upper room daily devotions

Saturday, October 20, 2007

what does it mean to be "called"

All Christians have a calling in their lives. Most of us will experience a number of "calls" - urges from God that lead us into new places on behalf of the gospel. I don't believe that God asks us to do one and only one thing and then our work is done. God asks us to work for the sake of the gospel throughout the entirety of our lives, calling us again and again onto different journeys.

The language and concept of "call" is very familiar to me growing up in church, in the South, and in a pretty observant home. I'm learning, however, that not everyone is comfortable with this language or the idea that we all have work to do for God's reign. Many Christians unfortunately don't appreciate that all of us in the body of Christ - clergy and lay, men and women, young and old, uneducated and educated, urban and rural - are called by God. All people are gifted and needed, invited and sent by God for the sake of the world.

To be "called" is to recognize that God has a claim on our lives. Too often the church doesn't explain or explore what it means to have a calling or to be called. We simply expect folks to intuitively know what being called means, but they don't. I know people who bristle at the word "call." They've never seen a burning bush. They don't hear God in their head when they pray. They don't experience revelations on a daily basis. How can they know what God is calling them to do? How can they know who God is calling them to be?

I think it's important for us to spend time together in extended silence listening to God's breath in our breath, God's hope in our hearts, God's joy in our joy. Most of us won't have earth-shattering mystical moments...and that's okay. But all of us can experience God tugging at our hearts in such a way that we know that we are being led, urged, invited, called into a sacred and holy life.

Callings can be big and they can seem not so big. We can be called to teach Sunday school or sell our possessions and join an intentional community. We can find ourselves moving closer and closer to a way of life that on one level seems foreign and odd to us and on another level normal and quite reasonable. Sometimes callings challenge everything about us; often they do not.

In my life I have felt an urging in my heart to stop eating meat; and I have. I have felt compelled to live on the earth in a way that honors God and God's creation; I'm still learning how to do that. I have been called away from my home to Washington state for the sake of ministry. I have been called to other countries in order to stir up passions in others for the global church. I have also had callings that I have ignored. Too often I realized this after the fact. God not only calls us over and over, but we can experience multiple calls at once...so, just because you've said "yes" to God about one thing doesn't mean that God isn't already urging you in another way.

All of us are called by God. How are you called for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of creation, for the sake of your community, for the sake of prophecy, for the sake of faithfulness, for the sake of God's realm? How are you called?


Art said...

Katie - What a great post! I know that I am called in a variety of ways and for many things. To some I am seen as resisting the call to a formal ministry position but I don't believe that every person who hears a call from God should seek to become ordained. God calls us all to do God's will in and outside of the church and that's what I'm trying to do.

"...to recognize that God has a claim on our lives..." is calling enough for many of us yet it is not always enough. In recognizing that claim, I want to share God's grace with others and make disciples of Christ. I hope I can fulfill that calling.

Thank you.

rev katie m ladd said...

Right on! You're exactly right - lay people are called to ministry. Unfortunately we seem to have collectively assumed that "to be called" must be followed by "into ordination". How wrong we are. Blessings on your callings and the gifts you bring to them, Art.

mike ports said...

This method of thinking is foreign to me. Where does one draw the line between free will and god's intention? If I have the urge to move to Africa to help blind orphans, why is this being "called" and not simply and expression of my interests and my desire to do good in the world? Why do we attribute man's long term goals, when subjectively beneficent, to a higher power? And what about when these goals are outright immoral? For example, are some people "called" to rob liquor stores and abuse drugs?

Rev Katie M Ladd said...

Mike, that is a very deep question, and how one answers it would depend very much on one's world view. Certainly someone wanting to go help kids in Africa could be expressing interests and demonstrating a desire to do good things in the world. That's a fine way to describe that choice. And, in my world view, it is a choice. Where people might differ is on the role of God, the nature of God, and the power of choice.

For many people God is a supernatural being. More accurately, many people understand God as a supernatural human - a person who "thinks," "decides," and "intervenes." That is not my experience with God. I use anthropomorphic language because it is the language I have. It metaphorically describes things that I otherwise couldn't convey. In the same way that a difficult recipe doesn't "foil" me (it has no intention - I'm just a bad cook), God isn't sitting on a throne on a cloud pointing down at the earth sending lightning bolts or pulling puppet strings. In my world view, God is mystery, an energy, the best nature of all that is. God is the creator, the process of redemption, the whisper of inspiration. So, when I respond to need, I naturally attach that to "God," (whatever that might be). I wouldn't, then, associate doing immoral things to God.

I'm sure you think that sounds highly subject. In many ways it is, but I stand within a tradition that is 6,000 years old and in the midst of many other world religions that associate similar attributes to the "gods" of their world view.

This is a very difficult conversation to have over the internet. Can "call" be someone's own ego? Sure. That's why the church has an examination process for ordination. That's why we learn our faith story. That's why we live in community. These things are supposed to serve as counterweights to our own interpretations. Can I think I'm called to something and not be? Sure. I've had people tell me that they were called to be spiritual directors, who had neither the interpersonal skills nor the listening skills to even begin that process.

If there is no "god" in one's world view, call would make no sense at all. For those with a god, call makes much sense. For those in Christianity, it is a core part of the identity - to know that the great I AM is forming one's soul for the sake of tending the world in order to help it become perfected in love.

Lee Ler said...

The Bible Also tells us Many are called But few are chosen Some people never give ear to the call Jesus says I stand at the door knock... It is up to us to open the door and let him in What matters is what we do after the call

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