Friday, June 1, 2007


The angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush... When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!' And Moses said, 'Here I am.' ...the Lord said... 'So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'

'When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.'

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!' Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple... Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fish for people.' At once they left their nets and followed him.

Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas...'

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any one...

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God... To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...

Each one should remain in the situation which they were in when the Lord called them.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to lead a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up... attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

(Exodus 3: 2,4,10; Hosea 11: 1; 1 Samuel 3: 10; Isaiah 6:1,8 -- all NIV; Mark 1: 17-18, NIV/NRSV; John 1: 42; Galatians 1: 15-16; 1 Corinthians 1: 1-2; 1 Corinthians 7: 20; Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13 -all NIV)

The notion of vocation or calling is one that has almost dropped out of our vocabulary. And we are all the poorer for its absence. Its biblical and Reformation roots hold together our sense of identity, history and community. Without a providential sense of vocation for the church and the individual, identity becomes individualistic, history becomes atomistic, and community becomes conformity.

The biblical view of vocation exclaims vive la difference to our created diversity, enables us to breathe the fresh air of Christian freedom without fear of others' judgment because our calling is different to theirs, and exhorts us to find and develop our character and biography based on the prominent lines of God's providence in our lives, personally and corporately.

In a day when managerial and therapeutic models of ministry are dominant (and they have many useful things to say), we must still ask ourselves what our distinctive calling or vocation in ministry is. In a schizophrenic world, the distinction between the real or whole self and the role (or work) self has become axiomatic.

As a prescription to counter burnout, we are often rightly counselled to distinguish ourselves from our ministry, but we need to remember that we cannot completely separate real self and role self without losing our integrity and even our sanity. The notion of vocation enables us to see ourselves as more than just our ministry and the current preacher's popularity rating, and yet integrate ministry and identity.

The nervous modern pursuit of personal identity, the search for one's self, is in considerable contrast to the situation of someone like Paul. Like Peter, even his name was changed because of his call. In fact, on countless occasions in scripture what you were named or called was directly related to your calling by God. In Galatians 1, it is clear that Paul found his person in the light of the purpose God had called him to as apostle to the Gentiles. Indeed, the sin he regularly refers to is his opposition to that purpose in his persecution of the church.

In the call narratives of figures like Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and Paul, there is a rough pattern of vision -- of God in his glory; of admission -- of human unworthiness; of passion -- a single-mindedness that is not easily separated from who you are as a person; and mission -that gets you going and keeps you going into the world.

Many of us today want the vision and experience of God without the mission or passion, and we cannot have it. God demands all our attention to the point of what many moderns would regard as obsession. To distinguish whether we have a divine or personal obsession is a difficult task. It is the distinction between being driven or called, the difference between being a Saul or a David.

God's call, as distinct from a personal obsession, has a number of characteristics: it is a gift that flees us to be who we were made to be; it calls us out into Christian community, the ekklesia, the gathered people of God; and it calls us into the world as part of the scattered people of God; it calls us appropriately at different ages and stages of life, with partner and children or in singleness with friends; and above all it calls us to Christlike character where we find our role and real self in his story and are led in the direction of the kingdom.

With such a sense of calling(s), discerned in direct relationship to God, and indirectly through his people, we find a balance that saves us from the imperialism of an individualistic, subjective sense of call that carries everyone else along with us, and yet enables us to maintain a critical sense of distance from those we serve, so that we and they know that God and not they are our master.

The great social and cultural maladies of the modern age all have this common characteristic: that they deny personal vocation.

Denis de Rougemont, The Christian Opportunity

Here lies the body of Thomas Jones, born a man, died a grocer.

Alleged Scottish gravestone

What is he?

- A man, of course.

Yes, but what does he do?

- He lives and is a man.

Oh quite! but he must work. He must have a job of some

- Why?

Because obviously he's not one of the leisured classes.

- I don't know. He has a lot of leisure. And he makes quite beautiful chairs.

There you are then! He's a cabinetmaker. - No, no!

