“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We all get asked this question over the years. Some people know their answers, but if you’re like me, you’re patiently praying and waiting for God to show you the way.
“I don’t know what I want to be,” we’ll say. “I just don’t know yet.” Whether your eighteen or fifty, you may feel this way.
I’ve struggled with this question my whole life. There is so much I want to do, so many places I want to see, and so many people I want to help. God has given me passions for several different things, such as writing, missions, teaching, and law. I know I can’t do it all, but that doesn’t always stop me from wanting to.
It’s when my desire take over that I have to take a step back and remember that God’s plans are always best. It’s not about what I want to be; rather it’s about who he wants me to be.
I have prayerfully considered my future and how God wants me to use my gifts, but I never seem to get a direct answer. Sometimes, it seems like He’s telling me to go one way, and other times another. I’ve often felt him calling me to be a missionary, but I’ve also felt like He was calling me to be a writer.
I struggle with feeling called to two things. And being so makes me ask: What does it even mean to be a missionary? And why can’t I do that and something else?
Being a missionary doesn’t always mean traveling to developing countries. Being a missionary means taking on the mission of spreading the gospel—which is something we are all called to do:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:29–30 ESV).
Being a missionary isn’t always about leaving. Sometimes, it means staying right where you are and using the gifts God has given you.
The biblical character of Dorcas (also called Tabatha) was able to pursue her God-given gifts while being a missionary at home:
“Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36 ESV).
Dorcas lived in Joppa—a town that was primarily inhabited by Gentiles (non-Jewish people). (Joppa ultimately ended up being a focus of Peter’s ministry.) For Dorcas, Joppa was her mission field. In her philanthropy, she was sharing the gospel by simply loving and serving people. But then something tragic happened:
Dorcas was a light and a comfort to her community—the people around her didn’t want to lose her. How will Peter handle this? Dorcas is already dead, so we’re expecting the apostle to perform a funeral.
“In those days [Dorcas] became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter rose and went with them” (Acts 9:37-38 ESV).
“And when [Peter] arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39 ESV).
Dorcas appears to be a seamstress. Her acts of service and charity to the people was likely that of making them clothes. If this is the case, then it seems that God blessed her with a passion and a skill for sewing, so that she could use it as a type of ministry, as well as an occupation.
Dorcas shows us that God gives us special gifts (and skills) that we can use for his purposes. Our skills can empower others and provide a livelihood for us.
But how will Peter respond to all this?
“But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40–42 ESV).
Like Dorcas, Peter had a gift that he used in his ministry. With God, Peter was able to bring Dorcas back to life, and as a result, many people came to believe in the Lord.
Like Dorcas, God can call us to work at a specific trade, while calling us to be missionaries. We can devote ourselves to the mission of spreading the gospel, while having an occupation. God gave Dorcas the gift of being a good seamstress, but he also called her to serve the people around her with that gift.
God took Peter away from his home to do his work, yet he had Dorcas stay right where she was
We’re all missionaries in some way or another—we just have to use what we are given. And follow God in the calling he has placed on our lives. As Christians, we all share in the mission of spreading the gospel.
The real question each of us should be asking isn’t what will will we be, but rather, where we will go? “Will God call me far away or call me to stay?”
God gives us all gifts and passions; and he gives us opportunities to use them for his glory and for his mission.
I have no idea where God is going to take me in the future—or what my primary occupation will be. But I will be a missionary with whatever gifts God gives me to use—whether it’s somewhere far away or in my own backyard.
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