Series: Vocation, Gratitude, and Joy

Sermon #1: Don’t Be Afraid

By: Donnell Wyche

Where deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.
Frederick Buechner says that vocation is found “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.” Put another way, “vocation is found where your greatest joy meets the world’s deepest need.” A lot of people I love and trust do not like this description of vocation, but I keep coming back to it because in many ways I have found truth in it.

STORY: This summer I was invited to serve as one of three speakers during InterVarsity Leadership Institute–a month-long leadership development training camp. My family and I spent the first week of vacation in the Upper Peninsula on the banks of Lake Huron. It was a beautiful place and we all had a great time, but there was a moment where I realized that I was having a real blast. This realization was trigged by the pure joy, happiness, excitement, and peace I was experiencing helping these students connect their faith and future action to the issues of oppression and liberation. It was found in the moments where these students extended trust to me and took a risk trying to hear from the Holy Spirit. It was in places that I got to partner with God. It was found in the moments where the Holy Spirit spoke, moved, and acted.

For about a month, one of the little people I live with asked me everyday, what’s my favorite thing to do. At first, I didn’t understand why I was being asked daily, but quickly I realized that this little person was trying to get to know me. At first I replied with reading. Then biking. Then cooking, but as the question kept being asked day after day, I realized that this was deeper than just what I enjoy or like to do, this question was getting at some else, it was a question about vocation. I finally responded with “helping people reach their potential/destiny and solving problems.”

That’s why I was having such a blast at IVLI, it was a space to partner with student leaders as they discovered a little bit more about themselves and calling. A participant shared this parting reflection with me and it says so much about me, “At first I thought you were really intense, but then over the week I came to realize that you just really care.” This was a great affirmation because I really do care deeply for people, even those I’ve just met.

I’ve learned over time that many of us will discover our vocation at the intersection of our interests (our joy) and activity (our doing).

And I love this picture of vocation. Because it is here that we discover a deep truth about God. Isaiah 43:1-5 says,

But now, this is what the Lord says—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
 I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
 they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
 you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the Lord your God,
 the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;” (Isaiah 43:1-5)

God has created you as a unique, indispensable individual – God loves you deeply, passionately and patiently – God takes great joy and delight in you that is never weakened by the struggles and mistakes that might be present in your life – God desires for you what God desires for each and every one of us: abundant and full life.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

When we come alive and see God at work in our lives, this often is accompanied by an increased awareness that develops within us. Simply put we start to care.

What you have you come to care about?

Our vocation isn’t just a product of our will, it emerges from our listening. And as I continue to push in here, I’m discovering that it often requires a dying, a death to our false self, the self we project, so that we can create enough space to listen well and hear clearly.

Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak puts it this way:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

The way forward always starts with trust. All great discoveries begin with the same patten: trust-faith-risk. A hopeful probing in the dark. We move from the unknown to the known and we do that step by step. We don’t start the process knowing; we start the process trusting. Jesus invites us, and says don’t be afraid, just like he said to Peter.

Let’s turn over to Luke 5:1-11. After a night of fruitless fishing, Jesus invites Peter to drop his nets again.

4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

When Jesus invites us to follow him, he is saying, “I have accepted you just as you are.” If we falsely believe that Jesus is actually saying, “I’ll accept you when you get everything right,” we’ve missed the point of what he is communicating. That’s the false narrative, we are accepted when we are cleaned up. But that doesn’t make any sense, does it? Jesus is saying, “it’s not about you, it’s about me and my father.” It’s not that we are magically transformed into people who don’t mess up or fail, no, we will see this unfold in the life of Simon, who later become Peter. We are accepted as we are because we are forgiven. And there’s the rub, if we are forgiven that means we needed to be forgiven. We have to acknowledge our participation in the rebellion–our active and willing rejection of God–and receive his forgiveness.

To be human is to grow, learn, and develop; a human is a being in progress. To know anything as a human being is to come to know it, over time. We gather information, and experiences over time, making connections – one moment of insight makes way for another. It’s a process, a discovery.

When Parker Palmer says that our lives speak, it’s an invitation to slow down, observe, and reflect. This is transformation, changing what we do and how we behave. He’s inviting us to become aware of how we have related and responded to our lives so far. What’s worked? What hasn’t? When create space to listen, it helps in our discovery process. How have we experienced God encouraging or discouraging us along the way? Is there too much in the way to consider what God is saying or trying to say?

Vocation must be understood as a calling that originates from an understanding of God, who created you, loves you, takes joy in you, and desires good things for you. So vocation is never about a blueprint that you have to get right or you’ll ruin your whole life. Vocation is never a list of specific tasks you have to complete and if you miss one, you have irrevocably ruined the plans. Vocation, meaning, and worth, are not taken away from you if you feel you have disappointed, struggled, or missed the mark. We miss the meaning of vocation if we do not understand that our vocations emerge from within us.
Next week we will continue this sermon series by considering how we can build a framework for understanding, discovering, and pursuing our vocations by gaining insights from Jesus’s life and discovery of his vocation.

Practical Tip – Anticipating the consequences (Yeah)
Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must try to listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
Find a place and time where you can sit at peace in the presence of God, where you can ask your life some questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you love about your life?
  • When are you at your best?
  • If you had unlimited resources and unlimited time, what would you choose to do?
  • What are you best at doing?
  • What do other people identify in you that you do well?
  • What are you strongest spiritual gifts?

Prayer Invitations
People who are anxious to get to “the next step” in life because you think that when you arrive there you will be satisfied.

People who don’t think they can trust God with asking about their vocation because you’re afraid that it wouldn’t be something you think you would like.

People who don’t know what if anything of value they have to offer the world