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Recognizing God's Call

By Rev. Julie Yarborough

July 11, 1999

1 Samuel 3:1-18; Mark 1:16-20

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." 1

the the ancient days of Eli and Samuel, the Word of the Lord was rare, and visions were not widespread. In fact, messages from God were so rare, that it took the high priest Eli quite a while to recognize that it was God who was speaking to Samuel that night in the temple. We might say that the Word of the Lord is pretty rare in our day and age, and that visions are not very common. Yet, Frederick Buechner reminds us that all moments in life are key moments, and that if we listen to our lives; if we really pay attention, we will recognize the presence of the Holy speaking to us in the ordinary. God speaks to us in many different ways, through many different means.

       In her book Traveling Mercies, Annie Lamott recalls an old story about a man sitting at a bar getting drunk in Alaska. Hes telling the bartender about how he recently lost his faith in God after his twin engine plane crashed in the tundra. "Yeah," he says bitterly, I lay there in the wreckage praying with all of my might and crying out to God to save me, and he didnt raise a finger to help me. I'm through believing in a God who doesnt care about what happens to me."

       "But youre here talking to me," says the bartender, "You were saved."

       "Yeah, that's right," says the man, "because finally some Eskimo came along. . ." 2

       God appears to us through many different people and speaks to us in many different ways. If we have a preconceived notion of what God looks like, or sounds like, we just might miss her when she appears! The voice of God does not always sound like Charleton Heston in Cecil B. Demilles, "Ten Commandments." Even Samuel confused the voice of God with the voice of his mentor, Eli. God calls each one of us, but we may not recognize God's voice.

       When I say that God calls each one of us, I simply mean that the Holy Spirit has a desire to lead us and guide us throughout our lives. I dont mean that God is like a great puppet-master sitting up in heaven pulling the strings and making us dance around. But the one who created us all gave us different gifts and desires, and we were given those gifts and desires for a reason. When we dedicate our lives to following Christ, we are choosing to live as God would want us to live, and to use our gifts for the greater good. God calls us to be who we are to live as authentically as we can. When we follow God's direction for our lives, we are being who we were created to be.

       The word vocation is derived from the Latin word Vocare, which means, "to call." A vocation is a calling, which sets it apart from being merely a job. Frederick Buechner puts it this way: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet." 3 God can and does call us at different stages in our lives. For some people, the call is very clear and there is no question about following it. Simon, Andrew, James and John did not hesitate to drop their nets and follow Jesus, leaving the lives and the work that they knew well. For most of us, however, God's call is not so clear and it takes a while to discern just what we are being called to do.

       When Parker Palmer was a young man, he was trying to figure out his own calling. He was trying "to find a vocation that seemed real and right." 4 At the time, he was living in a Quaker community outside of Philadelphia. It seems that whenever he tried to talk to any of his Quaker friends they told him, "Have faith, and the way will be made know to you." He was getting very discouraged, because he had been praying and listening and nothing seemed clear to him. One day, he went to visit an older member of the community whom he admired. "Ruth," he said, "I've tried many different kinds of work, but nothing seemed right for me. My friends keep telling me that the way will open if I have faith, yet I've been praying and the way is not being made clear to me. Way may open for other people but it sure isnt opening for me."

       After a moment Ruth responded, "I've been a birthright Quaker for sixty-plus years, and way has never opened for me, " she responded. She paused and Palmers heart sank. Could it be that the Quaker concept of God's guidance was all a lie?

       Then Ruth spoke again, "But a lot of way has closed behind me and that has the same guiding effect."

       Together they laughed aloud and in that moment Palmer realized a simple truth that re-framed his spiritual life. He writes: " There is as much guidance from God in what does not happen and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does happen. Maybe more." 5

       One way that we can determine call is if we are sensing a way opening before us, or a way being cut off behind us. My husband refers to this as looking for signs and blocks. When Jeff was trying to determine if God was calling him into the ministry, he went to a wise woman for spiritual direction. She told him that if he wasnt sure, he should try doing something else for a while. If God were calling him into the ministry, he wouldnt be able to avoid it. When God calls us to be our authentic selves, nothing else will bring a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment.

