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call

December 7th, 2003 by Jason · No Comments

Answers to nearly any question come easy today. If there is something I don’t know I have a world of information at my fingertips, via the internet. I was shocked when, just recently, my mom, who is still working on learning to control the mouse, told me she had found what she needed by googling it. However, despite the ease with which we can access vast amounts of information there are still some questions which stubbornly refuse to be answered quickly and easily. One of those vexing questions for me is call. Is there a specific vocation to which God is calling me? How will I use the seminary education for which I am studying and paying so much? What am I to do with my life? These questions, and many others, have been on my mind ever since graduating college and beginning seminary. They all center on the idea of call; that nebulous sense that God is leading me in a specific direction in my life. Though these questions of call are anything but answered in my own life I have come to appreciate the many dimensions of one’s call, the diversity of ways in which we see God speaking in Scripture, and the need for silence and expectancy in the midst of the questions.

Immensely helpful in this whole process of discerning my call has been the division of what is a rather murky idea into its different parts. There is the inner call (a sense of God’s desire to lead me in a particular direction), providential call (how my skills and background influence my path), external call (confirmation by God’s people that I am heading in the right direction), and ecclesial call (a church or business actually hires me) (The Genius of a Small Group by Richard Peace, 17). Given this division of call, I better see that I have primarily been directed by the providential call. One of the primary reasons I am a computer programmer at the moment because I am an analytical thinker and enjoy problem-solving. Similarly, I entered seminary because I continue to have questions about God and enjoy studying the history, theology, and Scriptures of my faith. While I have been primarily directed by the providential call, the other forms of call have played some role in my life as well. I have been encouraged by friends in my church who have found my thoughts or papers helpful, which is one form of the external call. Without particularly seeking it out my wife and I find ourselves leading a home group and a children’s ministry in our neighborhood. And finding a job as a computer programmer has always been far easier than I anticipated. Both of these act as the ecclesial call for me.

What I have sought after the most, but found the least, is the inner call. I enjoy my computer programming job, but have a strong aversion to the idea of continuing in it long-term. On the positive side I am attracted to theology as a full-time vocation, either as a pastor or professor, but I do not know which. However, I feel that these things are my desires, and not indications of a call from God. I know that our deep desires and God’s great plans can, and often do, mesh, but I feel that an inner call should be above and beyond my personal desires to a real experience of God speaking to me.

Of course, one problem is that I do not know exactly what an experience of God speaking to me in order to give me the inner call would look like. Scripture shows a myriad of different ways God speaks: miracles (e.g. the fleece of Gideon, Judg. 6:37-40), a voice (e.g. Elijah and the still small voice of God, 1 Kgs. 19:13), visions (e.g. Peter and the vision of a sheet of unclean animals, Acts 10:9-16), angels (e.g. Mary learning that she was the mother of Jesus, Luke 1:26-38), dreams (e.g. Joseph’s dream to not divorce Mary, Matt. 1:20-21), prophets (e.g. Jeremiah telling Zedekiah to submit to Babylon, Jer. 27:12), the casting of lots (e.g. Choosing the new apostle, Acts 1:26), natural phenomena (e.g. Moses hearing God in the smoke and thunder at Mt. Sinai, Ex. 19:18-19), and oftentimes in a way that is left undescribed (e.g. the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, Jonah 1:1). Even such an incomplete list of the ways that God speaks to God’s people should alert me that I should not put a box around how God might give me an inner call (however, one caveat: I still feel it would be more than solely my own wants or feelings, for I cannot find any place in Scripture that describes God speaking through a really strong feeling). My brief survey of how God speaks in the Scriptures also alerts me to the fact that having such a clear and dramatic experience of God speaking usually only occurs once or twice in the person’s lifetime; it is not necessarily a daily experience. Furthermore, what God says is often not what the listener wants to hear. It would seem that God speaks clearly, precisely because God must speak in no uncertain terms if the person is to get the message and obey it. This has a sobering effect on my eager desire to have God speak clearly to me; when God speaks it is both wonder-full and awe-full.

Conspicuously absent from this discussion of God’s call thus far is the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit in giving daily guidance and direction cannot be ignored. In large part due to my evangelical background the Holy Spirit is the most under-emphasized member of the trinity in my life. However, without the Holy Spirit there is very little way for God to speak daily. Prayer is a long-distance, one-sided conversation without the Holy Spirit. Similarly, without the Holy Spirit, the church is merely a social club. Fortunately, good theology puts the Holy Spirit, the living and active Spirit of Jesus, squarely at the center of those two foundational aspects of the Christian life. Though I oftentimes act like it by my insistence on filling up prayer with my words and my lack of expectancy that he will speak to me, Jesus is not dead. He’s alive and well through the continued presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and believer.

Though I know that the Holy Spirit is present, I must begin learning new spiritual disciplines if I am going to hear the Spirit (much less discern my call). Nouwen reminds me in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son that part of growing into spiritual maturity is seeking to be like the father in the parable, and not forever the prodigal or elder son. And much of what the father does is be silent and wait. But patience and silence are not easy in our busy, noisy, accomplishment-driven society: It is very hard to just be home and wait (Nouwen, 132). Being silent and waiting upon God is one of my greatest weaknesses.

After learning the discipline of silence I must learn to expect the Holy Spirit to speak. My mechanistic way of viewing the world, which sees everything as cause and effect, does not make it easy to see and experience the Spirit’s activity in my life. To alter this mindset I must baptize my imagination, which has become old and rigid as the years have wore on. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have proved to be a wonderful instrument of opening my eyes to the fact that everything that is seen is not everything. His world of Narnia, charged with magic and the mysterious roamings of Aslan, is a far more Christian world than my cold world of facts and cause and effect. Once I have learned to be silent and see a world charged with the presence of God I suspect the Holy Spirit will find it easier to get through to me.

While I desire to have God’s call for my life be made clear I am coming to realize that it will always be mysterious, for it involves communication with a God who is, in many ways, mysterious and other. And while God may not speak dramatically or directly to me anytime soon I do know that I can conform myself to God’s call for the church: to live out the Kingdom of God and take the good news of Jesus to all the peoples of the earth. In writing this blog I was surprised to see that God has called me through several of the different aspects of call discussed above. I have been encouraged to learn from Scripture that God certainly does speak to God’s people, albeit in a plethora of waysmany of which I would probably doubt if they happened to me. And perhaps I have even felt the Holy Spirit prompting me even as I wrote this blog to seriously endeavor to live out what the Psalmist prayed long ago: Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).

Tags: theology