But what about when I don’t hear God’s call?
One of the most common questions that many Christians face goes like this: “I’ve been praying about my calling and direction, but I just can’t hear God’s voice. I’m not sure what to do. How do I discern my calling when God is seemingly silent?”
Whilst this is a common question, it’s never an easy one to try and answer. As our other blog posts have explored, calling is an important part of our relationship with God, and often defines who we are—not just as Christians, but as people. Feeling uncertain about God’s call on our life can lead to a large amount of existential angst and doubt!
It may be of some comfort to know that we’re not alone in feeling this way. Perhaps the most famous Biblical example of someone who suffered through God’s silence is Job, whose anguished plea is one that many of us can identify with: “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look to me” (Job 30:20). We might also resonate with Jesus’ own cry on the cross: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34).
So what do we do when we don’t hear God’s call? How do we carry on living our lives with purpose and clarity when we are unsure as to His purposes for our lives? First of all, we need to acknowledge that there are times when God will be silent—and that this isn’t always a bad thing. If we were to allow our entire lives to be dictated by God’s voice, we would be no more than puppets, which is by no means God’s desire for our lives.
Sometimes, God’s silence is important as it forces us to examine our own priorities, our ethics and our morals. The choices that we make of our own volition speak volumes about our character and integrity. We have the opportunity to learn important lessons about ourselves in the midst of Godly silence. The question still remains, however—how do we know what to do when we don’t have a specific direction?
Fortunately for us, whilst God does provide many of us with specific callings and direction he has also given us a wide variety of principles by which to live our lives—guideposts which help us to navigate our way through seemingly dark times.
Take the well-known example of Micah 6:8, which reminds us that “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We could also turn to the Great Commission in Matthew, which tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
As a Biblical scholar, I continually return to the idea that we are called to follow Jesus’s example, and that our lives and actions should be formed around his teachings and his own life. To that end, I find it helpful for us to adopt Jesus’s own “mission statement,” outlined at the start of his ministry in Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
This requires us to make a paradigm shift in our own minds: away from a very specific calling where our identities are so often narrowly defined by our “work,” towards an understanding that we are all called to bring about God’s kingdom on this earth—to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God; to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.
In other words: our identities should not be defined by the specific call on our lives, but rather by our relationship with the one who calls us. This means that rather than agonize over our calling, we can simply focus on living well; or as a certain lawyer puts it in a dialogue with Jesus, “Love the Lord your God, and love others as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
This also means that those of us whose calling seems more clearly defined don’t get to lord it over others. Those of us called to ministry are no better or worse than those called into business, or education, or other fields, we are simply different. Jesus reminds his disciples: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8–12)
This means that when we’re faced with either difficult choices or silence, perhaps our question should not be “what does God want me to do?” so much as “how does God want me to do it?” This should apply to all things that we undertake—our work, our families, our study, and our ministry. The path of humility, righteousness and justice is the path that God continually calls us to.
In my own life, there have been many times when I’ve prayed for guidance and stared into silence. Through these times, I’ve gradually made this paradigm shift for myself, to the point where I rarely ask for a specific direction when I pray. Instead, each day, I ask God to expand my awareness of my actions so that I can ensure that I am always working to bring about His kingdom on earth. I ask for the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper to push me to do things that will honour God and honour others, rather than myself. I still struggle with the occasional seeming silence, but I’m comforted by the fact that I can always pick up the Bible and hear God’s voice through the text. And when I do hear and experience God’s leading, I find that His leading always brings me down the path of justice, mercy, and sacrifice.
To conclude, it’s worth remembering that Jesus’s “mission statement” is a quotation from Isaiah 61, which goes on to say this: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)
So, what do we do when we
don’t know what God’s call is for our lives? We should continue on as countless
others have before us: living in righteousness, choosing the path of mercy,
justice, and love wherever we can, allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit
of God. Live a life that rejoices in the Lord, knowing that we have been saved
at a price. As we do so, we will be partnering with the God who works to bring about
His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.