Happy Book Launch Day to Dr. Angie Ward, who gave us warm, wise advice last week on how to embrace God’s calling in our lives. No surprise, I’m recommending I Am a Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling to everybody–Go Get This Book! But until you can head to the store or get your copy Prime-delivered, here are Angie’s answers to more of your questions on how to hear God clearly and how to keep pursuing your calling in tough times.
Cassia: I love that your book isn’t a generic pep-talk about “living our dreams”—in fact, you gently remind us that “true calling is an invitation to respond to God. Dreams and passions are great…but not all of our dreams or passions automatically equate to a God-given calling.” In light of that, one reader asks, “How do I know I heard God right? How do I test what He’s said without demonstrating a lack of faith? Is it alright to “put out a fleece” like Gideon did?”
Angie: God speaks differently to each person. Sometimes He uses outside people to confirm, or outside events or circumstances. Sometimes He uses supernatural signs, such as audible (or perceived) voices, dreams, visions. Often, He uses truth from His word. In my book I share a quote from my friend Lori, something to the effect that “God made me, so He knows exactly how to speak to me.” I take great comfort in that. If we seek Him, He will make it clear, although not always according to our timetable, or in ways we might expect. Is it wrong to put out a fleece [seeking confirmation with a sign]? Not necessarily. Before that, however, look around you. Are there things God has made clear, and are you obeying them? Do you have an overall posture of obedience? Are you being faithful to your existing responsibilities?
Cassia: There’s always that obedience part, right?! God reminds me of that a lot when I’m tempted to get ahead of Him. I love a quote from the book that says, “Your responsibilities aren’t in the way of your calling; they are a big part of your calling.” However, sometimes we have difficulty determining how far our responsibilities extend, especially as women who get tapped to help with everything from extra projects at work to events at church to fundraisers for the PTA. A reader asks, “I know not every ministry opportunity is an opportunity we need to say yes to, but what are some ways to filter/decide if it’s an opportunity we are supposed to take? How do we balance our commitment to our families and churches with pursuing things specific to our (secondary) callings?”
Angie: Our marriages, parenting, and other responsibilities are a main part of our calling and ministry. They may not be the only part, but they should take higher priority than “outside” ministry if a choice needs to be made. Stephen Covey talks about “big rocks” and “small rocks” in a jar. Which are your “big rocks,” the most important responsibilities, that need to go into the jar first? Then, you can add the “small rocks/gravel/sand,” etc. And you are correct, “not every need constitutes a call.”
Cassia: Sometimes the challenges aren’t from discerning calling or managing multiple responsibilities well, but directly from other people. One friend asks, “How do you continue to lead when you are wounded/betrayed/rejected by others, especially other leaders you were doing ministry with?”
Angie: How have I done this? I have not always done it well, and sometimes I have not been able to do it at all, because I was too wounded at the time. I have had to step back at times because I had what I refer to as an emotional or spiritual “stubbed toe” and it kept getting bumped. I needed time and space to heal. In particular, at our first church in North Carolina, our small group — who we thought were our “safe people” — blew up because people weren’t happy with what was going on in the church, which was pastored by my husband. We lost our community, it was a horrible season for our marriage, I spiraled up into anxiety, and then crashed into clinical depression. I physically HAD to step away, because I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes it’s not that devastating, but you’re still hurt or betrayed. One thing to remember is that leadership is hard, and it is often lonely. I learned to find my “safe” people, and that they usually could not come from within the organization. I had relied on them too much, and I became toxic to them when I was wounded. I’d encourage you to engage a leadership coach, a spiritual director, and/or a skilled therapist to help navigate these kinds of situations, in addition to lots of time sitting with God.
Cassia: So true that some obstacles, especially those involving hurt and betrayal, take time, persistence, and healing to keep them from shutting us down permanently as we follow God. That leads to our next question from a reader who wonders about the role of suffering in our callings: Right now I feel elated as a I walk in my calling and it seems God keeps opening doors, but I read about all that people like Paul suffered and I wonder if I should expect more suffering/obstacles? Is it truly “calling” if there isn’t suffering?
Angie: Good for you for discovering the joy in your calling!!! I’m guessing that you are still working very hard, but at the moment you are not experiencing a lot of challenges or doubts. Author and pastor Mark Buchanan talks about “seasons” or “spiritual rhythms.” Life and ministry are not all the abundant harvest and sunshine of summer. So, enjoy it while it lasts, gather as much fruit as you can, soak up the sun! I’ve had seasons of abundance and dry seasons. There’s no guilt in enjoying the abundance, and no shame in the dryness, either.
Cassia: Great advice to seek contentment whatever the season. Our final question is one you ask some of the women you interviewed for your book, so now I get to turn the tables and ask you: With what Biblical figure, apart from Jesus, do you most relate on this journey of leadership and calling?
Angie: I’ve always resonated with the story of Joseph from Genesis. He had a (literal) God-given dream that caused him scorn among his own family, so much resentment that they sold him into slavery! Then for years, he served faithfully, even when falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. He was even a model prisoner, gaining favor and respect of jailers and fellow inmates. God saw it all, used it all….and one day, Joseph was second in command and despite all the hurt and hardship, showed grace to his brothers. I love his words in Genesis 50:20: “You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Congratulations, again, Angie! We’re so thankful for the resource that is I Am A Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling. You can connect with Angie at https://www.facebook.com/drangieward/ or check out @indyaward on Instagram.