Keith, After I decided to surrender my life to God, how should I go about finding my vocation?
Good question. At first I didn’t know what to do. I was a land man for a major oil company. It was a good job but hardly considered to be a training ground for Christian disciples—which I definitely wanted to be after finally trying to turn my life over to God.
I prayed about what to do and at that time there seemed to be only one way for really serious players to go: go to theology school and become ordained to be a full time Christian minister. So I studied the Bible and theology and the history of the church and preaching under some good professors. Along the way I sat with my parents when my older brother was killed and with my father when he died of a heart condition and with my mother when she died of cancer—all before I was 30. All during this time I was praying and reading the Bible and the lives of the saints—the people in the past who had given their lives to God.
I decided that the playing field I was called to in which to help people find hope and real love was in the ordinary life I was trying to live as a businessman. I made a decision that God had my address. Instead of spending all my time “deciding what I would become for God,” I would treat my own ordinary life as a father and husband who commuted in a car pool twenty miles one way to work five days a week—that I would commit that life to God and to learning how to live for him all day long.
I made that decision because I simply didn’t know any ministers at that time who talked, preached or shared individually about having real problems in their own lives and relationships with their spouses, children, parents or fellow clergy. I was still in my thirties and just couldn’t believe that I was the only committed Christian who wrestled with lust, jealousy, and the many faces of fear of failure. None of these pastors seemed to have that terrible three-day silence warfare with their spouses or had to be right in arguments with a spouse or feel like a wimp, or worry at night about developing a retirement plan or squeezing in vacation time. In fact, since I did wrestle with all of these things, for a number of years I thought I must not be a good Christian.
But at another level I was learning that the way out of the fears for me was not courage, which I’d prayed for, but love. When I was worried, I discovered that if I helped someone else, my fear left me—and that maybe Jesus was right (J) when he said that it is “love that casts out fear.”
At twenty-two I had met a man who encouraged me to keep a journal about the things in which I was interested. He helped me write a small book of ballads. And after a few years of talking to lay people about the hope I was finding in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, I began writing books about the simple yet agonizing discoveries concerning what it might mean to try to live one’s whole life for and with God.
As I’ve written in blogs before, I kept trying to be open to finding out the truth about my own character defects. And that process has made me face many of the denied self-centeredness and control issues with which I had never before been confronted—either in church or school. But because I’d learned a lot about Jesus and his life, teaching and self-limiting love, I knew that when I learned about my sins and character defects, to confess them to some Christian men also trying to live for God. And I began to see how I’d hurt many of the people I love most.
The incredible thing to me is that in spite of my flaws—many of which didn’t surface until I had become a best-selling author and lecturer and had traveled in many foreign countries around the world, teaching about how God can change our whole perception of what it means to live intimately with him and other people. The bottom line about the discovery process is that I would have bet anyone that I would not do the immoral and hurtful things I wound up doing. And they happened to a man who was very disciplined and had “kept the rules” all his life. I was baffled. And when I faced and admitted what I’d done, it was too late to mend some of the fences I had charged through.
What does this have to do with finding a vocation? For me, a great deal. After having a number of best-selling books translated into many languages and having trained with and learned from many powerful and wealthy people as a young man, I finally realized I am just a person. And that I can sometimes love and help people who are struggling with the questions of life and who have discovered the hard way that they are powerless on their own to change their lives at a deep level.
I go to group meetings of people, some of whom I have known for twenty-five years, with whom I share the pain and joy of trying to live for God. When guests and new people come, we discuss our scariest and most fearsome problems. I was writing books and lecturing in different places in foreign countries, but for twenty years I didn’t find it helpful or necessary to tell them that I was a writer and lecturer. But lately, since many of the people who read my books are very old or deceased, I have told some of these people I love and meet with that my vocation is being a writer and a sort of talent scout for God—helping a few people discover the vocational dreams they buried along with their self-centeredness and control issues. That’s come to be the focus of my vocation.
The short answer to your question about choosing a vocation as a Christian is that since God seems to want loving representatives in every culture and every financial, political, educational and medical field, it doesn’t much matter what you do vocationally as long as you love God and surrender the center of your life to God. So I’d advise you to pray about it, ask God’s will, and then pick something that you really love to do. Then go and find out if you can do it.
Will there be pain and sorrow? Of course, but you will find that in the long run your ability to navigate through pain and still be loving will have more effect in spreading the Good News into other people’s hearts around you than all of the sermons you could preach and all the books you could write.
Lord, help me to keep listening for your voice in the pain of other people’s lives and in my own. And thank you that you let me fail enough to wake up and see that I don’t have to “win” to be the person you will love “someday,” but just to open my eyes and see your loving presence in Andrea, our families and the other people we get to walk with on your crazy adventure. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”
-Jesus to the Twelve in Matthew 10:42
“But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”
-Ephesians 1:18-19, The Message
“Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose, if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a power that is greater than ourselves to do it.”
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox—American Writer (1850-1919)
“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
-Theodore Roosevelt—26th President of the United States (1858-1919)