Knowing That God Calls
- Friday, March 10, 2006
In spite of our confusion about callings, God claims us for service before we are aware of it. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” proclaims the psalmist.2 God “chose” us in Jesus Christ, Paul writes.3 I don’t pretend to comprehend this.
In spite of such comforting words, however, we ought not to wait around for perfect knowledge of God’s plans for us. Recently a man guiltily told me in private that he wasn’t sure about God’s calling. “Neither am I,” I admitted. But I added that we must go on, being faithful followers wherever our journey takes us.
Faith is patient, not lazy. The great Christian writer John Milton (1608–1674) wrote after he had gone blind, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Following Christ is an ongoing journey, not a one-time blast of revelation or a straight trajectory.
Nevertheless, God’s calls sometimes are too crystal clear to ignore, although even obvious occupational calls usually lead us to a general field of work rather than to particular jobs or tasks.
Before his conversion to Christ, Saul (later called Paul) believed that his purpose in life was to discredit Jesus and his followers. Saul became a professional critic. He had a gift! Then Saul journeyed toward Damascus, where God called him to become a preaching follower. The people traveling with Saul were speechless.4 After all, Saul probably was among those least likely to follow Jesus.
As the book of Acts and Paul’s letters demonstrate, he spent the rest of his life trying to figure out how to be a follower (one who is called). For him, vocation led to traveling as a missionary, preaching here and there, encouraging other believers, spending time in prison, escaping from hostile crowds, advising churches on how to settle staff and theological conflicts, and recruiting more followers. In these and other ways, he cared for the emerging church of Jesus Christ. All such activities became his many stations.
We can partly solve the mystery of God’s callings by distinguishing between our shared vocation and each person’s particular stations. Our vocation is to be caring followers of Jesus Christ who faithfully love God, neighbor, and self.5
God calls each of us to this overall task of caring for his world. In a broad sense, this caretaking is our vocation as Jesus Christ’s ambassadors on earth.
Even after hearing the overarching call, however, we still have to discern how to care faithfully in specific contexts, such as sharing the gospel with a friend, comforting a co-worker, running a business profitably, and serving patients or clients.
Our stations include our jobs, situations, and relationships. A few stations are definable roles, such as manager, parent, student, nurse, and deacon. Others are too informal to identify precisely—such as caring for a lost child or listening empathically to a suffering co-worker who is struggling to save a failing marriage.
God calls us to both our shared vocation and the various stations where we can “work out” our faith concretely.6 He provides stations so we can all serve each other for the good of society as well as church. Each of us depends on other stations, such as parent, doctor, engineer, and teacher. The number of people and stations involved in designing, manufacturing, marketing, selling, and repairing the car I drive is mind-boggling.
The historical meaning of station is “where one keeps watch,” like a sentry, guard, or overseer.7 In our stations, we caretakers stand watch on behalf of the Lord in the service of others. As a next-door neighbor, I watch out for the kids playing in the street. As a college instructor, I monitor my teaching and students’ learning. As a cook at home, I prepare meals for my family when it’s my turn. I ensure that the wash is clean and the lawn is watered. I also stay on the lookout along with my wife for ways that we can help the needy in our church, community, and nation. We listen, learn, and follow the leading of the Spirit.
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