       Before I came to serve Christ Church, I spent a year working as an assistant manager of a bookstore. I liked my job, but something was missing from my life. Over time, I became more and more restless. I missed working in a church and if I had ever had any doubts, my call to be in ministry was confirmed for me that year. God not only called me into ministry: God called me to this church! And I say that with confidence. After the Christmas rush when I started looking for church positions, a friend suggested that I call this pastor named Chuck Rush for advice about networking with American Baptists in New Jersey. We talked on the phone for a while, and decided to meet for lunch. Then he said, "I dont know if youd be interested, but we do have an Associate Pastor position open here at Christ Church . . ." And you know the rest of the story.

       If we want to recognize the Divine call in our lives, we must first pay attention. We must look for God in the ordinary, in the every day, and recognize that all moments are holy and that life itself is grace. We must be open to the possibility of the Holy in our lives. We must be open to the possibility of the Holy in our lives! Samuel was tuned in to the Spirit. He didnt recognize the voice of God because he didnt yet know the Lord, but he did know that the voice that called him was a voice to which he should respond.

       The first key to recognizing God's call is to pay attention to pay attention to whatever is going on around us on the outside, and to listen to that still small voice within. When our lives are not fulfilling, or we dread going into our jobs, or even when we get fired, there may be something better lying ahead, and the boredom, or the dread, or the fear and anxiety may be just what we need to push us in a new direction.

       A second key to recognizing God's call, and one that is closely linked to the first, is to listen to other people. Samuel didnt recognize God's voice, but Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Eli gave Samuel instructions about what to do the next time that he heard the voice. Often other people have more clarity about what is going on in our lives than we do, because they can step back and look at the situation more objectively. At times in our lives, especially those times requiring discernment, its important to seek out wise counsel. Friends, family members and even strangers can be messengers for the Divine, often without realizing it! Listen to other people.

       Thirdly, when attempting to discern whether God is calling you to act, pray about it. After going to Eli a third time, Samuel went back to his mat and followed Elis instructions: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening," he said. What a wonderful prayer! If youre at a loss for words this will suffice: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." If you dont feel comfortable asking for something, just sit quietly and listen for the word of God. After praying for clarity, go back to step one and pay attention. Look and listen for the answer. Be open to Holy possibility. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Be aware of signs and blocks. Look for Way to open before you, and notice when Way closes behind you. Know that all moments are Holy moments.

       Finally, know also that sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone. Quoting Micah 6:8, South African United Methodist Bishop George Irvine has said, "If its loving, if its just, if it promotes right relationships, and if it scares the hell out of you, it just might be a call from God." Samuel was afraid to do what God told him to do. He didnt want to bear such bad news to Eli, the man who had been like a father to him. But Eli knew that whatever Samuel had to say must be said. God called Samuel to be a prophetic priest, and for the rest of his life, he brought news from God that the people didnt always want to hear. Samuel was called out of his comfort zone, yet scripture also tells us that God stood by Samuel for the rest of his life. When we follow God's call, we can be assured that God will guide us every step of the way. God often calls us to step into the unknown and do things that require courage and faith on our part. When we are open to the leading of the Spirit, and allow ourselves to s

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." 6


1 Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, (New York: Harper Collins, Publishers), 1992, p. 2.

2 Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (New York: Pantheon Books), 1999, p.117.

3 Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, (New York: HarperCollins, Publishers), 1992, p. 185.

4 Parker J. Palmer, "On Minding Your Call - When No One is Calling, " in Weavings, Volume XI, Number 3, May/June 1996, p. 16.

5 Ibid.

6 Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, (New York: HarperCollins, Publishers), 1992, p. 2.


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