What does God’s call look like? One way to discover that is to listen to other people’s’ stories. One place where we have a collection of “call stories” is in the Bible. Abram, Moses, David, Samuel, Jonah, Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Peter, Paul and many more. We’ve already discussed how these stories are preserved because they are exceptional not because they are ordinary. But another noteworthy thing about these stories is that they are all different. We don’t have details about Abram’s call, but it appears to be a conversation, a conversation that went on for decades. Moses, of course, had the burning bush. David was anointed by Samuel. Samuel heard a voice calling him in the night.Isaiah has a vision. Peter was called by Jesus. Paul had his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. None of these stories is quite like the others.
You might be getting the idea about now, that there is nothing certain or predictable about this process. For us linear thinkers, this is frustrating information. Where’s the road map? How can we be certain?
For most of us, God’s call is more subtle than a vision or a burning bush. For many of us it is a process of discernment. That process involves, among other things, seriously considering our abilities. What are our interests, our passions? What things give us joy and satisfaction? It is often wise to ask friends and family what their opinion is. Colleges and universities have career counseling centers to help us.
All this is helpful, but still the question remains, how do I know? How do I know what God has called me to do?
I think we’re asking the wrong question.
More and more I am convinced that for most of us, God doesn’t have one and only one thing in mind. All of us have a variety of abilities and interests. We all have particular situations and opportunities. The world has many needs. God trusts us to make a good choice. Not a perfect choice. Not even the best choice. But a good choice, one that suits us and our interests and abilities.
The world is rapidly changing and what is a smart and good career choice today may not be so in 20 years. Your circumstances may change and what is a suitable career today, may not be as suitable in several years. We can’t know the future with any certainty. All we can do is try to make a good choice today.
God is quite flexible. If we make a good choice, God can work with that. Actually, even if we make a poor job choice, God can work with that.
One of the best stories about calling is Barbara Brown Taylor’s. In An Altar in the World, she writes about her struggle to find her calling.
Earlier in my life, I thought there was one particular thing I was supposed to do with my life. I thought that God had a purpose for me and my main job was to discover what it was. This thought heated up while I was in seminary, where I attended classes and drank beer with other students who knew exactly what they would do when they graduated. Upon request most of them could deliver articulate accounts of their calls to ministry…
I did not have a single clue what I would do when I graduated. I did not even belong to a church. So I began asking God to tell me what I was supposed to do. What was my designated purpose on this earth? How could I discover the vocation that had my name on it? Since this was an important prayer, I searched for the right place to pray it. After a few lackluster attempts by the side of my bed and a few more in various cubbyholes around campus, I found a fire escape that hung precariously from the side of a deserted Victorian mansion next door to the Divinity School. That same night I crept over there after dark. …
The fire escape turned out to be an excellent place to pray. .. I went up there so many times in the weeks that followed that I no longer remember which night it was that God finally answered my prayer. I do not think it was right at the beginning,when I was still saying my prayers in words. I think it came later, when I had graduated to inchoate sounds. Up on that fire escape, I learned to pray the way a wolf howls. I learned to pray the way that Ella Fitzgerald sang scat.
Then one night when my whole heart was open to hearing from God what I was supposed to do with my life, God said, “Anything that pleases you.”
“What?” I said, resorting to words again. “What kind of an answer is that?”
“Do anything that pleases you,” the voice in my head said again, “and belong to me.”
At one level, that answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted. I could be a priest or a circus worker. God really did not care. At another level, I was so relieved that I sledded down the stairs that night. Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered. God had suggested an overall purpose, but was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself.
from An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, (HarperOne:2009) pages 108-110
“Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me”
I’d like to know, what do you think?
cross posted at Conversation in Faith