Last weekend I attended the Revive conference in Sydney. The keynote speaker was Matthew Barnett, lead pastor at the ‘Dream Centre’ in Los Angeles. The ministry began after Barnett felt God was calling him to serve the people no one else was interested in. Today the Dream Centre serves 40,000 people on a weekly basis, with programs in drug rehabilitation, employment training and rehabilitation of community to name but a few.
Henri Nouwen is another Christian leader who also lived out of a sense of God’s call. This however took him into a very small and intentional community, not an ever growing one. Nouwen had a career as an esteemed academic, lecturing at both Yale and Harvard, but in neither of these places nor in lecturing did he find his sense of call. It wasn’t until he joined a community of six disabled people living in a share house as a carer that he finally felt he had found his calling.
I find these two experiences helpful in reflecting on God’s call. They remind me that a sense of call provides a strong sense of purpose, conviction and fulfilment. They remind me that God’s call may be to something big and spectacular like Barnett’s or to something much smaller and certainly less noticeable like Nouwen’s.
These stories also leave me wondering what it means to speak of God’s call. Do we all have a ‘calling’?
I think the answer is yes. On the one hand there is a calling of God on my life that I share with all human beings – the call to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbour as myself; the call to seek first God’s reign; the call to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.
On the other hand, I need to make this general call concrete in everyday life. Here there is a more particular calling. I can’t actively love all seven billion human beings on the planet, so which particular neighbours am I to love right now and how? I have particular gifts and contributions that I can offer to the work of the kingdom but they could be used in a variety of ways. Which ways and with what groups in particular will I use them? There are a myriad of injustices in the world. Which in particular will I talk e up?
Sometimes the answers are thrust upon us. Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story we find ourselves in circumstances that demand we act. Sometimes the answers come through a sense that God is speaking to us, calling us very specifically in one way or another. More often than not, in my experience, discerning our calling comes through the exercise of wisdom and reflection. In these instances I think we find our calling at the intersection of four realities:
What opportunities do I have?
Our life circumstances will present us with a range of possibilities and close of others. For example, I am married with children living at home. This provides an opportunity for hospitality, particularly to other families, but precludes the idea that I will travel the world in some kind of itinerant ministry.
What are my passions?
There is often, though not always a good fit between our passions and our capacities, while investing ourselves in what we have a passion for can keep us motivated.
What are my giftings?
What am I good at? What am I noy good at?
What are the needs?
What needs are there that can be addressed by my passions, my giftings and my opportunities?
I suspect that as we ask questions like these we will find our calling.
I also suspect it is important to do so. It’s a little glib but the saying “Aim at nothing and you’ll achieve it every time” seems to apply here. It’s easy to just drift through life with our agenda and purpose dictated by our culture, our circumstances and those around us. I find people with a sense of calling are able to make their lives happen rather than simply letting things happen to them.
And so I want to remain committed to God’s call on my life…the general call that comes to all of us and my own particular ways of making that real in my space and my time.