When God Calls
Isaac was a big man - muscles everywhere, a Maori, a husband, a father, a Christian. Isaac worked on railway maintenance. He said to me: 'Martien, you know that stuff you keep talking about, that 'calling' stuff, does that work for me down there between the tracks?'
reaching recently on the subject of 'vocation' or 'calling' I took a 'straw poll' of the congregation. I asked them, 'If you know that you are in the place that God has called you to be, raise your hand.' Three of the 120 people present raised their hands - the vicar, the full time youth leader, and the associate minister.
In response to: 'If you are hoping to discover what it is that God has called you to, please raise your hand', the rest of the congregation raised their hands. In different denominations and in different groups the response is consistent.
In the feedback forms attached to our Faith at Work courses the strongest expression of interest for further reflection is in the area of 'calling,' followed at some distance by that of 'ethics'.
People often use phrases like 'I would like to know God's will for my life' that identify a hunger for more meaning and purpose in their lives. They know that they have been 'saved' by Christ's work on the cross. They understand they are being saved and they are growing in their faith. They want to feel useful to God. So why then do so many reveal a 'calling' gap?
Much of the responsibility lies with our 'call language'. We very easily apply the language of calling to work inside the church and faith-related organisations. We speak of calls to the ministry, some churches 'call' their ministers.
The language is not used to describe work outside of 'spiritually focused' organisations. People do not talk of their calling to Telecom, or their calling to work as the local butcher. At a stretch we sometimes entertain a calling to one of the helping professions - medical, nursing, even teaching.
he absence of the use of 'call language' to describe activity outside the Christian community compounds at least four problems. The first is that we reinforce the dualism between spiritual and material. Spiritual 'called' positions are in the church, church-related activities and noble helping professions. Positions outside the church are deemed less spiritual or unattractive, if not downright sinful.
Deep suspicion quickly surfaces in the Christian community over jobs closely associated with money, creating wealth and business. Certain activities are still seen as tainted and suspect, certainly not worthy of the identity of 'a calling'.
The second problem is an implicit denial of mission. The workplace is and remains by far the largest area of contact between the Christian community and the non-Christian world.
When I was working in marketing and business development in Australia we used as an operating principle the 'market truth' that each individual has (on average) 30 regular relationship connections, most of them work related. Using this formula a simple calculation indicates that New Zealand's active Christian working community of approximately 150,000 should connect with a possible 4.5 million others.
This is more than enough to connect with every person in New Zealand, even allowing for our tendency to all be part of the same set of 30 people. We are called to take the good news of Jesus into the world. Our work is our calling, wherever we work.
The third problem is that the lack of call language to describe out-of-church activity reinforces the suspicion that work is of little relevance to the life of the church despite it absorbing more than 50% of our waking hours. In this post-modern church age relevance has become a very big issue. Our suspicion that work is irrelevant is systematically reinforced by the lack of reference to work either as a topic in preaching, or even as a sermon illustration or application. It is reinforced when 'full time ministry' is described as only occurring when you enter the employ of a Christian organisation and 'service' is only recognised when provided through structures established by the church.
The point was clearly made by an acquaintance of mine: 'When I started to teach Sunday School for an hour per week they invited me up to the front (of the church) and laid hands on me and prayed for me. The fact that I teach school 35 hours each week in society has never been acknowledged.'
The fourth problem engendered by our not using 'call language' to describe activity outside the Christian community is that we deny Scripture. Beginning in Genesis when God creates humankind, his call is placed on us all without exception and without preference. We are called to a relationship with God and to each other, called to a relationship with God's creation, called to work as stewards of that creation and as (junior) partners in the creation enterprise.
We are called to be God's regents, his ambassadors, his image bearers to the whole world. It is sin that creates barriers and seeks hierarchies of importance. It is Christ who redeems and restores, Christ who is emphatically declared once and for all as the only priest we need and who calls all believers to be priests, prophet and kings.
ere, then, lies excitement and fulfilment: God has indeed called me. He has called me to follow him. Where that leads me and how that looks may change. Where I am now is absolutely part of the picture of God's call on my life.
The reformers Luther, Calvin and others made much of working out the calling of God in the station of life in which we find ourselves at conversion. Today in the West we have much more choice and freedom to express the 'where' and 'how' of God's call on our lives than do the poor and the more traditional 'generational' cultures around the world.
Indeed, we have more choice than the people Calvin had in mind. For most of us our education, skills, resources and gifting influence the spheres into which God calls us to follow him. Much is expected from us to whom much has been given.
I worked for a while with a Christian aid agency Opportunity International as a marketer and fundraiser. After giving a particularly passionate address on behalf of the poor I was approached by a person who said, 'You must have a real heart and love for the poor to speak with such conviction!'
I thought long about this, remembering that when I was a school teacher I had genuinely felt called to teenagers, and when I became a church home group leader (and later an industrial chaplain) I felt genuinely called pastorally to adults. Working in business I felt the same sense of calling to that business. I was compelled to reply, 'No, I don't think I do have a special love for the poor. What I have is a calling to follow Jesus and love him, and from time to time he asks me to work in a different office. As I obey him he gives me the heart to go with it.'
Os Guinness said, 'Calling means that our lives are so lived as a summons of Christ that the expression of our personalities and the exercise of our spiritual gifts and natural talents are given direction and power precisely because they are not done for themselves, our families, our businesses or even humankind, but for the Lord who will hold us accountable for them!'1
hurches need to capture this vision. Let's abolish all concepts of 'laity'. All are equally called to follow Jesus, equally called to serve. We are all priests, all prophets, all kings. Let no one deny the body and elevate themselves relative to their brother and sister.
In the workplace we have before us the greatest mission field of our generation, the greatest opportunity to reach society - and we are already in position. Let's affirm that calling. Let those employed by church organisations equip the saints for good work.2
Isaac, God has called you to those railway tracks. God has ordained you a 'steward of his secret things'.3 God has asked you to be 'salt' right there at the railway tracks, redeeming even the job itself. He has called you to be 'light', intentionally shining, so that all might see your good works and praise your father in heaven.4
1 Os Guiness cited in The Complete Book of Contemporary Christianity by Banks and Stevens P97
2 Ephesians 4:11-12
3 (1 Cor 4:1-2)
4 Matt 5:13-18
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