How do we know what God wants us to do? How do we step into our calling, our vocation?
My usual response to that frequent question is to say that our calling is found at the intersection of our passion, the concerns God places on our heart, our gifting, our experiences and our skills.
What if God takes us on a roundabout journey through each of those areas?
That is the lived experience of Tom Gibbs. Tom is a gifted artist, teacher and ministry worker, and at different times has explored each of those vocations and their intersections.
As an art teacher at a Christian school, he was recognised by his Principal as someone who transformed the ability of students by encouraging children to be creative in the way God made them, conscious that often education can quash creativity.
However, while he loved those breakthrough moments of revelation in his students as he taught, he felt a tug to something else.
One of the hardest times was when he felt God was telling him to stop doing art. He spent a period of time putting behind himself the brushes, paints and canvases. In that period, God taught him about the temptations of the ego as an artist and how much he had come to rely on others for affirmation.
Working in church ministry at an innovative Melbourne church, he was able to use his teaching skills, his commitment to deep spiritual formation and his networking well. However, through that time he learnt there were multiple ways to connect with people.
“We are storied beings, and I began to realise that I can tell stories through my art and connect with people just the same as through ministry. Art could be ministry.”
Then came the moment when a good friend asked him a question: “How are you stewarding what God has placed in your hands?”
For Tom, this meant he needed a period of discernment outside the boundaries of a home, a church, a neighbourhood.
“My journey into picking up the paint brushes again has come from recognising that stepping more into art is simply practising a different kind of ministry. It provides a platform where I can deepen relationships with people outside the church, and where I can explore themes of truth, beauty and goodness beyond the boundaries of the church building.
God, show me what I can do today with what you have placed in my hands.
Never a couple to do something simply, Tom and his wife have sold half their possessions, stored the remainder, and moved into a van. As he goes, Tom is painting and recording the process on a YouTube vlog.
“It’s a step of obedience to God and already there have been several incidents that have felt like confirmation.”
He has had some beautiful connections and conversations with people about transitions, art, beauty and God.
Originally, I thought that taking off in the van was the result of Tom’s discernment, and in some ways it is. However, he explained that it is a further journey of discernment—one which might never end—of praying each day: “God, show me what I can do today with what you have placed in my hands.”
That is a great prayer for each of us, whatever our context.
NEXT TIME: Faithful organisations