Anyhow a carpenter and joiner. - Not at all. But you said so. - What did I say?

That he made chairs, and was a joiner and carpenter.

- I said he made chairs, but I did not say he was a carpenter.

All right then, he's an amateur.

- Perhaps! Would you say that a thrush was a professional flautist, or just an amateur?

I'd say it was just a bird.

- And I say he is just a man.

All right! You always did quibble.

D.H. Lawrence, 'What is he?'

No elaborate argument is required to justify the Christian doctrine of vocation. It follows indisputably from two propositions. The first, that God is everywhere active in human affairs and his will operative at all times. The second, that he is a rational God, fully aware that the world needs farmers and miners as well as priests and nuns... The doctrine of Providence stresses the ceaseless and ubiquitous intrusion of God into human affairs. The doctrine of Vocation defines a prime mode of that intrusion.

Henry Blamires, The Will and the Way

For [God] knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for everyone... and has named these various kinds of living 'callings'... Accordingly, your life will be best ordered to this goal... each... will bear and swallow discomforts, vexations, weariness and anxieties... From this will arise a singular consolation; that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned precious in God's sight.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

If we are rightly disposed, like Samuel, to respond to all legitimate calls from the Lord, whether they come directly or indirectly, even if we repeatedly seem to make mistakes or actually do make them in the process of discernment and turn even repeatedly in the wrong directions, an untiring God will keep calling until we find our way. God called Samuel four times! This passage also highlights the importance of the role of the spiritual father. Even such an obtuse and poor man of God as the priest Eli was, in the end, by God's grace given in response to the humble faith of his disciple, able to help Samuel to discern and respond to his call.

Basil Pennington, Called

Who of us knows ourselves... as God knows us and therefore as we really are? Who can say with absolute certainty... that we are this or that, that our nature is thus, that these are the limits which even God must ob serve if he wishes to call us? An authoritative and reliable light is shed... only by the calling in which we are authentically addressed and claimed by our Creator and Lord... And in the light of this calling we will not merely find ourselves summoned to be what we are; we will also find ourselves summoned as the one we are to new existence and action.

Saul as the one he is and has been is to become Paul. This means that the previous state of his vocation has to undergo an expansion. He must not become hopelessly enamoured of what he was. He must let himself be wrested from any passion for his previous existence. He is invited to a journey to new harbours in which he will again be himself... in a new form, perhaps becoming a source of astonishment not only to others but even to himself...

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

The external limitation of every human vocation has a corresponding internal limit. This consists in the personal aptitude... we must not wish to jump out of our own skin. It is just as we are that we may come, when the command of God calls us to meet the new thing which we are to be in the strength of this call... we must not ask why this is the point of departure. We must not compare it with that of others. We must not envy or despise others because theirs is different. We must not waste time considering how fine it would be if ours were like theirs. If it is good enough for God to begin dealings with us at this point, then it ought to be good enough for us to begin dealings with God at this point.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

Christ appears to have begun with the distinction between the called and the driven. Somehow he separated people out on the basis of their tendency to be driven or their willingness to be called. He dealt with their motives, the basis of their spiritual energy, and the sorts of gratification in which they were interested. He called those who were drawn to him and avoided those who were driven and wanted to use him.

Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World

Can driven people be spotted? Yes, of course. There are many symptoms that suggest a person is driven...

1. A driven person is most often gratified only by accomplishment...

2. A driven person is preoccupied with the symbols of accomplishment...

3. A driven person is usually caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion...

4. Driven people tend to have a limited regard for integrity...

5. Driven people often possess limited or undeveloped people skills.

6. Driven people tend to be highly competitive...

7. A driven person often possesses a volcanic force of anger...

8. Driven people are usually abnormally busy...

Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World

Any of us can look within and suddenly discover that drivenness is our way of life. We can be driven toward a superior Christian reputation, toward a desire for some dramatic spiritual experience, or toward a form of leadership that is really more a quest for domination of people than servanthood. A homemaker can be a driven person; so can a student. A driven person can be any of us...

