In the forty days before Easter, we remember when Jesus, just after his baptism, was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, to fast and to pray, but also to be subjected to temptation by the devil. Jesus resisted the devil’s beguiling offers, parrying each with robust and apt responses from Scripture. Jesus passed the test. In the original Greek, the word πειρασμός can be translated as ‘temptation’, but also as ‘test’ or ‘trial’, which is why these alternatives are seen in different versions of the Lord’s Prayer. In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 4, the 40-day period of trial for Jesus concludes with the menacing words: * καὶ συντελέσας πάντα πειρασμὸν ὁ διάβολος ἀπέστη ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἄχρι καιροῦ (*When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.) Jesus would be tested again, and again. Yet ever did he remain true to His Father in Heaven and to His calling to witness God’s love on earth.
One would wish this kind of torturous moral testing upon no one, and we can be reassured by Paul’s comforting words that ‘* No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’ (1 Corinthians 10)
Jesus did come out of his 40 days of testing with a clearer confirmation of his purpose and mission. Returning to Galilee and hearing of his cousin John’s arrest, Jesus then Himself began to proclaim the Good News and urge all hearers to repent, for the Kingdom of God had come near!
A time of testing can bring greater clarity about one’s true calling, what we need to say ‘No’ to and how we can say ‘Yes’ to God. Not for nothing did Paul also insist to Timothy that anyone interested in ministering in the Christian fellowship needed to be ‘tested’ (e.g. deacons, in 1 Timothy 3:10, though a different word for testing is used). Though such testing can be quite hard, it can ultimately prove helpful.
I was recently asked to speak to students at the international school in Groningen about twists and turns in my own career path. There have been many! Fortunately, when I was younger, I was able safely to explore and pursue many different educational and vocational possibilities. I have no regrets, as I have learned a great deal, but I do, in retrospect, wonder if I might have come to my true calling sooner had I been tested more. Perhaps the many fantasies and distractions I entertained about what I wanted to do or be might have rightly been sifted away sooner?
Ironically there are parallels between my own vocational exploration and that of the Samuel in the Bible (1 Samuel 3), insofar as he was called several times before he understood how, and only did finally recognize God was calling him with the help of wiser mentors. When he did receive his calling, though, it was not unchallenging! (As it should be!)
In my own pilgrimage, I do not have regrets about the twists and turns, for I have learned a lot and broadened my perspective, but I do think earlier and harder testing might have served me well.
All followers of Christ are called to serve in one way or another, and there is an immense variety of valuable ministries for Christians to rise to. I am both humbled and honored that, despite my own peripatetic journey, I may help our Diocesan team by advising those seeking to discern their own vocations. And so put some of my experiences (fortunate and less fortunate) to use.
How is God calling you? How can you test it to ensure you are going in the right direction? There are a number of helpful resources and people to look to help you on your own journey. The first place to start is prayer and reflection. Then asking those near and dear to you and also your local ministry team. The Vocations page of Church of England’s website is also very helpful: https://www.churchofengland.org/life-events/vocations .
Consistency Is this sense of calling something that is constant or recurring: a nagging sense that just won’t go away over time? If so, then perhaps it is more than just an idea, a ‘fad’ or a phase you’re going through. God won’t give up on you just because you’re confused or doubtful.
Others Is it through other people, maybe friends or colleagues, that you have received this call? Or have other people confirmed it? Can other people see the potential in you to fulfil this calling? What gifts do other people think you have? Often other people see us more objectively and honestly than we can see ourselves. It is worth talking to others who know you well, who will be honest with you and who you trust and respect. We are not called in isolation.
Motives Why are you thinking of pursuing this calling? Are your motives pure enough? Are you genuinely laying self-interest aside, and focused on core things that are important (not just money, lifestyle etc.)?
Passions What are the things that excite you and energise you? What turns you on? You are unique. There is nobody else quite like you. Does what you are thinking about as a profession, a calling, strike a chord with you are and make you feel fulfilled as the person you were made to be?
Aptitudes What are you good at? What are your natural abilities? What are your gifts? Your God-given strengths? Your skills you have developed? Does the calling you’re exploring fit with the tools already given you, or which are beginning to develop in you?
Spirituality How strong is your relationship with God, who can give you additional clues about your calling? Do you perceive God at work in the world and in your own life? How do you recognise the voice of God? Do you pray? Are you growing spiritually? And what will help you to help God help the world?
Sense Common sense, that is. When we’re trying to discern our calling, we can’t leave our brains at the door. What are the implications for you and for those around you? How does it fit with other callings you may already have to take seriously? Is the call realistic? With God all things are possible, but God also is a God of order, love and grace. God gives particular gifts and aptitudes to each of us. If a calling is genuine and well-founded, at some point it will begin to make sense.
The above are things I wished I’d known sooner, but am grateful to share now.
Yours in Christ,
The Revd Sam Van Leer
Hon Assoc Chaplain
for the congregation of
Grace Church Groningen