Thursday, January 23, 2014

Discerning your call

I had the privilege last night of speaking to 9th and 10th grade students and their parents for a Confirmation Parents Night.  We do this about once a month, and I have come to love these evenings.  There's a dedicated group of parents who come to be with their sons and daughters, to hear a word that applies to them and their families, and to consider how best to partner with the church in passing the gift of faith on to these young men and women.

Last night we talked about discerning your call from God.  It seemed like an appropriate topic, given the discernment process that I'm going through with Calvary Lutheran and their upcoming vote this Sunday to decide whether to call me as senior pastor.  I told the story of how I was called from Williston, North Dakota to Central -- another call that I had not been seeking, but one that definitely came from God.

We talked about the many diverse ways that biblical characters were called by God.  Moses had a burning bush.  David was anointed by Samuel when all his older brothers had been passed over.  Mary received a visit from an angel.  Joseph had a dream.  Isaiah saw a vision of God.  Amos was among the shepherds.  Ezekiel was among the exiles on the banks of a river in Babylon.  There is no one way to hear God's call.

For younger people, as we talked we established that there are a few things to do that will put you in a place to hear God's call.  First, get to know Jesus.  Get to know him well.  Read and reread the gospels.  Dig into Jesus.  Then, as you continue reading, ask, "Who am I?"  Who do I find myself to be in these stories?  Do I identify with Peter?  John?  Mary Magdalene?  Mary of Bethany?  Who am I?  What do I learn about myself here?  What is true of me?

Once you get to know Jesus, start trying things.   Young people need to try lots of things.  I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed some of the surprised looks when I started to say last night that I was not always a pastor.  I worked as a janitor, both in a health clinic and in a church, among other places.  I washed dishes.  I served as a footman for a man whose business was running a team of horses and a coach shuttling guests from the parking lot to the wedding.  I stocked shelves at Target.  I farmed.  You have to try lots of things.  In some of those jobs you'll discover what you're definitely not called to do.  In others you'll find God blessing your efforts and giving you great joy.

Pursue those things.  Dig into them and see what doors God opens.  Too many young people feel a great sense of pressure to figure out a career too early.  And too many adults identify their career with their calling.  It's not always so.  God gives some of us jobs in order to fund our calling, which is totally separate from our jobs.  You have to recognize when that's the case.

Discerning calling is different for those of us who are a little older.  After the students left the room, the parents and I talked about what it's like to discern calling as middle-aged people.  I cited Terry Walling, who told me, "Jeff, you've come to the age when you no longer have to prove what you can do.  You can do lots of things.  No, the question now is what should you do?"  There are lots of things I can do that I will never seek to focus on.  Playing guitar and leading worship is a skill I have, but it's not where I'm primarily called.  Stripping floors and waxing them is something I can do, but I will not pursue it to discern my calling.  I'm capable of lots of things, but I'm called to just a few.  I am at an age when it's time to narrow down, to focus on the things I do best.

We ended the evening with a  couple difficult caveats.  I talked to the parents about how easy it is for us to confuse following Jesus with being middle class.  So often our dreams for our kids are just simply about them having stuff, about keeping up with the contented Joneses, about hoping they get good jobs and aren't miserable.  None of that is God's call on their lives.  The danger for us as parents is that we will yearn for their comfort when God wants their commitment.  We will advise them to choose contentedness when God wants their radical edge.  What happens when you dream of a college degree for your child and God has called them to a year or two of mission work?  Can you let go of your smaller ambitions for your child and let God take them beyond your dreams?

It's true for ourselves as well.  No matter what your age it's always tempting to pursue your own security rather than God's best plans for you.  Get away where it's quiet and let God speak into that.  Dig deep into the gospels and notice how Jesus called his disciples -- not telling them where they'd end up, but simply saying, "Come, follow me."  Are you willing?  If you have an idea what God is calling you to do, test it out.  Talk it out with friends who know Jesus and who know you.  Pray through it.  Fast from food or technology for a day or two.  Let your heart get humble and quiet before God and hear what he has to say.

If you do these things, I guarantee that the journey will not be dull.  God will lead you into places you may or may not have dreamed for yourself, but it will be far better than what you'd have chosen.  Too often we are willing to settle for a crust when he wants to give us a full meal.

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