A fifth way that God’s call emerges is when we recognize God’s shaping of our lives.
One of my mentors was guiding me through a life planning process when he said: “Let’s connect the dots, Daniel, from your story. Let’s see how God has been at work in your past and how that points to your future.” He understood how God uses the people, circumstances, and experiences of our lives to point us toward the work God calls us to do.
Dan Allender agrees. He writes in To Be Told that we discover our calling by listening to our stories: “We begin with our stories, always. So read and reread your story. In due season, some of the patterns and the trajectory of your life will begin to appear through the fog. At first there will be only a shape, but with time, prayer, and reflection, you will see the contours of your path come into focus….We don’t find our calling; it finds us.”
By reading your story you can find indicators of what you’re passionate about, what your gifts are, how you prefer to interact with others, and which experiences have most clearly directed you thus far in your life. Put these together and you can often start to discern God’s call. Chuck Colson realized how God had used his story to prepare him to establish Prison Fellowship. Gary Haugen connected his story, especially his 1994 investigation into the Rwandan genocide, with his call to found International Justice Mission.
Joseph also discerned God’s call by looking at how God had shaped his life (see Genesis 37-50). Joseph was shaped by God to bring him to a place of leadership in Egypt. God blessed him with dreams, with the capacity to interpret dreams, with access to the Egyptian Pharaoh, with favor with leaders, and with world-class administrative skill. When Joseph looked back over the events of his life, the painful and the positive, he concluded that God had been working through those events to summon him to provide for the Egyptians’ and Israelites’ welfare. As he put it to his brothers, who had years earlier tried to take his life then sold him into slavery: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you….So then, it was not you who sent me here but God” (Genesis 45:5,8).
“Not you…but God” Joseph told them. His life is a witness to how God uses the events of our lives to direct and guide us. As Dunham and Serven put it in TwentySomeone: “The truth is, God tends to take us from point A to point Z through points B, C, D, E, and so on. In other words, we don’t just arrive somewhere; we go through a process along the way. Sometimes God’s call becomes clear to us as we reflect on that process, as we read the lessons and turning points of our story. I often use a timeline to help people tell their story. You can access a free version here.
Have you read your life? Have you heard God’s call through your story?