God Calls Us to Service But We Make the Decision to Answer His Call

God gave Moses the dream of leading the children of Israel out of 400 years of slavery, but Moses had to make the decision to confront Pharaoh. God gave Noah the dream of saving the world from the flood, but Noah had to make the decision to build the ark. God gave Abraham the dream of building a new nation, but Abraham had to make the decision to leave everything he had and go out into the unknown. Just like these men, you will never realize God’s dream for your life until you come to the point of making a decision and stepping out in faith.

It is helpful to understand the call of God in three distinct ways.

First, there is the call to be a Christian. The God of creation invites us to respond to His love. This call comes through Jesus, who invites us to be His disciples and to know the Father through Him. To be Christian is to respond to this call to know and love God, and to love and serve others. It becomes, then, the fundamental fact of our lives; everything about us is understood in light of this call. Every aspect of our lives flows out and finds meaning in light of the fact that we are a called people. And the church – the Body of Christ – is made up of “called” ones.

Second, for each individual there is a specific call – a defining purpose or mission, a reason for being. Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world. Each person has a unique calling in this second sense. We cannot understand this second meaning of call except in the light of the first. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus. Therefore, while we all have a general call to love God and neighbor, we each follow our Lord differently, for though He calls us all to follow Him, once we accept His call we are each honored with a unique call that is integrally a part of what it means to follow Him. The second experience of being called is derived from the first.

Third, there is the call that we face each day in response to the multiple demands on our lives – our immediate duties and responsibilities. The call to be reliable and trustworthy when my family needs me, or to volunteer during our church’s annual baseball and softball clinic as part of the meet-and-great team assigned to parents and grandparents of the kids enrolled in the clinic, or to respond to some specific need presented before me. These are my tasks – not in the sense of burdens, but as those things that are placed before me today by God. It may be nothing more complicated than helping my elderly neighbor put her groceries away. But that is what God has for me today. I would not speak of these as my vocation (which is closer to the second meaning of call), but they are nevertheless the duties and responsibilities God calls me to today.

Calling, or vocation, is much deeper and all-encompassing than career or occupation. Indeed, there are some who may not even begin to discover their vocation until after they have retired from a career. It is a sheer gift if we are able to fulfill our vocations through an occupation. But for many, a job is a means of supporting life and family; it is often a matter of getting whatever work might be available. We need to discern our vocations and then also discern how God is calling us, within the complexities and demands of this world, to fulfill these vocations. The pivotal issue is one of self-knowledge and of living out our lives in a way that is consistent with who we are, as individuals.

KNOW YOURSELF

The key to finding your specific calling is simply “know yourself.” This is implicit in what we read in Romans 12:3: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (NASB) The Apostle Paul calls us to look at ourselves with “sound judgment.” God has granted grace to each of us, so we can take an honest, critical and discerning look at ourselves. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to observe that when it comes to answering the question What is God’s vocation on my life there are really two critical questions. The first: Who am I? And the second: Am I willing to live in humble acceptance of the call of God?

Make an appraisal of yourself – an honest assessment. Think of yourself in truth. Who are you? What makes you unique? How has God called you? We are not all the same. In fact, Paul compares the church to a body (Romans 12:4-5), with different gifts, differing contributions, differing abilities. Vocational identity is found in discerning who we are within this mix. What is the ability, the talent, the deep passion that God has given you? Where is it that God is calling you to make a difference for Him in the church and in the world? Consider and think of yourself with honesty; make a sound judgment.

If we seek to be anything other than who we are, we live a lie. To know ourselves and to be true to ourselves is to be true to how God has made us. How He has crafted our personalities. How He has given us ability and talent and passion. God will call us to serve Him in the church and in the world. But this calling will always be consistent with who we are, with who He has created us to be. A.W. Tozer calls this “living with freedom from pretense.” His comment captures it well, for in living truthfully we no longer live with a mask, a façade, but rather with a deep honesty about who we are and who God has created us to be. During a period of my rebellion and doubt, my favorite song was The Stranger by Billy Joel.

Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on

I think that Billy Joel’s “stranger” is similar to what psychologist Carl Jung called the archetypal shadow self. The part we disown, usually because it is disapproved of by our family, our spouse, or society in general. Anything that contradicts our “public image” gets consigned to the shadow. Unfortunately, the shadow self contains enormous energy and alternate possibilities that we ignore at our own peril. We need to acknowledge the “disowned” parts of our personality and seek to heal our brokenness through Jesus Christ. If we don’t, the dissociated aspects of ourselves, like hungry dogs locked in the basement, can wreak havoc when released. We truly have no idea what can happen when we deny and continually suppress defects of character that need to be healed.

