I vacillated through many ministerial preferences throughout my early twenties, believing I may be called to serve the church as an evangelist to the unchurched, a mentor to new believers, or as a pastor to pastors. I navigated the choppy waters where both the salt water of pride and the fresh water of calling seem to intermingle in brackish, lukewarm waves of mediocrity and hypocrisy only to find myself shipwrecked and bitter. In obedience, I attended seminary but I was still tossed by the winds of each class. In my New Testament class I considered becoming a New Testament scholar, in my Apologetics class I contemplated a ministry of preparing believers to defend the faith, and in Doctrine of God I was certain I was called to be a seminary professor. I never did desire to be an Old Testament scholar, though I once tossed around the idea of becoming an expert in Ecclesiastes. Even to this day, there is a part of my heart that loves each of those roles (and still loves the book of Ecclesiastes), but my calling emerged not from my personal ambitions, but from my obedience.
It was during my second year of seminary that I was approached by a volunteer firefighter at the fire department where I was an overnight dispatcher. As seminary texts (and vocational preferences) were scattered around the room and academic journal articles piled high, this lieutenant in a volunteer fire company said to me, “We haven’t had a chaplain in 30 years, but we were wondering if you would serve as our chaplain.” I had no idea what I was agreeing to do, but after some thought and prayer, I accepted his offer and prepared to serve as chaplain to a fire department. Four years later, I provide pastoral care to two emergency medical services agencies, a police department, and the very same fire department. I teach first responders how to manage stress, train recruits in emergency medical technician courses, pray for those who are hurting, and offer pastoral guidance and spiritual direction to men and women who observe the worst of human evil and suffering. And I do all of this while working as a full time dispatcher and a part time advanced emergency medical technician. This is all done for the glory of God, so that he may receive praise and honor due his holy name.
I did not find my vocational calling by exploring my options or taking spiritual gifts surveys, though those two things were somewhat helpful. I never desired to be a emergency services chaplain (because I wanted to be the next Billy Graham), but during my times of prayer and contemplation I remembered the powerful truth taught by Jesus: “If you love me you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). I read the Scriptures, asked God for the willing heart to obey them and the strength to endure, and I asked the Lord to open opportunities for me. I came to understand my calling as it was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit as he highlighted the area where my education, professional training, passions, talents, and opportunities all came together. The Lord revealed one step at a time and by his grace and strength, ever depending on Christ, I followed his promptings and have had opportunities that I would never have planned. Surely, if we are faithful in each of those steps, we will see things we never dreamed of seeing and hear things we never imagined hearing. Many of us long for a moment where the Spirit of God descends like a dove and lands upon us and gives us a job description, a name of a company, or a ministry in our local church. Such hopes are typically unrealistic and exclude the possibility that day to day obedience and gradual ascent to positions of favor are equally as miraculous.
If we have a desire to achieve greatness for ourselves, we may temporarily succeed but ultimately we will find ourselves on the wrong side of success and wellness later on in life. Genuine greatness is found in making God great, making others great, and helping others make God great in their lives. If we actively seek his kingdom and his righteousness, truly all the other things will come (Matt. 6:33). Ask God to direct you to an area where your education, training, passions, talents, and opportunities intersect. God will place you just right where you’re called to work.