Guilt and fear are prominent and perennial forces in our lives. There is constant pressure to pay attention to, and participate in, the riotous assortment of advertisements, invitations, and the never-ending “news” coverage and media feeds. It is overwhelming and oppressive, but we’ve never been good at acknowledging our smallness or embracing our limits; so we enlist guilt and fear to push us through the gauntlet of a world greedy for an infinitely attentive audience. Denis Haack points out, “Day by day and minute by minute we are inundated with news and opinion, spin and fact. There is simply too much to absorb, to say nothing about carefully processing much of it. If we are not to be snared by half-truths and lies we will need to be careful. It is a good thing to ignore much of the cacophony around us. I don’t really need to know much of what is out there to be faithful. If I know less and know it with greater depth, I am more deeply into the truth.” Likewise, Carmen Imes prays, “LORD, let me never mistake entertainment and eloquence for accuracy, or monotony for irrelevance.” We all-too-quickly become a mile wide and an inch deep; and the shallows are where guilt and fear thrive. We so often hold ourselves (or others) in contempt for not keeping up with everything going on. We harbor a deep sense of shame over the inescapable fact that we are small. It is a self-perpetuating problem …the more guilty and fearful we feel about all that we aren’t accomplishing, the more shame we feel for not having accomplished it. The greatest threat to true productivity is the deeply held conviction that we can “do it all.”
Is this an argument for sloth? ABSOLUTELY NOT! If you’re not working hard you SHOULD feel ashamed of yourself [2 Thess. 3:6-15]. I am simply arguing that we actively agree with God’s agenda to work very hard (sun-up to sun-down, 6 days a week), all the while saying “NO” to all the various good things that we aren’t specifically called to do, in favor of being deeply and diligently faithful to the few things we are actually called to labor, toil, sweat, and bleed for [1 Thess. 4:11]. Embrace the peace of prioritizing your calling. Of course this is going to require a clear internal and external call, and an explicit job description (otherwise unmet expectations invade and metastasize …and things get toxic). Here’s a very basic metaphor: when it comes to your participation on a baseball team, first it must be asked, “Am I on the team?” Perhaps you play the sport, but you’re called to one of the other teams (perhaps a different team in the same conference, perhaps a different conference altogether, perhaps a team on a different continent, or perhaps you thought your calling was baseball but it’s really cricket, etc.). Assuming you’re on the team, you then need to consider team protocol, and practice regiments, and what does overall compliance with that team’s culture look like? And then there is the critical issue of being clear about your position. If you’re called to play left field for example, then you absolutely do not need to attempt to run over and catch fly balls hit to right field. Pour your heart and soul into being the best, most dedicated and diligent left fielder you can be! Consider all service opportunities in your region of the field a joy-set-before-you action item to be integrally involved and invested in.
Always cherish the meaning, savor the substance, and delight in the God-ordained depth of your specific calling. Of course celebrate, and collaborate with, the callings of others (and of course earnestly guard yourself from being rude and irritable toward others), but pay exclusive-esque attention to the work you’ve been ordained to do as the JOY set before you. This is essential to your calling. So many times we get lost in the fog of complaining about another person, that we rob ourselves of the joy of simply, diligently, and dedicatedly doing the work of our calling (see Luke 10:38-42). Our work gets to be joy-driven! Though we have historically chosen to enlist guilt and fear to drive us, God supplants these insidious motivators with His abounding joy! For instance, the Levites appointed and employed in the 24-7, tedious, and painstaking work of setting up and taking down the tabernacle were invited to do this work the way Navy SEALs carry out their missions …the whining (guilt-riddled) sentiment, “Haven’t I done enough” is the antithesis to the joy-filled mentality of one content in their calling. Imagine a man who has a wife and one child. One day this man and his wife are discussing their desire to have ANOTHER child. A well-meaning relative asks, “Haven’t you done enough!? You’ve done your duty to society by participating in the marathon of marriage, and then you’ve gone above and beyond by inflicting yourself with the 24-7 oppression of rearing a child.” This couple would simply reply, “We will have another child because it’s the joy set before us. We actually delight in the work of parenting. While we certainly do not deny that the work is difficult, we honestly count ourselves as the ones blessed and benefited by this calling.”
If this is true of anyone, it is true of God. For example, the doctrine of election is NOT God saying, “Election proves that I have ‘done enough,’ now leave Me alone!” The narrative of redemptive history tells the tale of God’s delight in adopting a multitude which cannot be numbered… It is not an irksome drudgery, or a mere duty, which He longs to be free of… It is His overflowing delight which infinitely informs His acquisition of an abundance. Never forget, redemptive history reveals that God cherishes His elect as His treasure!
Finally, keep in mind that your calling is always about loving God and loving others. And on that note, let us end with a quote from our friend Jack:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Home run on the Denis Haack quote. Here, here!