The Misdirection of God: Discerning God’s Will When You Don’t Have a Clue.

So as you know, I am perpetually hunting for a good ministry job. A place where I fit well, I am doing something significant and I am thriving in my gifting and passions. In the past year I have interviewed at a couple of churches but didn’t get a job. I have also gone from the short list for a couple pastoral positions to the scrap heap without so much as a conversation. Its been really frustrating and disconcerting and I have struggled to maintain my self worth while wondering what makes me so unemployable. I have also looked for work in the area, including with Logos Bible Software. Despite knowing a number of people in Bellingham getting hired there, the only position they interviewed me for was a little past my expertise and the countless other positions they have which I think I could have done and done well, they didn’t even considered me for. I’ve applied for other positions which were well within my expertise and I haven’t even heard from my potential employers. It’s been really frustrating.

 But hey,  I needed a job and got one with a local farmer’s co-op! So this week I have had some training on using a forklift, filling propane and the features and benefits of various animal feeds (horse and chicken, I’ll get more training later on other types). Today I get to spend actual time in the store. This is a job that I feel I could do reasonably well, but it is not the sort of job I thought I would be doing.  I mean, I’m a city boy who has worked for urban ministry para-church organizations with homeless and senior citizens, and at-risk youth. I’ve done ministry with college students and am kind of a theology nerd.  I’ve drafted and worked retail jobs, but nothing like this. I have a masters of divinity and I can’t get the satisfying ministry job I long for (My hunt is on hiatus), but I can get a job selling animal feed and fencing. Which brings me to my question, “God, What are you doing?”

In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer reflects on his own vocational wanderings before he found his life call. He writes: 

If we are to live our lives fully and well we must learn to embrace the opposites, to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials. We must honor our limitations in ways that do not distort our nature, and we must trust and use our gifts in ways that fulfill the potentials God gave us. We must take the no of the way that closes and find the guidance it has to offer–and take the yes of the way that opens and respond with the yes of our lives. (55)

These are challenging words because the story I find myself in, is not the story I would have written. As I  my life, I wonder what God might be up to. Is this simply an opportunity for me to connect with friends and neighbors in our community (something I’ve been praying for)? Is this something that ’rounds me out’ so that I can relate better with people in a more rural context making me more appealing to rural and suburban churches? Is this just something I do now to feed my family while I bide my time for something better (with my pay check, not with animal feed)? 

I feel confident that I will one day look back and be thankful for this season and all that God has been doing inside my heart. Certainly I’ve been able to explore pieces of myself that I may not otherwise have time for. One day it will all make sense. Right now I haven’t got a clue about what God is doing, where he is leading and where I will end up. But that is an adventure worth pressing into.  

 

“Job” for the Jobless

Thank you to anyone who read the title of this post and clicked on the link because you thought it meant I found a job. No such luck for me, but I hope I’m doing more in this post than just making bad puns. I did not mean ‘a job’ in the sense of gainful employment, but Job (proper name) as in the Old Testament righteous dude that suffered lots and had lousy friends (no offense).

It might be presumptuous to compare my suffering to Job. I have food in my belly and roof over my head. I have had to defer student loans and haven’t been able to replace broken computers, ipods, or buy new clothes and copious amounts of books (never fear, I’ve got my hands on a few), but this sort of suffering amounts to ‘first world pains.’ What Job had to suffer was the loss of wealth, health, the death of family members, and festering sores. All in all, I think I’ve gotten the better deal.

But the comparison was given to me about a week ago when I attended my wife’s graduation from Regent College (the same seminary I graduated from). While there I saw many old friends happy to see me and eager to hear what I’m up to. Invariably I would flash them a sheepish grin and say, “Actually I’m still looking for work.” Which of course makes people feel bad so they’d tilt their head to the right and say “Don’t worry, I’m sure something will come up.” After a few moments I would saunter off to go and be awkward with someone else. It was really fun.

While at the graduation, my wife and I sought out one of our professors, Phil Long, for a photo and to express our appreciation for his teaching. Predictably, when he saw me, he asked what I was doing now. I tried to hide my shame when I said I was still looking for work. He gave me a thoughtful look, and said that he doesn’t know why some people he’s known have struggled to find work when there seems to be no reason for it and encouraged me to continue to trust God through this season.

I nodded my appreciation and confessed the ways I have failed to trust God, and rehearsed several flaws which I think have made me unemployable. Phil said these words to me, “I wouldn’t look for a reason in yourself. Take a page out of Job and trust that this too will reveal God’s glory.”

And so I have spent the past week thinking through and reading Job and trying to explore what wisdom and understanding he has to offer me. I have also delved into one of my favorite short commentaries, Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job. Several little insights have revealed themselves to me and I’ve been chewing on them. In no particular order, here are some things I’m thinking about(this isn’t a formal study, just my little notes):

  • The Satan thinks that Job only serves God because of what God gives him; Job’s friends think God is punishing Job for something he did. They are both wrong.
  • When you go through hard times, you are tempted to either doubt God or doubt yourself (which is an indirect way of doubting God’s goodness/grace). Job is relentless in his trust of God and is never self defeatist. He feels abandoned and alone, and is miserably comforted but he still presses into God and longs to make his case to him.
  • God doesn’t answer any of Job’s questions but confounds Job with the big picture of who he is.
  • Job’s suffering increases his identification with the poor and he’s sees with greater clarity the ways that the wicked prosper and fail to ‘get what’s coming with him.’ Job was good and righteous from the beginning but his suffering also increased his capacity for compassion.
  • Job learns to trust God and his ways, though he cannot fathom him. His comfort comes not in restoration but in meeting God in the whirlwind.
  • Job got a whirlwind because he needed it! Elijah doesn’t meet God in the whirlwind but in quietness. I might not know how God will show up, but he knows the best way to make an impression.

So these are my random thoughts on Job. Admittedly even though the reason for Job’s suffering is never given (Satan’s wager is the occasion but doesn’t give the reason), I tend to read of Job’s righteousness and still think I suffer because I’m not that good. And I didn’t suffer as much as he did. Crazy self-defeatist attitude!

I speak without understanding
marvels that are beyond my grasp!

I once knew you by hearsay
now my eyes have seen you;
therefore I repudiate and repent
of dust and ashes.
[42:3,5-6]