Following a calling from God can be both gloriously liberating and excruciatingly painful. One of the marks of a true calling from God is that it is unavoidable, you may try to repress it but you simply cannot. You are drawn to your calling because it is woven into your very being. Whether you are called to be an artist, an activist, a farmer, a pastor, or something else entirely, you may find yourself hopelessly drawn to do something that brings both joy and horrible pain.
I am called to ministry, and my relationship with this calling oscillates between love and resentment. I often feel like a fool. I admit that I even despise the church sometimes. I hate all the baggage that comes with the title of “Pastor” or “Christian.” I hate when people assume that I hold certain political or moral stances. I dread the inevitable question “so what are you studying?” that frequently reduces a pleasant conversation with a stranger into a painfully awkward exchange.
Yet I cannot not do ministry. To do anything other than follow this calling would be inauthentic, a sin against myself and God. Jeremiah tried to repress his calling, and he described the feeling as being like a burning fire shut up in his bones.
Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. A prophet’s role was to speak God’s truth to power. Jeremiah had not wanted the job back then, and he did not want it now. The words he had to speak were not pleasant: Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, its people sent into exile. The people of God had given their love to idols and had oppressed the poor, now judgment was coming.
Obviously speaking out did not earn Jeremiah any friends. He was mocked and laughed at. His enemies plotted against him. He became an outcast, and the more he spoke the more he suffered. He discovered the truth of what Jesus would tell his disciples centuries later:
“I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…”
I have always hated those words, they seem cruel. Yet this is often the inevitable result of speaking out. If you have ever raised your voice against injustice, then you know how it can result in furious opposition even from your own family. Following God means making choices that will be seen as wrong or unreasonable to others. In a world bent on violence, the acquisition of power, and the worship of wealth, it will inevitably mean speaking out. It will mean seeking alternative ways to live, ways that run against the grain of our culture, ways that will seem ludicrous to our neighbors and our family.
Where can we draw the strength we need to stay true to our calling? Jeremiah ends this passage on a note of confidence. “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble…” Jeremiah draws the strength to continue following his calling from the knowledge of God’s constant presence by his side. All others may abandon us or oppose us for being who we are, but God remains, and from this solid fact Jeremiah draws strength.
One of the most comforting things to know about the presence of God is that you do not need to feel it for it to be real. I remember I used to pray with tears streaming down my face for God to help me feel his presence. We often expend a lot of energy trying to feel God’s presence, as if feeling it makes it real. But our feelings are shaky foundations for a relationship with God. God promises to be with us at our best and at our worst, and trusting this promise is the only solid basis for knowing the divine presence. Once we learn to trust this promise, like Jeremiah, we will tap into an inexhaustible well of strength to carry out our calling.
Like a good friend who is with us in the hardest times, God offers us a loving, sustaining presence. God stands in defiant solidarity with those who let the fire in their bones blaze outwards into the world, exposing and destroying all that is false. So whether you are an artist or an author being mocked for your “useless” degree, an activist facing verbal or physical abuse for standing up for justice, or just any person striving to live a life of faith and obedience to the calling God has placed on your heart, know that God is at your side “like a dread warrior.” This world needs your fire. Have courage and don’t lock it up inside. Let it out, because God is with you.