Updated: Feb 29
I settled in for the 10 hour flight from San Francisco to Zurich and when the screen at my seat offered the movie “Harriet”, I jumped in immediately, before we’d even pulled back from the gate. I’d known a little bit about the Underground Railroad, and the courage of Harriet Tubman, but I wasn’t prepared for the depth to which her cords of faith were woven together with her courage, compassion, and suffering. I wasn’t prepared to meet a 19th century Moses, wasn’t prepared to receive a prophetic challenge to my own walls of indifference from a tiny screen in economy class. That’s how it sometimes though - God shows up in unlikely places.
I was already thinking about purpose and calling, because I’m just finishing up a study series at the church I lead on spirit-soul-body wholeness. We’ve spent six weeks looking at what it means to live as whole people: We are invited to be deeply rooted in an identity, in our spirits, that is filled with confidence because the source of all life, Christ, lives in us - his spirit united with our human spirit, so that we might bear supernatural fruit. We’re invited to continually bring the broken parts of our story into the light, replacing truth with lies we’ve believed, and forgiving those who’ve wronged us, so that our souls (defined as the mind, will, and emotions that make up our personality) might be redeemed. And finally, God’s desire is that nothing less than the joy, peace, wisdom, justice, and power of Christ, would find expression in our actual, “walking around” bodies; in our eating, drinking, sleeping, lovemaking, working, and creating. This is the life for which we’re created.
But if our pursuit of wholeness becomes an end in itself, all our meditation, story redeeming, and body work will become just so much self-obsession. Our lives will shrink down into navel gazing meditation as a means of lowering our blood pressure, with a little therapy thrown in as a means of overcoming self-pity or addiction. Even if we succeed, so what? We’ll be the best version of our self-centered selves we can possibly be, but such pursuits will inevitably fester, hardening our hearts and shrinking our lives until our pursuits become nothing more than longer days, lower resting pulse, and the most nutrient dense foods. Then we die - and who really cares at that point.
To be clear: freedom from addiction, wholeness of soul, redeeming one’s story, caring for one’s body is important — it’s just that we are clear that the end of it all is so that we can bless others!
That’s why it’s vital that we understand the purpose of wholeness, and this begins with the glad news that our creator desires that we be the very best version of ourselves for important reasons:
“It pleased God to reveal his son in me...” is how Paul put it here, and “God made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the very righteousness of God” is how puts over here. Finally he declares that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that should walk in them”. In all three places God is shouting the same message to humanity:
I made you for a purpose. A calling. Don’t let the world reduce you to a consumer, and don’t let your pursuits of self improvement ever become ends in themselves. Find your calling and live into it - because that’s where you’ll thrive. That’s the life for which you’re created.
Harriet did that by going south again to lead her husband to freedom, risking all the comforts of her new life. St Patrick did that by going back to Ireland, where he’d been a slave, to share Christ with people there after he’d escaped captivity and returned home. Elisabeth Elliot did that by going back to the serve and love the Auca Indians who’d murdered her husband. These are dramatic examples necessitating displacement, but there are literally millions of examples where people didn’t leave home - they just began serving. They started tutoring kids, or working to addresss homelessness. They befriended people on the margins, or started making music, or movies, or throwing parties for the neighbors, or practicing radical hospitality. None of these were doing things just to be doing things. They were moving into their sense of calling.
And that’s the point. Each of us are created by God with certain gifts God desires us to use. If we’re to find them, we need to ponder these three A’s:
1. Availability: Am I paying attention? Our calling comes to us, often, at the intersection of our deepest joys and a deep need present in the world. If I’m blind to the needs around me, or blind to my own gifts, I’ll never find my calling. Harriet knew that humans are made for freedom, and knew that she had a gift of hearing from God so that God could guide her, and through her others, out from slavery and into freedom. Do you know how you’re wired? Do you see the needs around your gifts are able to meet? Wake up! Don’t miss what God has for you!
2. Acceptance: Do I believe that I have a part to play in God’s story? How many people have preemptively pulled themselves out of God’s story because of shame and a sense of unworthiness. We know our darkness, know our worst moments, know that if righteousness is the qualification for service, we’re doomed. The good news, though, is that participation in God’s story is based on God’s mercy in our lives, not our performance. If I only showed up to preach and teach when I felt holy, I promise you I’d have quit a long time ago. I use my gifts because they’re exactly that: gifts! So are yours. So acc\ept them, thank God for the privilege in participating in God’s story, and get back in the game.
3. Awareness: Do I believe that God is writing a story of hope in the world? If not, the best I can hope for it to get through life with as little pain and suffering as possible. I’m afraid this is the tiny goal that‘s come to prevail in the west for too many people, including Christ followers. Jesus, though, said that the “good news” was that kingdom of God was beginning - that God is writing a story of hope through ordinary people who, filled with Christ’s life, are pouring compassion, justice, beauty, hospitality and supernatural love into our broken world. He invites us into that story - so what are we waiting for?
Harriet goes back south over and over again because she knows her calling. Do you know yours? Our Ancient Paths programs are one of many tools available to help you discern your gifts, calling, and next steps on the journey that is your life.