Calling is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.
My friend, leadership expert Angie Ward, branded this Frederick Buechner quote onto my brain during a conversation on all things women and calling. For Angie, the idea of deep gladness answering deep need encapsulates the theme of her upcoming book, I Am a Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling. The quote resonated with me as an invitation to trust God as He matches our gifts, talents, and life lessons to His purposes. And if our callings don’t look like everyone else’s? What looks different may be what God needs for something new.
Just look at Lydia. An unexpected person in an unexpected place, she used the deep gladness God unleashed within her to help open the door to Europe for the gospel.
However, the story of that open door began with a closed door. Acts 16 finds Paul and his friends stymied in their missionary journey, and the closed door wasn’t an obvious one like hostile crowds or government threats. Paul had planned to travel into Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), but they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (16:6). He tried again to turn southward, but “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (16:7), the spiritual equivalent of a slamming door. So, he skirted the region, awaiting instruction.
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia [part of Europe] and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (16:9-10) Talk about a clear directive!
I imagine Paul saying, “Ok, we head into Philippi in Macedonia, but be on the lookout for a local who’s on the lookout for us. He’ll probably be at the Jewish synagogue, so we’ll start there like we’ve always done.”
Except that’s not what they found when they got there.
No man was waiting at the local synagogue.
No synagogue existed, period, meaning less than ten Jewish men in the city, the minimum requirement to form one.
The door was open, the call clear, but God had a new plan, and it started with a woman:
“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:13-15)
Meet Lydia, the first Jesus-follower in Europe.
She wasn’t the Macedonian man in the vision begging FOR help. She was a wealthy woman transplanted from Asia Minor (yes, that closed-door region) begging to BE of help.
We see in Lydia’s story how God unleashed her deep gladness at just the right time and directed it to meet the deep need for the gospel in her adopted city using the very resources she’d stewarded while working there.
We also see how God calls people to work together for His purposes. In our “blaze your own path” culture, we can come to believe calling is a one-woman-show.
Certainly, Lydia pursued her career with excellence, importing purple cloth, a luxury good from her hometown in Asia Minor. She owned property and employed a household staff. But she also pursued faith with excellence, and not alone. Likely a “God-fearer,” a non-Jewish person who sought out the God the Jews worshipped, she met with other women to pray by the river, their hearts ready for the gospel.
Now, with a river of life flowing through her, she offered to be an ally without hesitation: “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.”
If you consider me a believer in the Lord…
This is the key to it all: we are called first to be believers. Secondary callings—that is, the distinctive ways we live out that belief—come from the overflowing joy of Christ in us.
Leaning into that secondary calling does take persistence, though. Evidently, Lydia needed persistence just to convince Paul and company to come to her house. Thankfully, God raised up a woman who wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. When the passage says, “she persuaded us” (16:15), the Greek word means to urge someone strongly. She was using her well-honed negotiating skills!
But why would she need to persuade them?
Lydia was offering more than hospitality. Her offer was risky. Her home was to become the meeting place for the local church. With that sacrifice, she put herself in harm’s way. Everywhere Paul went, people reacted strongly, either falling in love with Jesus or trying to destroy His messengers. Philippi was no different: Paul and Silas were eventually flogged and imprisoned. But guess where they headed after their release?
Straight to Lydia’s house, “where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them” before heading west with the good news. The church was growing (including some brothers along with those sisters), and Lydia’s place was their first gathering spot.
We catch a glimpse of her legacy ten years later in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-5). The church had taken on the character of its first convert, a woman willing to open the door to her home as the place where deep gladness would meet deep need.
We’re in 2020, a year when we could all use 20/20 spiritual vision to pursue our callings. In the posts ahead, let’s keep examining wise women and leading ladies like Angie and Lydia who embolden us to lead and influence others with courage and grace. In fact, drop a question about leadership or calling in the comments or on my Facebook page, and I’ll ask Angie in an upcoming interview!