“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Doesn’t being filled with “all joy and peace” sound delightful? Or, what about overflowing with hope? Yes, I’d like some of that, please and thank you. Here’s the tricky part of these words from the Apostle Paul: “AS you trust in him.”
Wait, so I can have joy and peace and overflowing hope by the power of the Spirit… but I’m going to get it as I trust God? Can’t I get it before so I feel safe enough to trust? No? Great. There’s a promise in this verse that God asks us to trust Him, which at times will be scary, but when we trust… more joy, peace, and hope than we can imagine.
When I was 18 years old I felt the call for the first time. I was working in a coffee shop at a summer camp when a musician I admired told me that I had a beautiful voice. I thought he was just being nice, but I was encouraged by a mentor to pray about it because “God doesn’t give gifts for no reason.” I had yet to sing in front of anyone (save for my shampoo and conditioner), but I sighed, rolled my eyes and muttered the reluctant words “Lord, if this is some kind of ‘gift’ you’ve given me, please show me what the heck to do with it.”
About a week later I had a batch of 10 or so songs penned in my notebook. I kept writing, tinkering without precision on my cheap guitar, and at the end of the summer I recorded four songs in a friend’s bedroom. After passing it out to a few of my family members and friends, I got phone call after phone call of tear-filled responses. I was an art major in college at the time, and the truth that I struggled to communicate through brush strokes was all of a sudden being heard in songs. Sure, I played guitar and would sheepishly squeak out lyrics to popular songs under my breath from time to time, but I never thought anything I could muster would be powerful or enjoyable to anyone else.
I was set to be a visual artist; I wanted to paint in a dark room by myself, away from the crowd and cross my fingers that people would see my paintings, somehow feel a sense of hope, and that I would get to tell them about Jesus through my work. Until that summer I didn’t think I had a voice worth listening to, but the minute I heard my non-believing family members tell me that they were moved by something special in my voice, I had to consider that they might be right.
The guy who recorded these songs was involved in planning an annual carnival in town, and he asked me to perform a set that October. I nervously agreed, and got up on stage for the very first time to play what I had written for a handful of friends and family amidst the sounds of carnival rides and games. I was shaking with fear, and I felt like I might as well be standing there in the nude by how vulnerable it felt. Nothing about it felt safe or comfortable, but something in my heart was saying, “Yes!” over and over within me.
When I was breaking down my equipment after the show, an older gentleman approached me. I expected him to say something kind and vague then move on, but instead he said, “Hi, my name is Mr. Such and Such (I forget), and I came here to tell you that you need to do this with your life.” I shook his hand way longer than was appropriate because I was frozen in my own confusion. “You… what?” I said. He continued, “Look, I wasn’t even over here watching you. I was at the other end of the carnival and I heard your voice, and I had to come tell you that you need to do this with your life. I’m a “Discernment of Gifts” pastor, and I have young talented kids in my office all the time telling me that they want to go into the music industry. I tell them all the time that they should avoid it because it’s such a dark place, but I’m telling you right now that you need to do this.”
Look, I’m not writing this to tear myself down, but the show wasn’t very good. It certainly wasn’t “You-need-to-do-this-with-your-life” good. However, the more I see God work and the more I read the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced that calling doesn’t have much to do with us being good enough anyway.
We are not the authority of whether we are qualified for the things God calls us to, rather, it is He who qualifies us.
I finally released my kung-fu grip on the poor man’s hand, thanked him with my eyes glazed over thinking, “Is this real life?”, and walked on mysteriously hopeful air the rest of the night. There’s something that happens in your chest when you begin to step into the adventure God has laid out for you. It’s usually a mixture of sheer terror and total delight, of danger and destiny. Every good thing God has lead me to has been wildly exciting while bringing my awareness to the fact that I cannot for one second let go of His hand lest I spiral into dreadful fear. It’s a lot like trust, which feels a little scary mixed with joy, peace, and hope. Paul might be onto something.
