Powlison on Discerning God’s Calling

Biblical Counseling

Last night, a friend and I were discussing calling – what is it? Of course, there is obviously the external call of: the encouragement of those around you, opportunities arising, etc. And there is the even more objective external call of the church itself. Conversely, there exists a notion of a subjective call – do I want to do this? No, am I burdened to do this? David Powlison (as always) gives us some helpful points to begin thinking about  calling. First, he notes that the word “calling” has four important meanings as a Christian:

  • God calls, inviting every human being to know Him.
  • God calls, powerfully speaking so the dead come to life.
  • God calls, mapping out a life and walk of thankful obedience.
  • God calls, tailor-making you to serve Him here and now.

We all nod our heads in doctrinal affirmation at the first three: “OK, thanks Powlison. Now tell me how to divine God’s will for my life.” He obliges. He digs deep into the fourth sense. He puts the quest for discerning God’s call for your life in terms of five questions that force you to think about yourself, your God, and the world around you:

1. What are your gifts and talents? For example, I Peter 4:10f simply mentions speaking and serving.  How has God equipped you to serve and/or speak effectively?  And I Peter 4:7-9 mentions things which everybody is supposed to do to some degree:  pray, show merciful love, show hospitality.

2. What have you been given in life experience, learning, and background?  Paul was equipped to be the bridge from the Jews to the nations because he was both an educated Pharisee and a Roman citizen.  Moses & David were equipped to lead by years spent as shepherds.  Older women are equipped to help younger women by life experience (Titus 2:4).

3. Where are your opportunities, responsibilities and challenges?  What are the needs of your time and place:  home? neighborhood? church? nation? world?  The sons of Issachar were “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (I Chronicles 12:32).  What are your times and what should you do?  Abigail had “good understanding” (I Samuel 25), and figured out what needed to be done in her situation.  Mt 25:31-46 speaks of the human needs which each of us encounters in different ways.  Luke 10:30-37 shows a man sensitive to God’s call within a particular situation.

4. Where have you grown wiser through personal repentance and learning to walk in the light?  How have you been a disciple, a learner, hence equipped to help others?  Counseling wisdom grows as you grow in humility, integrity, realism about yourself and others, confidence in the God of truth who searches hearts, and gratitude to Jesus Christ.  God creates a wise servant by teaching you to know him at your points of need for grace.

What is your characteristic flesh:  desires, idols, fears, false hopes, and wrong beliefs that show in sinful habits and patterns of behavior, attitude and thinking?  How have you found the way of escape in Christ? (I Corinthians 12:6-14) ·How have you learned to trust God not yourself in hardships you’ve experienced?  (2 Corinthians 1:3-11) What “logs” tend to blind you, making you unhelpful?  How has God opened your eyes?  (Matthew 7:1-6 & Luke 6:38-45) Where do you need the Spirit’s fruit to give you wisdom’s gentleness, perceptiveness, persistence?  (Galatians 5:14-6:10)

What hardships and sufferings do you face in life? The way we process life’s pressures is a crucial part of our counseling usefulness to other people (2 Corinthians 1:4).

5. What do you want to do?  What do you enjoy?  What are you compelled to do?  Where do you work eagerly and thrive?  I Tim 3:1 and I Peter 5:2 speak of willingness and desire for ministry.  Jeremiah 20:9 speaks of a mission that Jeremiah could not duck.  I Corinthians 15:10 speaks of work Paul did energetically, for the Spirit was at work in him for this purpose.

After answering these questions for yourself in a way that searches the wisdom of others, that is self-searching, and that is honest, Powlison gives four steps to help put your answers to these questions to work:

1.  Look around you.

Who are the obvious people in your life whom you could “encourage daily” (or weekly, or monthly)?  Think of people in your home, your neighborhood, your job, your church, your small group, your school.

2.  Where?  Who?  What problems?

  • In what settings do you have time and opportunity to counsel and encourage people? (e.g., lunch time, prayer group, evening phone calls, pastor’s office, after church, etc.)
  • What kinds of people seek you out and let you get to know them?  (e.g., male or female?  elderly, middle-aged, young adult or children?  married or single or divorced?  particular typical struggles?  Christian or non-Christian? rich or poor?  etc.)
  • What kinds of people do you think you work well with?  (Usually these are people whose world we are able to enter in order to bring both God’s love and truth)
  • What kinds of problems do you think you work well with?  (e.g., bereavement, interpersonal conflict, general stress of life, addictions, people who have suffered traumas, physical disabilities, anger, anxiety, criminal behavior, discipling new believers, financial counsel, etc.)
  • What kinds of people do you not work well with?  (Perhaps they intimidate you or confuse you or trigger impatience, or perhaps it is inappropriate for you to counsel such people)
  • What kinds of problems do you not work well with?  (Perhaps you are ignorant or overwhelmed or simply lack wisdom here)

3.  Seek advice of several people who know you well. Consider your pastor, spouse, members of a ministry team, a small group, wise Christian friends. How do they answer the above questions regarding your gifts, opportunities, significant experience, maturity and eagerness?  How do they answer the above questions regarding the sorts of people and problems you might work well with?

4.  Summarize your current understanding of your personal calling.  What have you learned doing this self study?  What are your hunches and instincts about where your life can be most useful to God?  Where are things vague and you need more clarity?

One thought on “Powlison on Discerning God’s Calling

  1. These are some good points, but it seems like the questions and steps he gives are fairly specific to someone who is called to some sort of counseling and is trying to discern their particular area of calling within that discipline. Is my understanding correct? What is the source of these quotes from David Powlison? It would be interesting to see a similar outline of things to think about when trying to discern God’s calling in general!…

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