God Loves Our Work - Calling: The Road Not Taken Was Right All Along?! (Genesis 13 Sermon Notes)
Theme: There’s more freedom than we imagine in doing God’s will for our work.
1. When God’s plan for your work life is seasonal or specific, he leaves no doubt.
2. When God’s plan for your work life is not specific, he grants great freedom.
Key Passage(s): Genesis 13:1-18
One of the questions pastors and workplace chaplains are frequently asked has to do with the concept of calling: The idea that God has a plan for our lives. The question usually comes up like this: “Is there only one narrow path that God wants me to follow in my life?
Imagine their surprise when we answer them like this: “Well, yes—and no.”
Consider this reflection on Robert Frost from Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians: “The words of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ echo through our souls, leaving us to wonder if we’ve missed, somehow, the path God really wanted us to take. This is especially true when we find ourselves tangled in the briars of our present path. Did we miss the chance to matter? Is there something we should have done to make life more exciting, more productive, more meaningful? Is it too late to change?
“For Christians, often these nagging questions vault to a spiritual crisis. Indoctrinated as so many of us are in the myth God has only one perfect design for us—and reminded constantly of our inability to be perfect—we can’t help but wonder if our trains didn’t jump the tracks long ago. So we read the tales of missionaries from the past and sit in our pews admiring
pastors for their commitment to God and convince ourselves we’re somehow second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Nothing could be further from the truth!
“We were made to matter, and the majesty of God is not just that he created us to live lives that make important contributions but that he continues to provide us—daily—with ways to matter in the places where we find ourselves this moment.”
Today we’re going to answer questions of calling in three surprising ways. For some of you, as it was for Moses, God does indeed have a very specific way he intends to use you. Others of you will discover that as long as your heart’s desire is to faithfully serve him, God will grant you great freedom to choose your path. Still others will discover God has seasons of specificity in their pathways, mixed in with periods of great freedom and rest.
Point 1: When God’s plan for your work life is seasonal or specific, he leaves no doubt.
a. It’s no surprise God does lay out specific assignments for some people. Doing so ensures his Word and will get accomplished, while still leaving intact the incredible gift/curse of free will. Men like Moses and women like Ruth become lynchpins and link-points, agents of certainty in a fallen world, accomplishing pockets of activity that make it possible for the rest of us to act freely—without altering the inexorable march of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation meta-narrative to its ultimate conclusion. Scripture is full of samples for us to examine, with Moses a perfect poster-boy. From the moment Moses was conceived (and likely before), God mapped out how his life would be lived, and then he supernaturally acted to be certain Moses knew and obeyed. So goes the story of David, of Paul, of the judges, prophets, disciples…even Lazarus had his now-famous dead-body role pre-ordained to accomplish God’s purposes.
b. If you’re in that specific calling group, you’re likely asking already: “How do I know what God wants me to do?” Especially around career choices, Christians often feel like they’re on their own when it comes to knowing where God wants to use them. Many get stuck in the fork of the road because they’re waiting for some magic sign that assures them they’re headed the right way. Especially in our Western culture, this rarely occurs because God expects us to take advantage of our easy access to his Word.
c. When God is silent on a subject, it’s often because he’s already given us all the information we need to make a decision. His silence may be viewed as a way of getting us to look closely at what we already know. Western culture in particular has an advantage over other cultures because of the Bible’s easy access. The Bible is the chief way God chooses to reveal himself to our culture, and because it is so easily accessible, the need for miracles is significantly reduced. Miracles are primarily used to reveal God, to reinforce the reality of his presence, or to communicate something of his character. Where the Bible is not readily available, God promises he will still make himself known, and in those instances it’s logical he would do so in ways we would deem miraculous. Westerners, though, will be judged by a harsher standard, especially if we insist on waiting around for signs and wonders. The Bible itself is a miracle, and its accessibility means we already have the information we need to know God. Don’t get caught sitting and waiting!
d. Others never bother to consider God and spend their lives doing what they want, with little impact in God’s economy and less respect from him.
e. Let’s talk for a bit about the times when God does call us out. This calling occurs in two ways: either as a vocational or lifelong calling to a special position which we’re not free to reject and/or a temporary call to a specific task or role which may be limited in nature, geography, purpose, and even timeframe.
f. Moses, the apostle Paul, John the Baptist, all of the disciples of Jesus, and the prophet Samuel are evidence of the first kind of calling. Noah, Jonah, and Nehemiah are some examples of the second kind of calling.
g. Suppose you are one of those who are called for a specific mission or for a specific vocation. How do you know? God doesn’t play head games with us; his will does not confuse or befuddle us. When we earnestly seek him, we will find Him.
h. This realization should be freeing to those Christians who sincerely want to live obedient lives: If he’s going to use you in a specific way, he won’t leave you hanging.
