Discerning God's Call
JEREMIAH 1: 4-9, ROMANS 12: 1-8
Last Sunday at the Hot Topics Forum held in our Fellowship Center, we heard two speakers give opposing views. What fascinated me was that both claimed they are called by God, not only to their position, but called to speak on behalf of their position. Diametrically opposed, they are both called! Is one wrong? Has one misunderstood God's call? How do we know what is God's call? Last Sunday I made the point that you have a call. This morning I preach a four-point sermon using the questions: To what does God call? How do I hear God's call? How does God speak? How can I be certain I am hearing God's call?
1) To what does God call? As I understand the Bible, God is about the task of reconciling the world, redeeming humankind who has wandered far from how we were created to live. God is about the work of redemption and God calls workers to assist. God's call essentially is to "do" and to "go". We heard read how God called Jeremiah and said, "Go to whom I send you, and speak whatever I command you." (Jeremiah 1.6) In Genesis 12.1, God called Abraham and told him, "Go from your country to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation." God's call is to action. I like our church's mission statement: Putting Love into Action.
Last Wednesday I was overwhelmed by the miracle of birth. Our twin granddaughters were born to our daughter-in-law, Barbara. Their father, Tim, and their two grandmothers were present in the operating room, but I was invited to watch the births through a window, where I saw it all! It truly was a spiritual experience to see human lives begin. What a miracle! When the first girl was taken to the recovery room, I went along, and she, twenty minutes old, held on tightly to my finger. Not only did I watch, I participated! What an awesome experience!
When God gives babies to parents, the call is to do parenting. Being parents is one thing, but doing parenting in response to God's call is a high, spiritual calling. Can any calling be higher, be greater, than parenting? Don't be hesitant to say "no" to any obligation, duty, and responsibility when it interferes with parenting. Kids are first. Some employers don't agree, of course; and the necessity to provide for the family is a juggling act with the call to do parenting. Children can understand when Mommy or Daddy have to go to work, but Mom and Dad must carve out times just for the children to nurture, teach, and support them. How difficult it is for working Moms and single parents, and I admire those who do it well.
The call to grandparenting is equally strong. In my last church, I telephoned a woman and asked her if the Nominating committee could nominate her to be secretary of the Administrative Council. She was thrilled, so pleased to be asked, and excited to do the secretarial work for the Council. But, when I told her the date of the first meeting, there was dead silence. I asked if there was a problem. She hesitated, and then said, "No, I'll be there." I asked if she had made other plans. She said her grandson was swimming in a regional swim meet in Las Vegas, and they were planning a mini-family reunion. "However," she said, "I'll stay home and take the minutes. I've made a commitment." I was impressed with her faithfulness, but I said, "No, you go and be a grandmother. Kids need all the grandparenting they can get. Just remember, the church gets 10% of your winnings." She laughed, "Oh, I don't play those machines!" Let's get our priorities straight: if you are a parent, you are called to do parenting. If you are a grandparent, you are called to do grandparenting.
God calls workers to assist in the redemption of the world. Some are called to do parenting and grandparenting. God also calls us to professions, to vocations, and to do ministry through our vocations. God calls us to do the work of redemption in and through the church. And, God does not call us in a vacuum. God gives us gifts so that we can do the work to which we are called. We heard read from Romans some of the spiritual gifts that God gives.
2) How do I hear God's call? Romans 12.2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God'what is good and acceptable and perfect." Do not be limited, do not be restricted or constricted by the world, by our culture, by what neighbors think or peers think. Do not be restricted by the tapes of your parents playing in your head (the don'ts, oughts, and shoulds). We each live in our own little boxes'small, narrow, defined by our environment, upbringing and cultural expectations. We conform. "Be transformed", Paul says. Break out of the box. Renew your minds. Open your minds. Find some new experiences. Make friends with some people you don't ordinarily associate with, especially those of other colors and different nationalities. Break out of the routine, break out of your comfort zone, out of your rut. Someone said, "The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth." Pray, read the Bible. Let music, art, poetry broaden your experiences. Get a glimpse of the wider world. Don't be too quick to slam the door of your mind on a new idea, a challenge, an eye-opener, or something strange because it may be Jesus knocking on your door!
