When people talk to me about geography in Nashville, I do one of two things:
1. I nod my head and pretend I know what part of the city they are referring to.
2. I tell them, “I don’t know where that is. We just moved here.”
Neither one of those two responses is entirely true. Pretending I know is not true and saying we just moved here isn’t true. We’ve lived here for 18 months. So why don’t I know my way around town yet?
Because I kissed geography goodbye when I was a kid.
I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have room in my head for street names or directions or addresses. I realized I had limited real estate in my brain and essentially told geography, “Kick rocks chump.”
Would it be fair to say that, as a young boy, I predicted a future in which we would all have handheld GPS units? Is the term “visionary” one we should use to describe me? Tough to say, but the reality is that years ago I bid adieu to both geography and math.
As a writer, math is my Achilles’ heel. The mere mention of numbers makes me cringe. I am approximately one year away from not being able to help my 8-year-old with her math homework. I hate math.
Which is why I used to think God would call me into the mission field to teach calculus.
My fear was that, if I gave God my life, if I turned over all my hopes and dreams to him, he would instantly make me train to become a “mathlete.” I’d have to get an abacus and complicated calculator and spend my days doing things I hated to do.
Because I thought that’s how God did things.
And I’m not the only one who thinks that way sometimes.
I do a joke when I speak to church groups. I say, “Every Christian knows that the first thing God does if you give him your life is make you move to Africa to become a missionary. You’ll go zero to hut in about 4.2 seconds.” And folks laugh, but there’s a crazy truth behind that joke. If we think the first thing God will do to us if we come close to him is the worst thing we can imagine, then we serve the worst God ever.
If you’re not wired to be a missionary in Guam, if nothing about that feels at all like what God has uniquely created you to do, why would he immediately call you to that task if you trusted him with your life?
That’s an extreme example, but you’d be surprised how often I saw that happen last year. Because I wrote a book about closing the gap between your day job and your dream job, a lot of people have talked with me about figuring out what they’re called to do.
And it’s amazing how many people think being a Christian means doing the opposite of what you’re passionate about.
A chaplain told me that one of his college students came to him and said, “I’m conflicted. I really want to serve the Lord, but I love film making. I don’t know what to do.”
That word “but” is such a beautiful trick by the enemy. That young man felt alive and filled with joy when he made films. In those moments, though, he couldn’t imagine that God was happy about that, or enjoyed him making films or could be served and glorified through film making.
He didn’t say, “I really want to serve the Lord, and I love film making.” He said, “I really want to serve the Lord, but I love film making.”
I don’t know how exactly we got here. I think, in some ways, it’s an extreme over-correction to the prosperity gospel. When you talk about how good God is, people can’t wait to say, “He’s not an ATM machine in the sky who magically gives you whatever you want?” But who ever said that? Who said that a life filled with the joy of God was devoid of hardship or never full of moments where you must mourn as loud as you dance?
I’m sad for a culture where there is serving God on one side, and on the other side of that is joy. Where those two things are believed to be separate. Where we are forced to take our individual talents, put them under our bed, apologize about them and try to fit the handful of “serving opportunities” that match our definition of Christian.
I think back to the conversion of Paul.
Do you remember before he became a Christian? When he was called Saul?
He was a bold, powerful, vigilant persecutor of believers. And then God met him on the road to Damascus and turned him into a quiet, meek bookkeeper who spent his remaining days in a cave alone transcribing ancient texts.
Not at all! God turned him into a bold, powerful, vigilant promoter of belief.
He didn’t squelch what was inside Paul. He didn’t ignore the talents he himself had placed there. If anything, he called them out in deeper, louder, more beautiful ways. He showed Paul what it really meant to be Paul!
Maybe you will be a missionary. Maybe that’s the call you will get. But if it’s not, please don’t for a second believe that God wants you to be miserable. That he wants to call you into an adventure where your true gifts will shrivel up and die. That his chief aim is to make sure you never experience joy in his presence.
Because that’s not the kind of God who would ever love you enough to send his son to die for you.