by Dr. Kurt Senske
How many times have we found ourselves asking, “Is this all there is out of life?” “Am I really living the life God has created uniquely for me?”
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Sometimes the questions become less esoteric: “How do I pay the bills?” “What should I major in at college?” “How do I find a job that motivates and inspires?” “Why is my family life in such shambles?”
What makes living the Christ-filled life even more difficult is that we live in a society where, in many places, openly practicing our Christian faith is less and less considered normal. Daily it seems that we as Christians engage in battle against the overwhelming societal message that power, wealth, beauty, and sexual pleasure are the keys to happiness. The idea that we can discover a road map for living from the words of an ancient leather-bound Bible is greeted with derision by our non-believing peers. In this seemingly post-Christian world, we sometimes feel we are all alone when we wrestle with and discern “What is God calling me to do?” and “How do I live with integrity as I pick up my own cross and daily follow Jesus?”
Proverbs instructs, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (16:9 ESV). It leads us to ask, “How have I been called to participate in God’s life through my family, work, community, and church roles?”
The questions continue: “How do I distinguish between God’s will and my own self-interest, and are they ever the same?” “If I perceive His will correctly, will I have the courage to pursue it wholeheartedly?”
Jesus reminds us, “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Simply put, it is impossible for us to live out our calling and continue in our old ways. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when we respond to God’s call, we intentionally separate ourselves from our previous existence in order to create a new life.
The good news is that because God gave us our self-worth in Baptism, we can approach our quest secure in the knowledge that God’s action for us through Jesus Christ has infused our life with meaning, no matter our station in life. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand in this world with confidence, like David in the presence of the mighty Goliath, and come out victorious. Armed with the security of eternal life, we are free to meet the needs of those we encounter today— family, neighbors, colleagues, and clients. We are free as both sinners and redeemed to serve the sick, abused, imprisoned, “the least of these.”
What I have learned through my research and own personal journey is that to live a life of significance is, above all, a spiritual undertaking. In the process, however, we can also employ certain strategies of our 21st-century world, integrating biblical wisdom with secular research to optimize our unique gifts from God. Such strategies include making God the center of our life, connecting our dots, honestly telling our own personal story, leading a life of simplicity, incorporating rituals, and caring for ourselves so that we may more effectively care for others.
At its core, living a life of significance requires no special skill, only self-discipline. First and foremost, we must be intentional about placing our relationship with God at the center of our life. When we take time to pray, study the Word, attend worship, and partake of Jesus’ body and blood, we naturally move to the second discipline as we become aware of ways in which we can humbly serve others. Through the Holy Spirit, we become less so that we can become more. It is through the daily routine of our lives that God gives shape to our calling and thus transforms ordinary life into extraordinary existence.
How, Not What
We live out our calling when we focus less on obtaining a distant goal and focus instead on the here and now. Who have I been called to serve today or at this particular instant? Such focus will, paradoxically, clear the way to discern more clearly how to prepare for the future. For example, in order to serve my family well tomorrow, I must enhance my skill sets and adopt healthy rituals today. Such focus allows us to diminish our own ego so that we become more attuned to be of service to others.
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In fulfilling our vocational calling, it is also helpful to focus on the how as opposed to the what. When we focus on what we want to accomplish, we make the thing we desire the end goal, an often self-serving perspective. For example, “I want that promotion.” Rather, living a life of significance is measured not by what we obtain but by the quality of how we live in the present. “How well have I served my spouse today?” “How well have I focused on caring for my neighbor?” “How well have I used my God-given talents at work?” When we focus on the what, we turn inward, making it more difficult to hear God’s voice. When we focus on the how, we look outward, diminishing our own selves so that the lives of others may be enhanced.
Sinners and Saints
As both sinners and saints, our journey will not always be smooth. We will occasionally relapse, falling into our self-absorbed ways, having to take a step back in order to take two forward. We may make a wrong turn or bump into a closed door. We may allow stress, doubt, and anxiety to block out God’s still, small voice. When this happens—and it will—first, take a deep breath. Second, say a quick prayer, perhaps something like, “God, please help me discern how, in this moment, to live the life You intend.” Third, focus on what is happening at that very moment. I am in the office. I am in the hospital. I am sitting in class. My spouse and I are having a disagreement. In my own unique, God-given here-and-now circumstance, how might I serve?
Living this counter-cultural life may also require us to speak the truth that could result in personal sacrifice. Others may ridicule our decisions because they seem out of touch with societal values. It may require us to take a path that our friends or parents do not completely understand. It will, on occasion, bring us to our knees in exhaustion. It will also provide us with the peace that transcends all understanding.
The good news is that you and I are not alone in our quest to live a life of significance. We are reminded that “for where two or three or more are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). We have the opportunity to come together and become empowered by the Holy Spirit as we support each other’s journey in our congregation, home, and work, through our family and friends and even through all of the various forms of technology that God has provided. Together we can serve God by making the most of our gifts in service to others.
About the Author: Dr. Kurt Senske is the author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance (CPH, 2010). He also serves as CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South, Chairman of Thrivent Financial, and is a member of the LCMS Board of Directors.
Wondering if this is as good as life gets? Go to www.cph.org to order Dr. Kurt Senske’s new book The Calling: Live a Life of Significance. In it, you’ll learn more about vocation, what it means to live the Christian life, and how the Holy Spirit enables you to find meaning and purpose in what you do.
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Watch President Matthew Harrison’s video perspective of what it means to live a Christ-filled life of significance, and participate in the virtual conversation at www.kurtsenske.com.