Do you know what you’re called to do? Better yet, do you know what you’re called to be?
I recently saw the World War II drama, Fury, with Brad Pitt and Shia LaBoeuf. It focused on one team of soldiers who fought from inside of a tank against the Nazis in Europe, specifically Germany. None of the men in the tank are quite as religious as LaBoeuf’s character, called “Bible,” but they all seem to understand what he believes in. He thinks, win or lose, live or die, that God put him in a position to do something about the evil of the Nazis by fighting against them. It’s not metaphorical or haphazard: Bible literally knows he’s supposed to be where he is because he’s convinced God would want him to stop the evil Hitler was doing.
Bible has a clear sense of his calling; some of us don’t. But the Scriptures are full of people who either denied their call or who recognized a change in their call and responded to the urging of God. [To be clear, not all of them responded obediently: check out Jonah for instance, or consider the way that Cain responds to God's call on his life!] My profession has a strong pattern of men and women who ‘put off their call’ until they were older, and switched from some career or calling to the pastorate later in life.
What if we could learn from the Bible what we were supposed to be and how we could look for those patterns in our own lives?
Let’s dive into the story of Samuel. Now, Samuel is one of the Bible’s miracle babies: he’s specifically prayed for by his mother Hannah, who mourns because she is infertile. When she discovers that she’s pregnant, she calls her unborn baby Samuel, “because I asked God for him.” When he is old enough, she gives him to the priest Eli to raise in the temple as one of God’s priests.
The first sign of calling: recognizing that we are God’s to begin with and our lives find their purpose when we acknowledge God.
Do you acknowledge God? Do you recognize that your life, the air you breathe, is God’s? Do you recognize that your money, the work you’ve accomplished and the stuff you’ve acquired, is God’s? Do you recognize that everything you have, and everything you are capable of becoming, is because God knit you together before you were born?
God breathed Spirit- air – life into Adam’s lungs in Genesis, and it made him come alive; God continues to breathe life into you and me, and it’s what makes us alive, makes us human.
The first sign of calling is recognizing whose we are.
So Samuel is raised up by Eli in the temple. Eli teaches Samuel the Scripture, and what it means to be a priest. I’m sure he put Samuel to work with the menial things, like sweeping out the temple, and counting the offering left by those who came to worship outside. As Samuel grew older, and accepted more responsibility, Eli gave him more to do, more practical ways to act out being the priest of God.
The second sign or mark of calling: recognizing the need to learn more about God and seeking out opportunities to study, pray, and grow.
Are you learning, or are you going through the motions? Do you recognize a need to know more about God, about the Bible, about the tools you need to practice prayer, and other marks of being a disciple? Are you recognizing that call to be a disciple, the marks of which many of you have taken on when you promised to be faithful by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness, in joining the church? What are you doing to gradually grow in those things, whether it’s being more intentional about coming to worship on Sundays or setting the alarm an hour earlier so that you can make it to Sunday School or increasing your tithe, what you give back to God, by a percent or two each month?
It’s been an exciting couple of months here because there is a core group of kids who want to be here. Do you all know that every Sunday morning, Kathy has a deal with the kids in her neighborhood, that if they are there at 9:30, that she’ll get them a ride to Sunday School and church? Have you noticed that the number of kids keeps going up?
Let me tell you: Kathy is a saint. And she’s constantly working other people to sainthood, too, like Becky and Jo, driving kids, rounding them up, and getting them here. The thing is: these kids want to be here. There’s something they know is different about being here, and they recognize it.
Now, imagine what it would look like if we could get adults to recognize that need…
The second sign of calling is to recognize the need to grow.
Now, Eli is raising Samuel as a son, as a priest, in the temple, even while Eli’s sons are falling away from what God has called them to. Samuel is growing in “favor with God and all the people”- people are noticing that he’s good at being a priest- even while the people are stirring against the sons of Eli. They are abusing their power as priests by taking what they wanted, in terms of offerings brought by people to pray and by manipulating the women outside the temple. God was not pleased, and he prophesied against Eli’s house that he would be calling up a priest from outside of Eli’s house. God’s people needed priests but the priests weren’t getting it done; someone had to rise up to be the voice of the people to God and the voice of God to the people.
The third sign of calling is recognizing the need for what you bring, what gifts and graces God has given you in your personality, skill set, interests, and experience.
I read a story a few weeks ago about a young man named Carson Jones. He was a senior and starting quarterback in his high school. And one day, the mother of a special needs child came to him and asked him if he could figure out who was bullying her daughter at school. Easy enough, right?
Jones could’ve gotten some of his buddies together and ‘taken care of’ the problem. But instead, he changed things subtly. He brought his new friend with him to the football lunch table; he saw that someone walked her to class. Pretty soon, other people weren’t bullying her- they were looking for ways to help her out, too. Jones knew who he was and what he could do, and he did it- and it changed everything. [From Rick Reilly's "Special Team" as republished in Tiger, Meet My Sister.]
Sometimes, it’s as simple as being there.
Have you ever thought about what gifts you have that you could bless others with, in and outside of church? Have you ever prayed about how you could get more involved with church? Sometimes, it’s the preacher who points it out to you- sometimes it’s someone else in church. But what would it look like if you actively stepped up to get involved, whether it was helping in children’s ministry, helping paint a room or two, serving food at a mission project or fundraiser? There are spiritual gift inventories you can take if you haven’t done one before – see me afterward if you want a copy to explore!