Since that October evening my journey toward this sense of calling has been a lot of poignant moments like that day at the carnival swirled together with messy doubt-filled times of frustration. I find myself repeating a pattern of falling into deep discouragement, telling God “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can’t do this. I think I’d better quit,” and almost instantaneously getting knocked sideways by His over-the-top invitations back into what I know He has for me.
If I look back and draw upon the multiple moments where God has been crystal clear with me about my purpose and gifting, I can see there’s no point in running any longer. However, I’m scared. I’ve been so scared. I would love to stay hidden somehow and for my calling to be something that never involves being on a stage, standing behind a microphone, or sharing my depths with the world. A while back I even prayed, “God, please, please give me something else to do that isn’t in front of people.” I heard Him reply, with gentle sternness “My dear, that’s just not going to happen. This is how I made you. So, you’d do well to start owning it. It’s who you are”
It’s been nine years since my first show, and I have since been doing a dance of writing and performing “on the side” of this job or that job. About five years ago I got hired by my church as the music director. I knew it wasn’t what I was ultimately created to do, but it felt close enough to my calling that I accepted the job. As I’ve grown in my position, it’s become more and more obvious that, though the job involves elements of my gifting, it isn’t the role I was made to be in.
Toward the end of last spring, I was feeling burned out and decided to take my first ever personal retreat. I went to a cabin in the woods totally alone, with not much more than a Bible and pajamas to enter into a week of rest and restoration with my Creator. As I was flipping through the journal I brought with me, I spent some time reading through old entries. I stumbled upon one that more or less read like this: “I feel so stuck. I don’t have the passion, vision or desire to do this job for the long haul, but I’m so scared of doing anything else. I am too discouraged to think about my own music, but I need to get out of this place.” I thought to myself “Gosh, that’s exactly where I’ve been at. Did I just write this?” and looked at the date. 2012. It was a two-year-old journal entry. That meant that I had been stuck in the same place for at least two years.
As I closed the journal I knew something had to change so I prayed that once again, God would reveal to me my next steps. I told God “I don’t care how scared I am, I cannot stay here any longer. I don’t want to spend any more time doing what I’m not meant to do.” In the words attributed to author Anaïs Nin, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I haven’t become any less afraid of stepping out into the unknown, but have been so exhausted by doing what I’m not created to do that it’s not worth submitting to the fear anymore.
God made it clear to me in the days to follow that He was calling me to step down from this position at the church. Once again, God called me to do what He’s been calling me to do for nine years, but this time, I would be taking the leap without a fallback side job that I can use as my excuse for why I have no time to pursue my calling. When I made the decision and decided to trust God despite all my very real fears, there it was: joy, peace, hope overflowing by the power of the Spirit.
So in about six weeks, I am officially unemployed with no fallback. Do I feel ready? No. Am I freaking out a little? Yes, but I’ve let fear win way too many times. The truth I’m learning is, there won’t be a time in my life or in any of your lives that is more ripe for us to be who we’re created to be.
The time for living fully is now.
When we look back on our lives, do we want to see lives full of avoiding that which scares us? Or do we want to see lives filled with taking risks to follow our Lord wherever He leads – lives of joy, peace, and hope overflowing?
I used to think I’d prepare myself for that which I’m called to do, then I’d feel ready to step out into it. But, thats a lie. I’ve believed that for years and it’s just not true. There won’t be a time when I feel ready to do the things that terrify me. If they’re the right things, I have to feel the fear and just keep walking.
Amy Poehler says it well in her book Yes Please, “So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it’s not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.”
I don’t know what this looks like in your life today. Maybe it’s a career change, maybe it’s simply being honest with somebody dear to you, or maybe it’s approaching a God you’ve been avoiding for too long. Perhaps that which you are ultimately called to do is a few years away, but today you can start living into it by praying with an openness that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe today you can keep it real with God and those around you about where your life needs some surrendering. I promise, you will not regret it. You will not regret trusting this God. He promises on the other side of that trust you’ll find the good stuff. You’ll find Him, and in Him more joy, peace, and hope than your being can contain.
So lets be brave, dear sisters, even when we’re scared.