I often struggle to answer people when they ask me what made me go into youth ministry even though the story isn't complicated or difficult for me … When I was 18 I was driving home from a wedding in order to send off the relevant paper work to accept my place doing a BA in Marketing at DIT. As I was driving and thinking, I started praying about it and asking God if I was making the right decision. This is where it gets interesting … I felt and still feel that God responded to me with a question. "Well, do you want to serve me full-time or part-time?" I knew he was talking about youth ministry and the fact that no matter what course or job I started, I would dedicate as much free time as I could find to working with young people. When I arrived home I looked in the glove compartment and found a leadlet for the Irish Bible Institute and started there the next week. Simple.
… But I can see how the story could be difficult for those listening. Because my belief that God was talking to me is purely subjective. It's something I felt, something I can't prove or verify.
At another time in my life I secretly thought this was a sign of my advanced spirituality, that I was called like the Old Testament prophets and it served as proof to myself that I was good enough to live out the calling I've been pursuing since. But the more that I hear people say 'God told me' or 'God has provided' or whatever else, the more that I've realised it's not necessarily a sign of a finely tuned ear to the voice of the Divine. It's actually often just a sign of insecurity.
I've heard Christians leaving or avoiding what is clearly their calling and using God to justify it because they're afraid that someone will call them out. For those listening, it's one thing to say that the person's choices are wrong, another altogether to say that they are hearing God wrong or that God didn't say it. They are forced into silence because it's culturally unacceptable and potentially destructive relationally to question their ability to hear God. God becomes the scapegoat for their fear or heartbreak.
This goes beyond what we choose to do with our lives to what we choose to buy and own. I often hear people thanking God for a new car, a new house or a pay rise and I wonder silently if this is actually a subconscious defense of their choices. As if their hearts are saying, 'Surely if God gave me this, I shouldn't give it away. If it's from God then it's a special gift for me and I should feel good about it and enjoy it!' But the sad truth is that these possessions can be idols, reasons for us not pursue God's calling on our lives. The mortgage, the car repayments, the pay rise and the lifestyle all become reasons not to live sacrificially, excuses not to move towards where God wants us to be.
I've even heard people using it in break-ups! The Christian version of 'It's not you …' is more like 'It's not you … or me … God doesn't want us to be together!'
So when people ask me why I went into youth ministry, I say it's because I 'think' God spoke to me. I'm almost convinced that he did but I want to leave room for doubt. That doubt is not a lack of faith but an openness to realising I don't always get it right. It's actually of statement of faith that in my oft failing heart, I will tend towards justifying things that are not ok. When I leave room for doubt, I am leaving room for God, whether by his own voice or people he inspires in my life, to re-direct me. And he does. And still is, even though I fight it.
One of the biggest dangers that we face in the developed world in the 21st Century is the temptation to believe that everything pleasant comes from God. When we fall into this trap, I wonder if our prayers of thanksgiving sound as ridiculous to God as the Israelites thanking God for the gold to build the Golden Calf. Or Jonah thanking God for the trees that provided the wood to build the boat that took him away from Nineveh.