“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, ESV).
I find myself in many conversations with Christians about calling. Now what I mean by calling is specific to ministry within the local church, whether volunteer or vocational status. The questions that I field are specifically about location, time frame, and ministry tasks such as:
- Am I called to this city, country, or people?
- Am I called to go now or later? And if later, then when?
- Am I called to this particular type of ministry? (for example, children, youth, college, pastor, church planter, worship, evangelism, missionary, and so on.)
What almost goes without saying is that these individuals are born-again Christians, growing in their faith and the fruit of the Spirit. They are active in their local congregations and have had affirmation from their local church of a call to ministry in their life.
Maybe you are reading this, trying to discern the Lord’s call on your life. My prayer is that this verse and counsel will help point you in that direction.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”
Solomon, in the wisdom that he acquired from the Lord, wrote Proverbs 13:12 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The original audience for the Book of Proverbs was Solomon’s sons, the future kings and leaders of God’s chosen people—God’s covenant people. As members of God’s covenant people now, Proverbs is for Christians. This includes those born of the Spirit and given the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of true wisdom. Our hearts are now being transformed to be like His. His law is written on our hearts. Our desires are being changed to His desires. Can our hearts still deceive us? Yes. This is where the local church and its affirmation of giftedness and calling is so crucial.
When the Lord is truly calling you, He puts a hope in you. It is God-sized hope. He gives you vision. God lets you see a situation the way that it is. Then He places in you the hope of what it could be. He allows you to grasp what it ought to be if He moves and does what only He ultimately can do. He allows you to see what role you could play, based on your giftedness and experiences.
The most common mistake I believe Christians make with calling is that they look forward too much. They don’t spend enough time looking back. Look back at how the Lord has prepared you for what is next. Look back at the opportunities that you’ve had serving in the church. Look back on the successes and failures. In what areas did you thrive? In what areas did you shrivel? Look back at how God has historically used you to build His Kingdom.
This hope and vision that the Lord puts in you will only grow. It will grow and flourish. You won’t be able to stop thinking about it, praying about it, or talking about it—which makes the heart sick the longer that hope and vision goes unrealized.
It is important to distinguish between a righteous and an unrighteous discontentment. A righteous discontentment BEGINS with a God-infused hope then proceeds to making the heart sick as it is deferred. An unrighteous discontentment BEGINS with the heart sick and a hope that something better will come along. Check your heart. Gain insight and wisdom from godly people around you to discern the difference.
- What has the Lord shown you the reality of and the way it ought to be?
- For what has He given you hope?
- What is making your heart sick the longer it remains unfulfilled?
You should have seen some of the faces of my fellow seminarians when I told them I felt called to do bi-vocational missionary work in Provo, UT. Most of my colleagues were studying hard to earn their advanced degrees so they could be on staff at an established church. But for me, in April 2013, God put a hope in me for Provo. When that hope came, the option of a paid staff position at a church virtually vanished. The proximity to family and lifelong friends vanished. The option of living out a comfortable Christian life, of being in the religious majority, vanished. But don’t miss this—none of that mattered anymore. All that mattered was that hope being actualized. All that mattered was that vision becoming reality. All that mattered was that desire being fulfilled.
Tree of Life
People ask me all the time, knowing that I am from the South, “How is it living in Utah?” I answer it the same way every time. We love it here! Why? Because our faith in Christ has grown and flourished here. Does that mean it has always been easy? No. Sanctification is hard!
It is very interesting that Solomon uses the terminology of “tree of life” in Proverbs 13:12. Jesus commands us to bear fruit. He also says that God will give us the desires of our heart. Why is Jesus so confident in that statement? He knows that when the Spirit is in us, then our desires are transformed to God’s desires. God desires that we bear fruit and then He puts that desire in us. Paul instructs Christians to be ready in season and out of season; we’re to bear fruit of the gospel all the time. Then we see the imagery of the tree of life again in Revelation that bears fruit in every season. This tree of life in Revelation is a picture of the hope in God’s heart. It is in stark contrast to the way things are. Heartsick, we long for the way things will be in eternity.
When we respond to the call of God on our lives, we are partnering with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth. This follows the heart of Jesus’ prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). With each desire fulfilled, you get more of God. You get more of His Kingdom and less of your own. You get more of heaven and less of the earth. Are you flourishing or shriveling? Are you bearing fruit?
Ben Neiser is the Collegiate Network Coordinator for the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He has served in collegiate ministry for 11 years. Ben has a M.A. in Christian Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Lindsey, live in Provo, UT with their two daughters, Ella and Clara.