The Call of God
‘…Called by the Will of God…’ (1 Corinthians 1, 1)
Life as a Christian can begin in any number of different ways. It can be as a result of a sense of God calling us – in whatever way, directly, indirectly; immediate, mediated through this, that or the other; a person, an event, a set of circumstances whatever. For Paul, the call of God came as an abrupt interruption into an otherwise well-ordered life. Indeed, Paul believed himself already to be within the will of God in the way he was living his life. He had given himself with great enthusiasm to persecuting those whom he believed were seeking to frustrate the will of God by perverting the message of salvation which God had shared with his people the Jews, by daring to break what had hitherto been understood as the indissoluble covenant relationship established with Abraham, underscored by Moses, reinforced by centuries of perceived Divine protection; all of this was at risk because a small group of otherwise itinerant ne’er do wells were going about proclaiming that a certain Jesus from Nazareth had been raised from the dead by God thereby vindicating His claim to be the Messiah of God, the One in whom all that had been promised to the Jews was now fulfilled, but in such a way as to render the traditional Jewish understanding of God and of God’s relating to them as the people of God; and of those others, the Gentiles redundant; to recast it in such a way that that which was always thought to be particular and peculiar to the Jewish people – the means by which the sovereignty of God would be revealed throughout the whole world – was now to be understood in terms of its direct, unmediated, universal appeal to Jew and Gentile alike. Given his deep-seated commitment to what he believed to be right, under God, it required God to encounter Paul in the most dramatic way. The Damascus Road encounter was unlike any other, because it was unique to Paul’s experience, it had to be. Other people may well have had and continue to have similarly dramatic experiences because that is what is necessary for them to respond positively to God’s call, God’s claim on their lives.
“But beware of this about callings: they may not lead us where we intended to go or even where we want to go. If we choose to follow, we may have to be willing to let go of the life we already planned and accept whatever is waiting for us. And if the calling is true, though we may not have gone where we intended, we will surely end up where we need to be.” (Steve Goodier).
This, in a nutshell sums up Paul’s experience and he was able to acknowledge as such but only when it was obvious to him that his life of service was about to end as surely as the end of his life was drawing ever near. But Paul was a particular individual, called by God at a particular time for a particular purpose, to do for God what only Paul could do. What about the rest of us? How might we understand what it means to be called by God? How do we understand our place in the world, most especially with regard to the work we do in the world? It is fair to say that it requires a somewhat extremely pious outlook on life to believe that whatever work we do – and that includes any productive activity in which we engage – is directly as a result of a particular call of God. God calls us into the service of God. God calls us to be followers of Jesus, to be imitators of Christ. And so, whatever our work might be, we ought to be asking ourselves something along these lines…
“Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off-centre? Do we put our emphasis on service, usefulness, or being productive in working for God—at his expense? Do we strive to prove our own significance? To make a difference in the world? To carve our names in marble on the monuments of time? The call of God blocks the path of all such deeply human tendencies. We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.”(Os Guiness).
So, how do we tell if we are in the right place, doing the right thing, for the right reason, with the right outcome: in essence what might we discern to be careers guidance as far as God is concerned? There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner).
For Paul, the life to which he was called caused him to conclude that, ‘It is no longer I who live, But Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ This is that to which we all must aspire, whatever it is we do in life; for then we will know ourselves to have been ‘called by the Will of God’