Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine, Calvin all have similar stories of becoming ministers. They all desired a contemplative and devotional life. They all sought to spend their lives seeking truth for truth’s sake. And all of them were called (dragged, more like it) against their will. Yet, all of them, in that very context, made incalculable contributions to the church, even intellectually. A couple observations can be drawn from this.
First, this is a practical application of Jesus’ insight, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” These men weren’t seeking prominent ministries; they were seeking God. Yet, God chose his men as he saw fit. As Dallas Willard has said,
People are constantly looking for methods…God is looking for men. Methods are often temporary, but what God is looking for is a life. God is far less interested in your results than the person you are becoming.
I quote this to say that, the most important thing that you can do to find God’s will for your life is seek to become the kind of person that God wants you to be. This is very similar to the kind of thing that Paul was saying in Romans “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:2).
The second thing is that the greatest contribution from these men did not come from their distanced thought life, but from their thought life applied. It pastoral concerns that brought us The City of God and the Institutes of the Christian Religion.
A similar story is found in the life of Karl Barth. He was a scholar, trained in the Liberal German schools of thought. When he took up the pulpit, he found that what he learned wouldn’t preach. So, he sought to preach the Word of God while honoring the God of the Word. Thus, his famous commentary on Romans was borne.
It isn’t the pragmatists that seem to make the most timely and important impact. It’s those who seek God, and through seeking, organically find his will. And it is in the midst of his will that their most important work is done. For some, this work will change the world in obvious ways. For others, it will be inconspicuous to man. But none of it will be inconspicuous to God.