“IF I HAD MY DRUTHERS.”

Ask yourself, If I were able to only do or be one thing, what would it be? A follow-up question might be, What do I long for more than anything?  What brings me joy? It is important to get to the root of the matter. It is not what you imagine might bring you joy; it is seeking what fundamentally and actually brings joy. We cannot buy into the lie that more money or more prestige would do it. Such motivation is a distraction. When we get at what really matters to us, we get to the passion of our hearts. But the “instrumentality of our culture” distracts us from what really matters. Any many of the things that matter most defy measurement. It’s easy to yield to that which is doable and practical and popular. Worse yet, as I tended to consider recently, was my deciding how impractical it was to go to graduate school at sixty years of age and become an addictions counselor whose clientele will be exclusively sixteen to twenty-nine years old. Teens and young adults. This, however, is an area of great importance to me.

What matters to us reflects who we are and gives meaning to our lives. What matters is reflected in the life we live; it is reflected in the way we engage life, spend our money and our time. Here’s a thought: If we don’t have the time to do something, perhaps this is a sign that that particular thing does not matter to us. Really, what we need is to stop complaining about the economy, the limitations we are facing, the problems of our past, and begin to take responsibility for our actions (to be the cause rather than wallow in the effect).

Perhaps another way to get at the core of who we are is to get at what makes us angry. Anger is often dangerous terrain, of course, but I’m talking here about righteous indignation. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” (NASB) This is the same type of anger displayed by Jesus when he threw the money changers out of the Temple. (See Matthew 21:12) When our anger is consistent with God’s view of the world, could it be that what matters to God matters to us? Could it be that by attending to what makes us angry we begin to get a read on what moves us? It’s been said that the antidote for exhaustion may not be rest but wholeheartedness. In other words, could it be that we are exhausted because we are not doing our true work?

What are your elemental waters? What is your core, the sense of who you are? David Whyte is an English poet whose poetry and philosophy is based on what he calls the conversational nature of reality. He has been quoted as saying, “One of the distinguishing features of any courageous human being is the ability to remain unutterably themselves in the midst of conforming pressures.” Whyte was essentially saying when in our work we are engaged with tasks or responsibilities that are deeply congruent with our fundamental self, we are in our “elemental waters.” When the young shepherd boy David refused the armor of the soldiers when he went to take on Goliath it was not so much that he wanted to trust in God and not in his own strength or capacities, though that was surely the disposition he brought to this encounter. Rather, he was not at home in that armor; he was at home in his shepherd gear and with a weapon he had mastered; not the sword but the sling.

WHERE DO YOU FEEL THE WORLD IS MOST FRAGMENTED?

Consider this question: Where do you feel and the operative word is feel – the deepest fragmentation of our world? Certainly, we each see the world’s needs differently. And our vocational identity is in some form or another aligned with how we each uniquely see the pain and brokenness of the world. Often we miss our vocation because our sense of the needs of the world is informed and shaped by the expectations of others. Sometimes preachers and public speakers outline the needs of the world in a way that is very compelling, and they describe these needs in such a way that they communicate that if we really care, then we will respond according to their expectations and evaluations. They assume that we should see the world as they see it. But the needs of our world are complex, and we need to be alert to how others use the word should.

If we are prepared to listen to our own hearts, we will recognize that we long to help and serve and make a difference just as much as they do. But it will be our own vision for a needy world – a vision informed by our own reading of the Scriptures, but also a vision sustained by the witness of the Holy Spirit to our hearts. So where do you see the brokenness of the world? What impresses you to the core of your heart and calls you to be or do something? When you are able to set aside ego gratification and ask honestly what you long to do to make a difference because you see the need – quite apart from any monetary return or honor that might come your way – what comes to mind?

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I have found that taking the steps I’ve outlined in this post helps to assure that my vocation will in some fundamental way be aligned to how I see the brokenness of the world. By taking what 12-step recovery calls a fearless and thorough moral inventory of myself, I have the opportunity to take stock of who I am. This includes the negatives and the positives on my “balance sheet.” As I look long and hard at my moral shortcomings, I am actually able to start fleshing out a plan of spiritual and emotional recovery. Such an inventory should be written down, because it becomes the first tangible proof you have that these issues are real, and that they must be addressed. Of course, this personal evaluation will also allow you to get acquainted with your talents, your skills, your passion for life. It allows you to answer the four basic questions I brought up earlier: What do you want most of all in life? What matters to you? Where do you feel most comfortable (your elemental waters)? What breaks your heart about the circumstances in the world today?

