leads, even if it's not what we'd envisioned. A bigger ministry might bring us joy or allow us to more fully use our gifts, but it won't bring us more success than following him in any other calling.
Still, we're all frustrated when we feel we have more to offer, or gifts that are not being used. When what we're doing doesn't match our passions, we may fear God's letting us go to waste. But God, who started a good work in us and will be faithful to complete it, is growing and shaping us for his purposes in those moments. I heard Jill Briscoe say at a recent conference that sometimes we learn more of God when we work outside our gifts and passions. Indeed.
I didn't go a day that season without learning more of God. Had he given me a bigger ministry when I expected it, would I have sought him so hard, or would I have shelved deep reliance on him until I had another perceived need? Would I have seen the opportunity as a sign of his goodness and love, forgetting he's good and loving even without that? I likely would've thought I'd earned it by my super spirituality. And I might have found my security in that, instead of learning anew to find it in him alone.
Don't get me wrong–I'm still praying for God to open new doors, even as I do what he's called me to today. But meanwhile I have this confidence: As long as I'm obedient to God, I'm pleasing him regardless of what I'm doing, how important it seems, or even the fruit it bears. And that's no small calling at all.
Alison Dellenbaugh serves on the staff of Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Her articles, stories, and poems for adults and children have appeared in various publications.