Sunday, January 20, 2008

Called to a Meaningful Existence

(Read Isaiah 49:1-7 and Mt 4: 12-25 from the Message translation)

“For a moment, stand with Andrew and Peter fishing by the sea, or sit with James and John seated in a boat with their father. The familiar salty air reeks with a sense of security. Would you suddenly drop everything known best to you and go traipsing off to who-knows-where with a man who shows up one day and speaks with an authority that suggests he can change everything? When you hear this man say “[come with me],” would you not first want him to tell you something about where you would be going and what you would be doing? Would you not want some assurance of a worthwhile pay-off for embarking on such a risk[y] journey? Perhaps you would think to yourself: Fishing on Lake Galilee may not seem like much, but it is a means of making a living. And this is home.” (The Minister’s Annual Manual. 2007-2008. pg. 229).

I can imagine the other fisherman on the beach watching first Andrew and Peter, and then James and John go. They were probably somewhat happy to see them go because now there would be less competition to catch the fish. They probably also poked fun at the men for being so gullible. Maybe, they even made a wager. One man might have said to another, “I’ll bet you 2 to 1 that Andrew and Peter are back within a week with nothing to show for themselves but red faces and empty stomachs. And they’ll be so hungry they’ll be begging us for fish! Those fools.” Ha, ha, ha.

Answering the call to follow Jesus is never foolish, but it is daring when you think about it rationally and reasonably. You’re taking a chance, a risk, and most of us like to have a solid assurance that our risks will pay off. Calls often lead us to quit our jobs when we aren’t even sure of what we’ll do next. Calls often have us enter into some new activity that we think we might be interested in and good at, but don’t even know.

It’s scary. What if you don’t have the talent or skill to do anything other than what you’ve been doing? What if you won’t make enough money? Money is a huge factor in why people resist the callings of God. Time too. It may take years before you have the education you need to get the right job or years to get the restaurant or the small business up and running. The uncertainty of striking out into uncharted territory stops all of us at one time or another. That’s why people who end up following Christ when he calls are people of courage. You have to have courage and trust to do what it takes to follow where the Spirit is leading.

“When Jesus showed up that day in front of James, Andrew, Peter, and John, they did not [even] know what we know about the one who called their names and asked for their loyalty. My goodness, we have thousands of years of evidence of the credibility of [Jesus’] vision, the power of his authority, and the healing in his ministry. But, still we hesitate to heed his call” because we are too cautious or afraid to take a leap of faith. (The Minister’s Annual Manual. 2007-2008. pg. 231).

My childhood friend, Jeni, is a woman that I really admire these days. She didn’t start out with the easiest of circumstances because she got pregnant in high school. But now, some 10 years later, she has three kids and a wonderful husband. She works full-time as a special education teacher in the public school system, a career she very much wanted to enter into years ago. But recently, Jeni hasn’t been enjoying her job as much. She doesn’t feel fulfilled; she’s tired, burnt- out. About six months ago, Jeni told me that what she really wanted to do now was be a high school guidance counselor. I said, “That sounds like a great job for you. Can you switch?” Jeni said, “Yeah, but I have to get a Masters. It will take two years.”

And you know what, bless her heart and pray to God she has enough energy to make it through, she’s doing it! Three kids, working full-time and getting her Masters, but she’s doing it; she’s following her heart. I admire that she didn’t let excuses stop her, and I’m inspired by her courage and action.

Answering the call takes courage. You have to be daring; you also have to be trusting, trusting that God will see you through. From my studies, from my conversations with many faithful people, and mainly from my own personal experiences, I think following the urgings of the Spirit, following the plan of God, is 100% worthwhile and the right thing to do because I believe it leads to a better life and service towards others.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges along the way, because there are. It’s hard to learn to do something new. It’s unsettling to put yourself in unknown territory. It strains you, your family, your finances. But I still say it’s worth it. Challenges build character, and commitment to the righteous path no matter the cost builds integrity. Don’t we all want to be people of character and integrity?

God knit each of us together, giving us unique spirits and individual gifts. And we’re meant to use them, even, especially as we change and grow.

One other concern I had regarding God’s calling to his children was brought up by the Isaiah Scripture. Why did Isaiah, who was following God’s call, feel like he was working in vain? When I read Isaiah 49, verse 4, I felt bad for the prophet. He said, "I've worked for nothing. I've nothing to show for a life of hard work.” We’re not supposed to feel like that when we’re following our path. The new life in Christ isn’t meant to be meaningless and defeating.

But, as I read Isaiah’s words, they resonated with me and some of the other people who were at Bible Study this week. Sometimes, we all feel like we’re working like dogs, trying so hard, and for what? So we can go unappreciated? Or even worse, so we can be judged and yelled at by others for all our efforts? Sometimes, it feels like we are putting all our energy into working, and it isn’t fun, and it isn’t getting us anywhere.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament is about this very thing. It begins, “Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That's what the Quester says.] There's nothing to anything - it's all smoke. What's there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? I’ve seen it all and its nothing but smoke-smoke and spitting into the wind” (Ecc. 2-3, 14).

We all have thoughts like this, but they should be fleeting. They shouldn’t last for years. Isaiah eventually realized his life had meaning and purpose, and he felt good about his accomplishments. Right after he’s all down on life, he says, but “I'll let God have the last word. I'll let him pronounce his verdict." And God’s verdict, not only will Isaiah recover the tribes of Jacob and round up the tribes of Israel by what he says and does, but he will also be a light to the nations, a light to all people so that salvation will be global. Isaiah’s work is not in vain because he has been given a task by God. “Kings will see, get to their feet - the princes, too - and then fall on their faces in homage” (Isaiah 49: 4, 11). When God says come with me and we follow, every effort we put forth is worth its while.

So, if you have felt like you’re drifting, busting your butt for no good reason or wasting your precious days of life, that might just be the Spirit’s way of speaking to you through your own emotions, telling you that your are meant for something different, telling you that you are putting your efforts in the wrong place, calling you to a new reality.

“At the center of Christianity stands a decision-the decision-about following Jesus.”(The Minister’s Annual Manual. 2007-2008. pg. 231). Many of us say we follow Jesus, but we don’t take the big chances, and put our faith into action. It often takes us until our backs are against the wall or we just can’t take it anymore to take the plunge, which is better than not taking the plunge at all. Although ,we might be better off if we went more willingly like Peter, Andrew, James and John. Less inner conflict.

Make the decision to follow your Leader and Guide. Be courageous and trusting. Take action!

When God calls to you, you will know. Callings are not things we “should do.” Callings are inspirations to things we want to do. “When we really hear Jesus’ invitation-‘follow me’- it is as if time and place fade. His words slice through the centuries between when he first spoke them and when we first hear them…[We think,] What do those words from the mouth of Jesus mean for [my life]?” (The Minister’s Annual Manual. 2007-2008. pg. 229).

But don’t try to figure it all out at once. You won’t know the whole plan that God has in store for you in once instant. Just start by putting one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. As you follow your calling, the road will open before you and the wind will be at your back.

By the way, if it is not you who are being called, but someone whom you are close to, your husband or wife, sister or brother, parent or child, friend, support the chosen one who has been called. Encourage him or her. Reassure their insecurities and put their worries to rest. We all need someone standing by our side saying, “You can do it!” Courage comes naturally when you receive encouragement.

And those of you who are being called, listen and believe what you hear.

If I had to put a bet on anything in life, it would be that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have plans for your good and not for harm. If you hear the Spirit or Jesus say, “Come with me,” Get up and go. The odds are you will have an amazing journey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mandy--

I haven't read all of it, but I enjoyed reading what I did. Thanks for getting the word out.

Linda H.