Here are just some of the ways Scripture tells us people hear God’s direction.
1. Through the Scripture
2. Through prayer
3. Through being silent
4. Through “still, small voice”
5. Through the Holy Spirit
6. Through the witness within your spirit
7. Through an inner voice
8. Through strong impressions
9. Through visions
10. Through dreams
11. Through revelations
12. Through angels
13. Through other believers in the Body of Christ
14. Through gifts of the Spirit
15. Through circumstances and events
16. Through “open” and “closed” doors
17. Through creation (donkey, rocks, etc.)
i. Christians often limit God, thinking unless they receive a sign or hear his voice, they haven’t heard from him. This is simply not consistent with what the Bible teaches us about how God communicates. However, an old danger is popping back up in the work/faith movement these days. Many Christians trust sources as “prophetic,” a term that Scripture treats very seriously. In fact, in the Old Testament, if a person laid claim to making a prophecy for God, and the prophecy didn’t come true, they were to be put to death. While death sentences were mitigated by the work of Christ, the warning about prophecy remains: Any “revelation” or “prophecy” or “word from God” that isn’t consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture simply isn’t from God.
j. This means that while we have many ways of hearing God, and hearing from God, everything we hear must be tested against the Bible. If there’s a conflict, then the Bible always trumps the other source. Contrary to popular writers and teachers today, God is not delivering new insights that contradict the Bible.
Point 2: When God’s plan for your work life is not specific, he grants great freedom.
a. Like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, many Christians find themselves frozen in place by key decisions. Others live frustrated lives, convinced they missed the perfect plan God had for them, and that now they’re past the place where it matters. Few things could be further from the truth!
b. In fact, for most believers, Scripture seems to indicate an immense freedom to choose our path, so long as our heart’s desire is to be faithful to God in that path. Consider this episode in the life of the one person most likely to suspect his life was already fully planned out by God: Abraham. Abraham was the patriarch in the Old Testament whom God promised he would bless. This blessing passed from Abraham to his children, and God promised to make from his descendents a great nation known as the Children of God. Even Paul speaks in these terms when talking about the grafting in of Gentiles to the promise made to Abraham; we are all now sons (and daughters) of Abraham. So, armed with this promise of physical land,
prosperity, and a rich inheritance of and for his descendents, Abraham would seem to have first claim on everything if God’s promise was to be kept. So, why do we see Abraham offering the best land to his cousin Lot? Wouldn’t this mess with God’s plan? Shouldn’t Abraham have consulted God first? What if Lot picked the side God wanted Abraham to control? Sound familiar?
Watch what Abraham does, recorded here in Genesis 13:8-11. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company."
So, in spite of being the heir to the promise, and in spite of a clear difference in the physical appearance of the lands before them, and in spite of Lot’s decision to choose what seemed like the best deal, Abraham never worried.
c. Abraham trusted God to keep his promises; a truth he would demonstrate even more concretely as he walked up the mountain with his only son, Isaac, under orders from God to put Isaac to death.
d. It came down to Abraham’s belief in God’s power and his faith in God’s ability to keep his word.
e. Now consider the encounters Jesus had during his time on earth. While he did specifically call his disciples away from their vocations, it was with a specific purpose in mind, and this was the exception to the rule in Jesus’ encounters. Most of the time, the people he met were encouraged to remain where they were when they found Jesus. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; Zaccheus; the woman of Samaria; the woman caught in adultery; all these and many, many other people. These were men and women whose lives were changed by their encounter with Christ, but whose circumstances and situations often remained the same.
f. We have no evidence to suggest the centurion’s servant stopped being in the employ of the centurion after Jesus healed him. We don’t have any evidence the centurion stopped being a centurion after his encounter with Jesus, either.
g. In fact, it seems reasonable to assume from the vast number of individual experiences in the Bible that most people are free to choose the way they serve God in Creation, and that the concept of a special or unique calling is an unusual event, rather than an event everyone must experience.
