I had the honor and privilege to officiate my niece’s wedding over the weekend. I was not an ordained pastor, so I went through the process of getting ordained online. While opportunities for humor abound in this scenario (I couldn’t stop thinking of Joey in “Friends” as I was going through the ordination process), I was determined to treat it with the sobriety and respect it warranted, given that the goal was to usher the young couple into a blessed union of holy matrimony.
Here’s where I’m going with this: it really got me thinking about calling. The irony of the situation is that right after I became a new Believer in high school, I had considered becoming a pastor. The trouble I ran into in answering this calling, though, was twofold:
- At the time, I knew nothing about calling and the faithfulness associated therewith–either from my side (trusting God enough to follow your calling regardless how crazy it seemed, like Noah building a giant boat when there was no water in sight) or trusting God enough to know that he will bless your answer to his calling in such a way that the outcome will be exactly what he had in mind (not necessarily what you had in mind, though, like Jonah preaching a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh so God wouldn’t destroy them, and they listened to him, much to his bitter disappointment!).
- Several encounters I had in college with mature believers behaving badly. At the time, I was immature enough in my faith that I thought followers of Christ had to be perfect, or at least way better behaved than the average person. I laugh at the thought now, after being a Believer for about 4 decades. Oh, I know we are called to try to be like Jesus, and believe me, I do try, but I have also come to learn that it’s impossible to reach that high bar. That’s why we need grace, and why we should all be so grateful that we are floating in an ocean of it. I’m also thankful that the Bible overflows with stories of other well-intended screw-ups who God nevertheless manages to achieve his great purposes through, despite their imperfections. But anyway, at the time, not knowing what I know now (a phrase I associate with hard-earned wisdom), it really rattled my faith, knocking me off the course of becoming a pastor.
So what’s the deal with calling anyway? What does it mean to be called by God to do something? And if I miss God’s call, will he leave a message? Meaning, will I have other chances to serve him?
Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say about calling:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)
According to Paul, then, we all have a gift–which is to say, a calling–that God has given to us. Does that mean that if I don’t fulfill my purpose, that thing won’t get done? Maybe, but I also think of my hands. I’m right-handed, but a few times in my life I’ve broken my right arm, so I was unable to write with that hand. Although my handwriting was far more labored and far less legible when I did it with my left hand, I was still able to do it.
So, I wonder how many burning bushes God had to create before someone answered the call. And was Moses the first choice? The fifth?
Regarding the connection between God’s calling and the gifts he has given to us, my favorite quote on the topic comes from Eric Liddell, made famous by the 1980s movie “Chariots of Fire” (definitely worth watching, although watching it with subtitles isn’t a bad idea if you aren’t used to “the other English” they speak in the UK):
So whatever it is that makes you feel God’s pleasure when you’re doing it, that’s the way he wired you, so it’s safe to assume it’s your calling.
So do we have only one calling?
I really don’t think so. Most of the people I know are really good at more than one thing. And many of the named people in the Bible are as well. I think I am, too. So are you, I’ll bet. Returning to Paul’s analogy comparing the Body of Christ (the universal body of believers) to a human body, most of our body parts have more than one function (for example, I took a break from typing to scratch a bug bite I seemed to have acquired earlier in the evening).
Anyway, bringing this back to where I started, was God calling me to be a pastor when I was in high school? I don’t know, and I may never know until I get to ask him myself. One thing I’ve learned since then, though, is there have been plenty of callings along the way, many chances for me to serve him. Something else I’ve learned is that God’s callings may not look anything like what we think it should, but it’s important that we answer when he calls. He is a creative God, and he made us to be creative people. With his help and our imaginations, there isn’t anything we can’t achieve.
One last thing: our calling doesn’t always have to save the world or save a people-group or save the whales, even though God does use people to do these things. God would be fine with a calling that helps only one other person–a spouse, a child, a friend, a neighbor. In God’s economy, it could be that one person your calling helps who then goes on to save a people-group. It’s OK if we’re “just” God’s little toe–we can still do great things to help others and further God’s Kingdom on earth.
So whatever it is that God is calling you to do–whatever makes you feel his pleasure when you do it–that’s what you need to find a way to do. You never know whom you might be blessing when you do it.
Or maybe sometimes you do. Maybe a couple ends up married when you answer a call 40 years after it first came in….