My boys skipped rocks across the creek to a chorus of cicadas as my husband arranged the logs on the fire, bare hands conjuring flames to life. The sight and smell of the campfire drew me back to an age I could count on both hands; I was on a youth church retreat positioning my skewer-speared marshmallow over tall flames, petrified it might catch fire before achieving a crisp golden veneer. It always burned first.

It was years before I understood the art of toasting a perfectly golden marshmallow, waiting for the flames to dwindle to a mere glow, the window of opportunity narrow but worth the wait.

While I wait, my boys take turns catching their marshmallows on fire, exclaiming as they singe the outsides, the insides remaining unchanged. In their impatience for s’mores, the tall flames entice them. The burn is superficial at best. I remain in my camping chair, waiting. I trust a better chance will come just before the flames go out.

When the path of God’s call is not immediately obvious, it can be easy to seek affirmation in what the world values instead of pursuing slow progress in following God. Comparison and others’ validation are tempting, but following these smoke and mirrors leaves the heart unchanged. The good work God has placed before us requires waiting on His directive–and His alone.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV). It means letting go of the safe path, the easy path, the most lucrative path in pursuit of kingdom rewards. God’s validation is the only crown we need — not recognition, not praise, not any other wordly rewards.

Following God’s call means aligning our hearts to follow Him and not what the world offers. The true heart work comes in what Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9, NIV).” True fulfillment comes in doing the Lord’s work. Consider this: For whom am I working? And for what?

When the big picture is hazy, Paul’s promise reassures: “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV). It’s not too late to reevaluate, to start over, to realign your purpose to where God is calling you. The work may be slow, and we may not even see results on this side of heaven. When Zechariah set out to rebuild the destroyed city of Jerusalem, he knew he’d have to pick up the pieces in order to encourage others to have hope for what it could become again. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10, NIV).”  Whenever we use our gifts to draw the world closer to Him, we are fulfilling His call while cinching our own hearts closer to His.

Written by Ashley Bartley

Ashley Bartley is a wife, mom to three small boys, and an elementary school counselor in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She writes @TendingWild on Instagram and blogs at www.ashleybartley.com, where she encourages women to create a habit of pause in every small, great, and wild moment. She also creates resources for elementary school counselors and is publishing her first children’s book with BoysTown Press in 2020.