g. (Insert)(For possible use by pastors) A sample decision-making grid for those who are granted freedom to choose the place to serve:
1. Ask yourself if your choices violate any of the principles of Scripture. If the answer is yes, then you have your answer already. This may sound simple, but among the most common counseling complaints workplace chaplains hear is “...I know the Bible says no, but it feels like the right thing to do!” God’s Word is as practical and applicable in today’s workplace as it was in the workplaces of the day it was written, and anything that violates those principles back then gets a hearty “no” from God even today. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
2. Ask yourself if God has already made it clear what he wants you to do and you’re simply ignoring him or running away from him. God is not the author of confusion (that’s how the Bible refers to Satan), and God doesn’t play head games with us. If he intends to use us in a specific way, he will make that way known to us if we’re honestly seeking Him. If you study the lives of Moses, Jonah, Jacob, Joseph and others, you’ll see that principle emerge; when God decides to use us in a specific manner, he will make it clear. If he has made it known to you, then all the wrestling and rationalizing in the world won’t change his course. We can either go willingly (Joseph) or go the hard way (Jonah).
3. Since God is most interested in being in relationship with us (remember that’s the primary reason we exist), his heart is pleased when we seek to be faithful to him. So, if we’ve passed the first and second tests in our decision-making process and are still free to choose, next we need to ask: “Is my heart’s desire to be a faithful and useful servant?” If the answer is yes to that question, then if you go right, God will bless you in that direction, or if you go left, God will also bless you in that direction. Remember its fellowship and faithful hearts he desires even more than service. (Remember, though, that blessings are not always measured in material wealth or success. Those who teach such things abuse Scripture!)
4. What if God is silent? God’s silence almost always means one thing: We already have all the information we need to make a decision. Either it’s available to us in his Word and we’ve chosen to ignore it (as the Jewish leaders of New Testament times did when Jesus came as the Messiah) or we haven’t equipped ourselves to be able to test what we hear because of our Biblical illiteracy (as the Israelites did again and again during the time of the Judges) or we’re looking for a sign (which Jesus dismisses as evidence of weak faith).
5. God also uses common sense and circumstance to present us with his answers, but we have to be careful here because we often let what’s best for us govern our decision instead of what’s best for our faithfulness to God.
6. What if we don’t know our Bibles well enough to test what we think we’re hearing from God? The beauty of God is his ability to see our failures ahead of time and to plan for them. In this case, Scripture tells us to seek the counsel of godly older men and women. Most working Christians I know do a good job of asking for advice from older, wiser workers. The mistake they often make, though, is in asking older, wiser workers with little knowledge of Scripture. It is not nearly enough that our counselors are wise in the ways of commerce; they must also be wise in the ways of Scripture. Otherwise, the advice they offer is based on what seems best to them, and not on whether it’s consistent with Scripture or in line with how God wants to use us.
7. This then opens another door for workplace counsel. If one of the most important aspects of decision-making is testing the options against the Word of God, then the counsel of pastors takes on new value.
Did we miss the chance to matter? For those of us whom God calls to specific tasks, the answer is a reassuring “NO” because he leaves no doubt. And for those of us left free to choose, the good news is that when our hearts have picked our paths because we desired most to honor God, it didn’t matter whether we went left or right, God was still in our effort. And then, at last there’s this: Even at the end of our days, it’s never too late to seek—and receive—God’s redemption on lives lived distant from his universal call to walk every day with him.
Randy Kilgore offers us a unique opportunity. After a twenty-plus year career in business, most of which was spent in senior human resource management positions and serving three governors on state education commissions, and having received his M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2000, Randy is now a workplace chaplain and author. As a writer, Randy has released six volumes of workplace Bible studies and two books: Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians (Discovery House Publishers: 2008) and Talking About God in the 21st Century Workplace. Many of the ideas in the sermons come from his books if you want to delve more deeply into this topic. His writing also appears regularly in magazines and online. As a minister, Randy offers over 500 devotions and dozens of Bible studies at www.madetomatter.org. He is also a part of the exciting new Theology of Work Project www.theologyofwork.org, where you’ll find dramatic new data on what God says about work in his Word. Randy has dedicated his life to faith in the workplace and has written important content to help those who struggle with connecting their everyday work life to their Christian faith.
Other sermons in this series on God Loves Our Work and Our Words: