What does it mean to be called — part 2: Biblical response

Reading scripture there are several different types of calling. There is a general call of obedience, which we see in the very concept of Torah. All people are called to find ways to live out justice and live in right relationship. While Jesus does not say whether or not the call to discipleship is universal, Christ does say that only those the Father draws to Christ can come to Christ. (John 6:44) There is a sense that all who choose a life of walking with Jesus are living a vocational life.

As all who choose to walk with Jesus have answered a vocation, all Christians have a responsibility to one another to live in right relationships, and to exercise their spiritual gifts for the well-being of the community. This general calling, however, seems somewhat separate from what people mean when they speak of a vocation or a vocational ministry. What does it mean to be called?

Those examples of calling we have in scripture are of the prophets, of the disciples themselves, and of Paul. These special vocations are something we romanticize, however they are not something that we envy. We quote Samuel when he said: “Lord, here am I, send me” when we want to encourage people to embrace ministry, however we rarely point out that the special call of Samuel was to prophecy the death and shame of his loving family. I’ve heard sermons about the call of Isiah, but the speaker stops speaking before explaining that Judah will be hearing but never understanding and will continue like this until there is no recognizable remnant of Judah left. Isaiah is called to preach this message even though he knows it will be unsuccessful. The uniquely successful Jonah runs away from his calling, and is miraculously forced to his special calling. Jonah, having no love for the Assyrians, is upset when his ministry is successful and Nineveh repents.

One remarkable thing about the most striking calls to a prophetic ministry is that in the case of Jonah, who enjoyed success, and most likely for others there was a sense that this vocation was temporary. The call was to deliver a specific message to a specific person or persons, and when the message was delivered, the calling was completed.

What seems clear is that whether a calling is a special calling, or a general calling, God seeks faithfulness above measurable success. Certainly there is little correlation between success and faithfulness. There is also a sense that a calling is persistent enough that it demands a person obey it whether or not there is success. Vocation very often implies personal sacrifice.

Perhaps the most remarkable calling for the church is that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Whether we given a message or not — whether we are called away from “home” or not, we are all called to put walking with Jesus above ourselves. Vocation is common to the whole church.


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