“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)
My deep gladness and the world’s hunger
Several years ago a group of my friends chose to relocate our lives to a neighbourhood where the social fabric was wearing thin, with holes and tears in some places. After a year spent praying for the neighbourhood we discerned that the best way to ‘help’ was to move in and become part of the neighbourhood. Early on, one of our team shared this quote from Buechner at our team night. Over the years, a passion for sport led him to start a Sunday afternoon football club for neighbourhood kids and he began to coach local sports teams so that young people who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity could not only play sports but also receive mentoring and discipleship. A passion for education and the different people and cultures in our world led him to become a teacher aide and eventually a secondary school teacher specialising in geography. With others, he opened his home to students from refugee backgrounds who had nowhere else to go. None of it was easy for him. But he could have joy amongst the day-to-day struggles because he’d found the sweet spot where his own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.
When I first heard Buechner’s quote and tried to figure out what my deep gladness was, the first thing that came to mind was good food. I felt very unspiritual! Yet, when I think about my ministry in that neighbourhood, it was my love of food (making, eating and sharing it) that was foundational to meeting a deep hunger. No pun intended. God is in the business of satisfying the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53), and in opening our meal table we were able to join him in this task. Bellies were filled. But equally, loneliness and isolation were eased? and desire for connectedness and belonging satisfied.
In the early days, our family celebrations became opportunities to bring people from every part of our community together. Over food, friendships were formed between people who might never have otherwise met or only met in adversarial settings: migrants and former refugees, self-identified gangsters and ‘streeties’, religious leaders and social service providers, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, law-makers and activists. For that season our call to ‘go’ was actually to stay home and reclaim the kind of hospitality (literally “love of strangers”) described in the gospels (Mark 2:13-16; Luke 14:12-14, 19:1-10; Matt 25:35-36). In doing so we were privileged to experience the richness of God’s banquet table and to invite others to experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom.
When the going gets tough
Following God’s call is not always easy. It does not always include happiness, security or comfort (Matt 16:24-26). However, there are many things that help to sustain us in our call when life gets difficult. One aspect that offers sustenance is the joy to be found at the intersection of our passion and God’s mission. Straight out of university, I volunteered as a lawyer in South Asia to help rescue people from modern-day slavery. It was hard, gruelling work. The pursuit of truth and justice is part of my hardwiring so when freedom and justice for victims seemed elusive, living in the intersection of my passion and God’s mission helped sustain me as we waited for God’s kingdom to break through.
A few years later some of us started a social enterprise cafe that helped equip young people who weren’t in education, employment or training. I did the baking and helped mentor the young women. It was a different type of hospitality than that practised in the gospels, but one that had potential to provide economic and social justice for those who might otherwise get left behind. All twelve young people who completed their work experience with us successfully transitioned to paid employment and a few years later we can see the fruitfulness of the investment in many of their lives. It was physically exhausting and financially draining (we were only open a year and had some debt to pay back), but in the midst of a painful and challenging season, we knew that we were at the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.
How to find your call
So how do we discern where God is calling us to? Buechner helpfully writes: “There are all different kinds of voices calling to you, all different kinds of work and the problem is finding out which is the voice of God, rather than that of society, say, or the super-ego or self-interest. By and large, a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to, is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to be done…
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leprosy colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are bored and depressed by it, the chances are you’ve not only bypassed (a) but you probably aren’t helping your patients much either…”
How kind it is of God to call us to serve His Kingdom in ways that are life-giving for us too. If you find yourself pouring out for the sake of God’s Kingdom but you feel heaviness, bitterness and the weight of your sacrifice and service overwhelming you, then perhaps you need to consider whether you’re serving where God has called you. Conversely, if you already love what you do but struggle to answer how it is advancing God’s mission, perhaps you need to re-think how you can meet the world’s deep hunger. God’s call always sends us to serve His Kingdom in the world (Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:18, 20:21). What we must learn to do well is to discern the intersection of our passion and God’s mission in every season of our life.
Questions to consider:What do you think Buechner means by “deep gladness”? How is this different from happiness? What are the things that could be your deep gladness? Where could these meet the world’s deep hunger?
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.