The third sign is self-examination of your gifts and situation to see what you can bring.
Back to Samuel: It says that “in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (I Samuel 3:1). Is that any different from our days? Do we really think God is heard more frequently now, that the world is moving toward “your kingdom come?” But we know that we have a lot to turn off, from the television to our wifi feeds, if we expect to be able to hear from God.
Our boy-turned-priest is listening. Samuel hears God call him three times, and he thinks that Eli is calling out to him in the middle of the night to do something; stoke the fire, check the locks, etc. But Samuel is alert, even in the midst of sleep, to know that he is being called.
The fourth sign of calling is listening- there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Listening involves change, adaptation, transformation based on what we receive from the other person… or God.
How do you listen? It’s different for different people but there are many ways we can listen. We can read our Bible and reflect over it; we can actively quiet our hearts and turn everything else off and speak with God. We can have holy conversations (I’ll get to that in a minute) and seek wise counsel. But listening requires a heart primed for receiving what God has to speak into our hearts. Listening requires an expectation that God will and does speak, that God has a plan for us.
Do you show up on Sundays and expect God to show up? Do you come ready and prepared to see what God has for us in worship? Do you know that God wants all of you, from what you do to what your heart feels to what your mind thinks? God wants to talk to you. God has so much for us if we would only listen.
The fourth sign is listening to the heartbeat of God running through our lives.
Back to our middle-of-the-night story, Samuel thinks Eli is calling but he, Eli, knows that it’s really God. And it’s Eli who points Samuel in the right direction. He tells Samuel to go back and wait, and to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel was listening but he didn’t know how to differentiate the noise. He couldn’t identify the Lord’s voice correctly until he was told, until the more experienced priest showed him how to respond correctly.
Samuel was called but he needed mentorship. He’d already received training and care and direction but mentorship connected his call from God with what he was supposed to be doing.
The fifth sign of calling is confirmation and mentoring that requires community to be involved with the individual’s call.
Who is mentoring you? Who are you regularly talking with in the faith community to show you the ins and outs of faith, the ways to grow and the direction God has for your life? Leonard Sweet asks in his book 11, about the crucial relationships in our lives, who is our Butt-Kicker? There are plenty of folks who will blow smoke at us, but when it comes down to it, who is helping you stay accountable to who you are called to be, whether that’s a pastor, a Christian stay-at-home mom, a Christian retiree, a Christian teacher, a Christian businessman, whatever it is?
Who is saying, ‘God’s calling you to this and it’s time that you respond?’ If you’re not in a relationship like that, let’s be clear: you should be. For many of us, it starts with whoever first brought us to church and it grows out from there. On a Sunday when we recognize our saints, we need to see that God has set these people before us to show us the way and to direct us on the journey toward what God wants us to be.
That’s one of the things that I love about the football story of Carson Jones: he was getting ready to leave for college, and his mother wondered one night who would watch over the younger girl that the football team had sheltered. His younger brother, a sophomore, piped up: “Don’t worry, I got this one.”
Whether we know it or not, we’re mentoring; good, bad, indifferent, we’re teaching people around us what the right way to behave is. And that doesn’t matter if you’re sixty-seven or six going on seven. Sure, our role in church may change over time, but you old-timers, you need to be sharing what you know, have learned, and experienced with those who are younger. Half of the mentoring is the stories, the time together. Samuel doesn’t become who he is without Eli’s involvement.
The fifth sign of calling is mentoring and confirmation, in who we are.
Samuel goes on to have a pretty good career as God’s priest. He anoints the first two kings of Israel; he speaks for God and develops the priesthood further. Samuel’s heart and experience, mixed with the call of God on his life, meets up in what Samuel does as he goes on to be the man of God who he was called to be.
The sixth sign of calling is responding, in doing what you are called to do.
So where are you? What signs are you seeing? Are you the one that God is calling to step up and help lead the children of our church as a teacher or nursery worker? Are you the one that God is calling to help lead the next mission project, or fundraiser? Are you the one God is calling to pray more, be in church more, give more of your time and money to benefit the church?
Our call does change over time, sometimes incrementally and sometimes exponentially. Sometimes, we’re called to change an attitude; sometimes, we’re called to change careers! [Did you know the percentage of 'second career' pastors? Folks who were pharmacists, car salesmen, prison guards, etc. before they became pastors?] I love that part of the story from Planes: Fire & Rescue, as Dusty realizes that he can no longer race (remember he was a crop-duster first) and he recognizes a need for firefighting planes. Dusty could’ve been disappointed, or sad, or scared (and he was all of those things at times) but he accepted the challenge, answered the call, and made a difference.
Do you recognize the call? Are you listening? Will you go where you’re supposed to go?
One of my favorite hymns, “Here I Am, Lord,” which we’ll sing later today, starts like this:
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in deepest sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
God calls- someone goes. Maybe it’s not the first person he calls, maybe there are those like Jonah who reject him and run. But what of the people God uses, who answer the call, who embrace the call of God on their hearts? What glory for them!
Are you responding to the call of God on your heart?
Because God is calling. And if you’re not responding yet, that’s a call you don’t want to let drop.