In John 17:4, Jesus says these remarkable words: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” I want the same to be true for my life. I want to come to the end of my days and know that in God’s eyes I fulfilled my vocation. Work can be difficult. Especially when we consciously choose to embrace a life of addressing the evils and brokenness of this world. Jesus reminds us, however, that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. For a yoke to be easy, it means that it fits us. It is designed around the contours of who we are; it is congruent with the character, strengths, potential, and personality that we are before God. I believe our only hope for vocational clarity is that we come to terms with our own hearts – with what we individually believe is happening in the very core of our being.

Each of us has something that we feel is the very reason for which we have been designed, created, and redeemed. In the end, we embrace this call, this purpose, because this is who we are. In the end, there is something to which we say, “This I must do.” Now we are in the position to give up our lives for the sake of others. (See Matthew 16:25) We do it because we must. And we accept this as from God – as that which God has placed in our hearts. What drives us is the very conviction that God has placed there. This is what is meant by vocational integrity and personal congruence.

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere, but God Himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one-by-one, by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, The Message)

Not As Likely As Dad

I don’t always post this type of comment on my blog, but for some reason it felt very fitting. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, especially if you’ve read my ABOUT PAGE, you’ll understand where these thoughts and emotions are coming from. I opened up Facebook earlier, and was faced with the Daily Question: What’s On Your Mind? Well here’s what’s on my mind today.

What’s on my mind? The election made me think that I initially registered as a Democrat. I did this mainly to get my dad’s goat! I figured there was no way I was going to be like him. For those of you who have known me over the years, this is a true statement. I have never been like him. I have never been as responsible as him. As judicious as him. As hard working as him. As fair-minded as him. As honest as him. As respectful of others as him. As organized as him. As principled as him. As good at picking friends as him. As good at picking a wife as him. As good at picking the right fight as him. As good at learning to live without as him. As good at protecting your reputation as he was. As careful with my money as he was. As likely to pay a bill on time as he was. As good at balancing a checkbook as he was. As likely to establish and stick to a monthly budget as he was. As good at preparing for “terrible times to come” as he was. (We still have the Faraday Cage!) As likely as he was to always look a person in the eye when speaking to them. As likely to save things that are important to you. (Poor Yoda!) As quick to realize that sometimes we need “a little push,” and we should not take the nudging of others personally when we get that push. When a “son” in his mid 50s, the oldest of four siblings, realizes how unlike his father he has become, and then realizes he might not have a lot of time left in his life to work on these numerous failings or, if you prefer, character defects, that son begins to panic. But, when that “son” finally aligns his will with God’s will, and begins to acquire not only some of his father’s character traits, but begins to acquire some of the traits outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 (The Love Chapter), that “son” begins to focus on what he can become and what he is becoming rather than what he could have been. It all starts with having a fine example of a father to model yourself after in the first place. Thank you dad.

Entirely Ready

Steps Four and Five give us a blueprint as alcoholics to take an honest and thorough look at ourselves, and to admit the exact nature of our wrongs. This can only happen after we complete several crucial beginning steps. First, we must admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives are unmanageable. The statement in the First Step that we are “powerless” refers to the lack of control over our compulsion to drink, which persists despite any negative consequences we might endure as a result.

We need to recognize that only a higher power can restore us to sanity.  Once we come to believe in a higher power, we need to turn our will and our lives over to God. After coming to grips with our addiction, we then need to examine our past errors and admit them to God, to ourselves, and to another human being. Part of the purpose of the Twelve Steps is to learn how to live life with a new code of behavior.

Step Six says, “Were entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character.”

As we work on changing our character, we need to look at how we think about and talk to others. Do we curse a lot? Do we make crude remarks, or use biased or prejudiced language? Do we gossip? Are we unduly sarcastic? Are we prone to anger or violence? Do we hold grudges or engage in “paybacks.” As we take a look at these behaviors, we consider how they fit in with a spiritual approach to living. We ask ourselves what value we have as a human being. What do we have to offer to others in the way of service, wisdom, and support? Who are we becoming? How can we increase our worth as a person? How do we define ourselves?

I believe that although pride is at the top of the list of seven deadly sins, healthy pride is a necessary part of self-esteem and character growth. This is not the pride of arrogance, egotism, grandiosity or narcissism.  It will not harm our spiritual growth to feel pride when we freely admit to ourselves that our progress is not made by us alone. Humble pride acknowledges the guidance of others and a faith in God. With humility, we learn to have healthy pride in our good works. We are able to recognize the grace we have been granted by God.

