Discerning Your Calling: When to Embrace the Suck Factor

When we announced we were moving from Southern IL to Virginia we received a lot of interesting comments. Understandably, we disappointed the staff and team we left behind who were now facing an unknown future. We also receive some “wisdom” and “words of caution” regarding our decision. One woman informed me that the only way we would know for certain we were obeying God (pursuing our calling accurately by moving) is if our house sold before we moved. This was an interesting stipulation to assert considering she didn’t know much about our situation or our specific prayer leading up to the decision to move. Even more interesting, a few years later her theology changed when the time came for her family to move and they did so before their own house sold.

The coaching life frequently requires families to move. It’s one of the aspects of the career that sucks, but it’s often unavoidable. And while this is one example, there are unique and challenging aspects to every job. One of the most interesting things we encounter in the Old Testament, in my opinion, is the unique and challenging situations God calls people to accomplish.

Moses was minding his own business hiding in Midian when he encountered God in a burning bush, and the entire trajectory of his life shifted. James reminds us Elijah was a human being, just as we are, but God answered his prayers, and he was able to stop the rain for three years. Noah built an ark, Esther saved a nation, Rahab betrayed her people to hand victory to the Israelites.

All of these people and many others took courageous steps of faith that changed their entire lives. Thankfully, we are also taught about the difficult moments they experienced and their responses. For brevity, I’m going to focus on Moses and Elijah today.

Moses Faced Difficult Situations

Moses was a reluctant leader from the beginning. He was concerned the Israelites and Pharoah wouldn’t believe him, and he told God he wasn’t an eloquent speaker (Exodus 4:10). Eventually, God relented and sent Moses’s brother Aaron to join him as he confronted Pharoah, but God was clear that Moses was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses performed many miracles calling down ten plagues in Egypt before Pharoah relented and released the Israelites. And the miracles didn’t end when the nation left captivity. In Exodus 14, God commands Moses to stretch out his arm over the Red Sea and the Israelites cross on dry land. And then shortly after that God made a covenant promise with the Israelites. Exodus 15: 25-26 says, “The Lord made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah, and he tested them there. He said, ‘If you will carefully obey the Lord your God, do what is right in his sight, pay attention to his commands, and keep all his statutes, I will not inflict any illnesses on you that I inflicted on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.'” (CSB)

The Israelites have just escaped captivity in Egypt, and after three days, it makes sense that they weren’t all that trusting of their new situation. However, God was faithful to respond to every need. He explicitly lays out a covenant promise with the Israelites and then follows through by providing water, manna, more water, meat, light, shade in the form of a cloud, warmth in the form of fire, and clothing in that their clothes never wear out. Yet nothing seems to satisfy them. In fact, “The account of water provided at Marah introduces themes prominent in the accounts of Israel’s time in the wilderness: grumbling, testing, and the need for attention and obedience to the Lord’s commands.” [1] (emphasis added)

As courageous as Moses was when his calling required him to lead the Israelites across the Red Sea, by the time their complaining focused on the need for meat, his response was a little different. I love the Message version of Numbers 11:4-15, which says,

The misfits among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”

Manna was a seedlike substance with a shiny appearance like resin. The people went around collecting it and ground it between stones or pounded it fine in a mortar. Then they boiled it in a pot and shaped it into cakes. It tasted like a delicacy cooked in olive oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna was right there with it.

Moses heard the whining, all those families whining in front of their tents. God’s anger blazed up. Moses saw that things were in a bad way.

Moses said to God, “Why are you treating me this way? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

Moses was so fed up with his calling that he asked God to kill him rather than continue hearing their complaints one more moment. Now, this was a man who was in the late stages of burnout, if I’ve ever seen one!

Similarly to when Moses tried to avoid his calling before confronting Pharoah, God ignored his request and offered a solution to appease the Israelites.

Elijah Faced Difficult Challenges and Ran

One of the most powerful stories about the Prophet Elijah is in 1 Kings 18, where he confronts Ahab and the worship of Baal. 1 Kings 18:36-39 says,

At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”

Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!”

Elijah prays a powerful prayer and reveals the power of God. But just a few moments later, when Elijah discovers that Ahab has tattled on him to Jezebel, he runs away in fear! 1 Kings 19:1-5 says,

Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!”

Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree.

Both Elijah and Moses lived in their calling and served God when they encountered challenges. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Life includes difficult situations. We will never experience perfection on earth. However, our response to the challenges we face may inhibit our ability to thrive in the fullness of our calling.

One thing that can hold people back from taking that courageous next step in their calling is their inability to confidently discern how to handle a bump in the road. Is the challenge in front of them is a reason to redirect their path forward or something they should confront? In short, how do we know when we should embrace the “suck factor” that naturally arrives in life?

When to Embrace the Suck Factor

Consider Your State of Mind

The first thing I observed from both Moses and Elijah is that they reacted negatively when they were exhausted. This is such a natural gut reaction, but it’s also not the time to make life decisions. Moses had the council of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 18), who pointed out the work of settling disputes shouldn’t rest on Moses’s shoulders alone. He also had his faithful assistant Joshua. Elijah was given a chance to rest before starting his next assignment. (1 Kings 19)

Delegate and Accept Help

We don’t have to do everything ourselves when dealing with an aspect of our calling we find difficult. Moses asked God for help confronting Pharoah, and Aaron was sent to support him. Jethro knew that Moses wasn’t going to avoid the exhausting work of settling disputes or hearing the Israelites whine about everything, so he offered support where he could.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Elijah spent an entire day mocking 450 prophets of Baal, and with a few words, he was able to show the people the power of God. 1 Kings 18:39 says, “When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, ‘The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!'” He fulfilled his calling in an amazing way and then when his life was threatened he ran. I don’t want to diminish his fear, I would be afraid as well. But, when we look at the pros and cons, it seems to me that the pros far outweighed the cons.

Seek God’s Voice

Moses and Elijah both had conversations with God and were tuned to his voice. Their relationships with God were friendships. They had true relationships. Consider their deaths:

2 Kings 2:1-2 says, “The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.’”

Deuteronomy 34: 1-6 says, “Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which faces Jericho, and the Lord showed him all the land: Gilead as far as Dan, all of Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev, and the plain in the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. The Lord then said to him, “This is the land I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you will not cross into it.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the Lord’s word. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows where his grave is.

Understand that Walking Away is Not Quitting

There are times when we are supposed to walk away. There isn’t a formula to this decision. However, we may come up against harmful people that are unsafe to be around or find ourselves in a situation that is unsafe. There are times when we may need to establish boundaries for our spiritual health, emotional health, or physical health. It’s completely reasonable to walk away in any of these situations.

You may also discover that you simply don’t enjoy your current life trajectory. It’s perfectly fine to pause and prayerfully look for a new opportunity.

Two Final Thoughts on Embracing the Suck Factor

First, we may miss once in a while when it comes to a decision. We may hang on too long or try to run too quickly. Remember that God is gracious. He knows our hearts and he loves to give second chances to those who ask.

Second, when Moses approached the Red Sea I don’t think he expected that God was going to tell him to walk through it. In fact, if you read most stories in Scripture their callings include some very unexpected events. Before you quit something because it’s too hard remember that Moses divided an entire body of water in half, but it was the constant whining of the Israelites that caused him to ask God to kill him. We all have our rough days!

Are you Thriving in the Fullness of Your Calling?

  1. Coover-Cox, D. G. (2017). Exodus. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (pp. 114–115). Holman Bible Publishers.

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