Can the driven person be changed? Most certainly. It begins when such a person faces up to operating according to drives and not calls. That discovery is usually made in the blinding, searching light of an encounter with Christ. As the twelve disciples discovered, an audience with Jesus over a period of time exposes all the roots and expressions of drivenness.

To deal with drivenness, one must begin to ruthlessly appraise one's motives and values just as Peter was forced to do in his periodic confrontations with Jesus. The person seeking relief from drivenness will find it wise to listen to mentors and critics who speak Christ's words to us today. We may have some humbling acts of renunciation, some disciplined gestures of surrender of things -- things that are not necessarily bad, but that have been important for all the wrong reasons...

Paul the apostle in his pre-Christian days was driven. As a driven man he studied, he joined, he attained, he defended, and he was applauded. The pace at which he was operating shortly before his conversion was almost manic. He was driven toward some illusive goal and, later, when he could look back at that lifestyle with all of its compulsions, he would say, 'It was all worthless.'

Paul was driven until Christ called him. One gets the feeling that when Paul fell to his knees before the Lord while on the road to Damascus, there was an explosion of relief within his private world. What a change from the drivenness that had pushed him toward Damascus in an attempt to stamp out Christianity to that dramatic moment when, in complete submission, he asked Jesus Christ, 'What shall I do, Lord?' A driven man was con verted into a called one.

Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

God of the burning bush, grant me a vision of your throne filling this earthly temple, meet me in the midst of my daily routine as you met the disciples mending their nets, encounter me on the Damascus roads running through my life, call me and woo me away from my own desperate drivenness.

Lord, I admit that so often my desires and drives become demands, compulsions that can never be met. And yet I hunger, I crave for Christ, I have a passion that burns in my bones, to be your person, to find myself and my ministry in your purpose, to go out today caught up in your mission to the world. Take my passion up within your passionate concern, my person within your purpose, and my ministry within your mission for the world.

God who calls irresistibly in earthquake, wind and fire, and in the still, small voice: sensitise my hearing to the tone of your voice through your word. Give me discernment to hear your call in the midst of a myriad of calls and demands. Telephone calls, pastoral calls, call committees or nominators, job advertisements, my needs and the needs of my family and my church. Never ending needs! And yet I know, Lord, the need isn't necessarily the call. In the midst of all my activity like Martha, help me to take time for the luxury, the necessity to sit at your feet like Mary, and discover the one thing needful.

Lord of my history and personality, give me wisdom to discern between my desire for change, my search for stability, my wanting recognition and fulfilment, and my longing to be my best for you, myself, my loved ones, your people, your world. Through these diverse demands and desires, plant in me, Lord, those deeper, enduring desires that delight in you and are promised fulfilment in your kingdom.

I was all hot for honours, money, marriage: and you made mock of my hotness. In my pursuit of these, I suffered most bitter disappointment, but in this you were good to me since I was thus prevented from taking delight in anything not yourself.

Look now into my heart, Lord, by whose will I remember all this and confess it to you. Let my soul cleave to you now that you have freed it from the tenacious hold of death.

Augustine of Hippo

Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, My daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know, In all I think, or speak, or do.
The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfil;
In all my works thy presence find, And prove thine acceptable will.

Charles Wesley

God has called [name];

he will not fail [him/her].

God has called [name];

he will not fail [him/her].

God has called [name];

he will not fail [him/her].

So trust in God and obey him.

God has called you, he will not fail you.

So trust in God and obey him.

God has called us, we will not fail him.

So trust in God and obey him.

Diane Davis


A Benediction

May the God of Abraham, Moses and Paul,
the God who irresistibly calls,
give you an assured sense of purpose,
a quiet confidence about who you are,
sensitive discernment of his will,
and decisiveness in following his direction for your life,
as you step out faithfully in the footsteps of Christ and with the Spirit at your side. Amen.

Rivers in the Desert ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 142-151

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