The Keys to Discerning Your Vocation

Did you ever sing the children’s church song, ‘prayer is like a telephone’?

Prayer is like a telephone, for us to speak to Jesus
Prayer is like a telephone, for us to speak to God
Pick it up and use it every day!
The thing is, sometimes the situation looks less like you picking up the phone to talk to God, and more like God calling you.
My parents still have a landline phone in their home. Almost nobody uses it. If it rings there are a handful of possibilities – it’s my grandma calling; it’s a distant relative calling; or it’s an emergency. Consequently, it has a tendency to make everyone jump when it rings.
Sometimes God’s call is experienced just like that – God makes you jump, demands your attention, speaks as clearly as on a telephone line and you can toddle off, fully briefed, to follow God’s plan for your life.
Much more often, the path of discerning God’s call feels much less clear – a hint in the words of others, a tug of the heart, a whisper in prayer, and you get a sense of being nudged in a new direction. Or perhaps a life choice looms large, and you try to get a handle on where God is in all this, as the time ticks away until decision time.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many people who are thinking about their calling, and particularly calling to ordained ministry in the Church of England. They have been of all ages, walks of life and perspectives, but they have all had one thing in common – prayerfulness.
We should pray, not because it guarantees a dramatic divine revelation – although you might get one – but because it is through prayer that we draw closer to God. Through prayer we are each more able to discern the will of God, and to work through the twists, turns and roadblocks of our vocational journey.
We know that the people of God are each given unique gifts and talents, all of which are needed in the work of building the Kingdom. I’d suggest that they are a good place to start when prayerfully discerning a call. Our gifts and talents often indicate where we might best serve. Our passions and interests give a hint as to what work will foster our flourishing. Our life experience might give us a unique insight that will help us fulfil a certain role – whether relational, ministerial, voluntary or professional.
We are also surrounded in our churches, chaplaincies and other Christian communities by wise and Godly people. We should listen to them, ask them to pray with and for us, and test our sense of calling with them. Often others are able to spot things we can’t, whether to sow the seed of an idea, or steer us in the right direction when we’re in danger of going off course.
My final suggestion is to have a go. If you have an inkling of what you’re called to, see if you can try it out! If you’re a good listener, see what pastoral needs you might be able to fill through your church. If you are called to be a campaigner, call up your favourite charities and ask what you can do to help. If you think you might be called to ministry in the church, such as youthwork or ordained ministry, check out the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme – a year designed to help you reflect on your calling through a church placement.
But my main challenge to you is to pray. Pray to draw closer to God. Pray to understand how God wants you to use your gifts and talents. Pray with wise people and listen to their counsel. Pray whilst testing the waters. Pray to get closer to hearing God’s call.

Written by Claire Whitmore. Claire works in the Church of England’s Vocations Team, encouraging under 30s to think about God’s call on their lives. A member of the Community of St Margaret the Queen in Streatham Hill, London, she’s interested in new monasticism and building human connections in the busyness of city life.

Look out for new resources from the Church of England to help you think, reflect and pray on your calling coming in September 2017. In the meantime, check out ‘Call Waiting’, a Church of England project helping people explore the call to ordained ministry.