3) How does God speak? How does God call? Talk about breaking out of your box and open to new experiences, look how God spoke in the Bible. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. God got Elijah's attention by sending a whirlwind, an earthquake, a fire, and then spoke in a still, small voice. A bright light blinded Saul on the way to Damascus, and he was transformed into Paul. God spoke to Joseph in a dream and told him to marry Mary. God speaks outside the box. Take a peek, stretch and listen. God also speaks through prayer, sometimes audibly, sometimes through inner conviction. God speaks through events, opening doors of opportunity for you. God speaks through needs. When you see a need, do it. If you can see the need, you have been given the eyes to see it and the insight to understand it as a need. If the need is speaking to you, it is calling you. Persons teach Sunday School when they see how children need to learn about Jesus, how children want to love Jesus when they are shown how much Jesus loves them.
4) How can I be certain I am hearing God's call? How do we know, how do we know for sure? 1 John 4.1, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." Not every spirit is from God. Not every word is spoken by God. Not every call comes from God. How do we know, how do we test?
Here are a few tests:
1) 1 John goes on to say you begin with Jesus. Is Jesus honored, glorified, and served, the Jesus of the Bible?
2) Check out the call with sisters and brothers in Christ, the church. Seek their guidance. A young farm boy was convinced he had heard the call to ministry. The first step into Methodist ministry is to be interviewed and recommended by the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. But, the committee couldn't see him in the ministry. They did not see how his gifts and graces matched up with the demands of the professional ministry. Someone asked him how he was sure he had been called. He said, "Well, while I was plowing I looked up into the sky and saw how clouds had formed three letters: G P C. I knew then that I was called to Go Preach Christ." One kindly old farmer on the committee said, "Son, how do you know that G P C didn't mean to Go Plow Corn?" A call needs to be validated, affirmed, substantiated by Christian friends you trust.
3) Is the call humbling? If the call swells your head and gives you a sense of power and prestige, I doubt that it is a genuine call from the Lord. In the lesson from Romans, 12.3, Paul wrote, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think." A genuine call fills you with a sense of gratitude and humility that God should choose you. One of our members told me last week how she is called to a ministry at the Ronald McDonald House at Children's Hospital. She delivers fresh laundry to a room, and then cooks a meal for a family. It is a humble, menial task and she loves it.
4) Does the call demand the best from you? In the novel by Kazantzakis, Brother Leo asks St. Francis, "How do we know the will of God? When there is a fork in the road with two choices, how do we know which is the call of God?" St. Francis answered, "Whichever is the more difficult?" Is the call stretching you, demanding your best, forcing you to grow?
5) Is the call fun? Is there joy? When a call is genuinely from the Lord is that doing it will be fun! You will experience a deep sense of joy and fulfillment. If what you are doing for the Lord is drudgery, duty and performed out of a sense of responsibility, you are probably not using a spiritual gift! If you are doing what God is calling you to do, you are floating on clouds, singing with joy, laughing and brightening the place for others. Psalm 40.8, "I delight to do your will, O my God." 6) Are you growing in the Spirit?
In Galatians 5.22-23, Paul lists results of living in the Spirit. Do you see yourself growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If so, you are doing God's call and living in the Spirit. However, after all is said and done, and you have done all the testing and checking you can think of, you then walk in faith. You will never know for sure. There is always doubt. Walk in faith. Abraham was called by God and told to "Go." Hebrews 11.8 tells us, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going." Abraham walked in faith, a faith odyssey.
Walk in faith. You do not walk alone. Jesus walks with you. Hear God's call to do and go. Go, and walk in faith.
© 2001 Douglas I. Norris