Fifteen months ago, after years of prayer and conversations, my wife and I gave our notice that we’d be leaving our jobs. We said goodbye to our home in the Pacific Northwest, drained our bank account for tuition, reintroduced ourselves to school loans in the worst economy since the Great Depression—and moved to England.
Jon Acuff, author of the book Quitter, writes, “We’re becoming the ‘I’m, but’ generation … We inevitably say, ‘I’m a _____, but I want to be a ______.’ ”
Before moving, I was an account executive in a marketing firm, but I wanted to be a writer/theologian. I had been inspired by the book Mere Christianity years earlier, and I wanted to help others as this work had helped me. So we left for Oxford, dreamy-eyed and inspired by C.S. Lewis, in pursuit of this dream. What I’ve learned in the process has been beyond what I ever imagined, and it just might help anyone considering pursuing God’s calling.
You can do God’s work wherever you are
Many of us would end the second part of Acuff’s statement above with something that seems "bigger" than what we’re currently doing for God’s Kingdom. One of the greatest pulls leading me away from my previous job was an itch to do something more for God’s glory, an itch that wouldn’t leave me alone, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. I’d wake up early to write about faith and everyday life before going into the office, and I’d help lead youth group and volunteer at the local food bank in the evenings. But it always felt like I could be doing something more to help spread the Good News. And this step seemed to be the solution.
But now, having made this dramatic life-change, I routinely find myself in the middle of a library, with my nose in Augustine, Luther or Kant, thinking, “Is this how people see God in my life?” It sounds cliché, but I’ve come to the realization that God was made visible in my life during the evenings I spent volunteering at our local food bank. Or explaining how this 2,000-year-old story about a Nazarene man has relevance for a group of high school students today. It’s only since we’ve left home that I’ve been reminded just how important the everyday opportunities to share Christ are. That student you’re mentoring, that team you’re coaching, that guy you’re praying with every week over coffee—they all see Christ in your life in those times.
You may very well be feeling called to do something else for God’s Kingdom, but don’t rush off to do so before considering the ways you are already bringing Christ to others. You may still need to leave to allow you to do something else, as I’m confident we did, but don’t rush it. Allow yourself to see the ways God is currently working through your life, and don’t allow the green grass to blind you to the ministry right in front of you.
Our dreams are tied to our fears
When we’ve yet to act on our dreams, they come to us only with warm feelings. But once we’ve set out to pursue them, that’s when we can expect an onslaught of fears we’ve never faced before.
I remember sitting in my Greek tutorials shortly after arriving in Oxford, in a 400-year-old stone-built room around the corner from where the dining hall scenes were filmed for Harry Potter, wondering how I’d keep up with my classmates, and thinking to myself, “I wonder if my old job will take me back…” I feared I’d finish this degree and still not know exactly what I wanted to do. And I found myself plagued by a sense of guilt that I’d made the greatest mistake of my life. The irony is that I didn’t have these fears before we left. What I’ve found is that it isn’t until we take a step in the direction of our dreams that such fears become real.
I was told something that shed new light on these fears during a conversation with an English pastor by the name of Simon. “There’s an old Pentecostal saying that goes, ‘Different levels, different devils,’ ” Simon said to me in his rich British accent while on a walk around the Christ Church meadow in Oxford. He explained that every time God steps us up a level in our vocation, we can expect assault in new ways from the enemy. He went on to say that, while there will be some joy in pursuing God’s calling, it will also be contested at various levels (spiritually, relationally and practically). “You are devoting your life to contending for the Gospel,” Simon said to me, “That’s front line. You can expect incoming fire.”
God is greater than our fears
Since my wife and I took this step in faith, we’ve seen God at work in some rather incredible ways, even as I struggled with fear. When we began looking for jobs in Oxford, the C.S. Lewis Foundation called (unexpectedly) and asked if we’d be interested in jobs as a tour guide and admin assistant at the Kilns, Lewis’ former home. When we worried about making rent on time, we received a check in the mail from family back home (who had no idea of our situation) the same day our rent was due. When we returned home for the summer, not knowing where the money was going to come from for our second year, someone who knew of our journey (but not our need) asked to meet with me and told me he planned to cover our expenses for the following year. When we were worried about finding housing for our second year in Oxford, we received an invitation to move into the Kilns, just weeks before returning.
The result of these experiences is a deeper trust in God’s provision and the knowledge that God is so much bigger than our often-crippling fears. I’m not promising that if you make a decision to make a dramatic life change, God will meet each fear you face in equally dramatic ways. But I am telling you that each time I came to Him in prayer, paralyzed with fear at how this was all going to work out, I was brought to a point where I could look back and say, “This is how God provided for our lives as we took this step in faith.”
Has it been scary to leave everything behind to pursue the dream I believe God placed on my heart? Yes. Do I still have doubts? Yes, quite regularly. But, has this process forced me to rely on Him in ways I never had to in my comfortable day-job? Am I thankful for the opportunity to see Him at work in ways I never imagined? Would I do it all again?
Ryan is currently studying Theology at Oxford University in the UK, where he currently lives with his wife. You can see more of Ryan’s writing at www.RyanPemberton.com, or follow along at www.RyanAndJenGoToEngland.wordpress.com.