Before we got into recovery, many of us wanted what others had, but we didn’t know how to get it. In fact, we were willing to take what we wanted without working for it. Now, in recovery, we are happy with the miracles we receive as we progress. We have discovered that doing is more important than having, and experiencing is more important than possessing.

It is important to put all our habits into the context of becoming entirely ready. If we overlook one little addiction, or one minute bad habit, or one small defect, are we just a “little” addictive? How can we claim abstinence if we still hold on to our bad habits or character defects? Remember, half measures avail us nothing. It is important that we realize Step Six is not just about alcohol or drugs or overeating or gambling. It is about putting our lives back in alignment. How honestly we work Step Six is in direct proportion to our willingness to take a look at everything.

In order to be entirely ready to let go of our character defects, we must have a fairly accurate idea of how we view life and how we operate. We need to be thorough about this. We cannot be deluded about our behaviors. We must take the time to closely examine our manner of living. The Twelve Steps provide us with a great opportunity to reclaim our lives. By accepting help from God and others, we learn to think clearly. We become able to honestly examine our lives, play fairly, and give generously. Our values change in recovery as we become less selfish and more useful.

We no longer seek out situations that only comfort us; we also find ways to comfort others. We find that we feel better about ourselves when we help others. We learn from the Twelve Steps that what we were searching for our whole life is wrapped up in being of comfort and aid to others. Our most valuable relationship is the one we have with God. In a way, when we reach out and help others we come closer to God. That is precisely why Matthew 25 says when we help “even the least one of these” we do it unto the Lord.

I can see now why Step Six is the one that separates the winners from the losers. It’s gut check time. Are we ready to change our way of living or not? This is not a “maybe” proposition. It’s likely that many of us approached this step in a less active manner. Odds are we may still be battling some pretty major defects of character. Step Six requires commitment and specific action. There is no better time to get to it than right now. The values we develop as a result of working the Twelve Steps look different from the ones we held while in active addiction. Every day brings a new opportunity to work on our character defects. Our values no longer change with every passing fancy. Our life now means something, and counts for things that are good.

Drop The Rock!

Seems there was this group of recovering alcoholics taking a boat ride to an island called Serenity, and it was truly a happy bunch of people. As the boat pulled away from the dock, a few on board noticed Mary running down the street trying to catch up with the boat. One member said, “Darn, she’s missed the boat.” Another said, “Maybe not. Come on, Mary! Jump in the water. Swim! Swim! You can make it. You can catch up with us.”

So Mary jumped into the water and started to swim for all she was worth. She swam for quite a while and then started to sink. The people on board, now all aware that Mary was struggling, shouted, “Come on, Mary! Don’t give up! Drop the rock!” With that encouragement, Mary started swimming again, only to start sinking shortly afterward. She was going under when she heard all those voices shouting to her, “Mary, drop the rock! Let go and drop the rock!”

Mary was vaguely aware of something around her neck, but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Once more, she gathered her strength and started swimming. She was doing quite well, even gaining a little on the boat, but then she felt this heaviness pulling her under again. She saw all those people on the boat holding out their hands and hollering for her to keep swimming and shouting, “Don’t be an idiot, Mary. Drop the rock.”

Then she understood when she was going down for the third time: This thing around her neck, this was why she kept sinking when she really wanted to catch the boat. This thing was the “rock” they were all shouting about: resentments, fear, dishonesty, self-pity, intolerance, and anger were just some of the things her “rock” was made of. “God help me get rid of the rock,” she prayed. “Now! Get rid of it!”

Mary managed to stay afloat long enough to untangle a few of the strings holding that rock around her neck, realizing as she did that her load was easing up. Then, with another burst of energy, she let go. She tore the other strings off and dropped the rock.

Once free of the rock, she was amazed how easy it was to swim, and she soon caught up with the boat. Those on board were cheering for her and applauding and telling her how great she was, and how it was so good having her with them again, and how now they could get on with the boat ride and have a nice time.

Mary felt great and was just about to indulge in a little rest and relaxation when she glanced back to shore. There, a ways back, she thought she saw something bobbing in the water, so she pointed it out to some others. Sure enough, someone was trying to catch the boat, swimming for dear life, but not making much headway. In fact, it looked like the person was going under.

Mary looked around and saw the concern on the faces of the others. She was the first to lean over the rail and shout, “Hey, friend! Drop the rock!”

( Excerpt from the Introduction to Drop The Rock, a Hazelden publication on Steps Six and Seven of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Removing Character Defects.)