What’s Your Calling?

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.” (Psalm 128:2)

A young man was at work in the desert, just beyond the middle of nowhere, when, as the old story goes, God called out to him from a bush. A burning bush, not all that uncommon a sight to see in the desert, except that this bush kept on burning and was not consumed. Lucky this young man paid attention (or perhaps it was known that he would), for it wasn’t until he turned aside to investigate this thing that God called him by name: “Moses, Moses…come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 3:1-6).

Without any further introductions or friendly chit-chat, God quickly changes subject and declares: “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…I know their sufferings…and I have come down to deliver them.” Then (no pause for questions), God says, “I am sending you” (3:7-10). No wonder the young man immediately protests! After all, what is wrong with this picture? How about a job application, some interview questions, a background check at least? What kind of relevant experience or education does a shepherd have for this new line of work? The God who calls him doesn’t even seem to take into account his past sins or spiritual fitness, just throws him right into on-the-job training: Deliverance from Slavery 101.
 
In hindsight, I don’t think God didn’t know or care about Moses. On the contrary, I suppose God knew exactly what Moses needed in life: to do something great and become the leader he was born to be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt
is also the story of Moses’ salvation. The young man, Moses, would not be saved apart from the work God had given him to do, even though it was God, of course, doing all the saving. Likewise, I don’t suppose any of us are just “working out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12) all alone in a prayer closet. To be called is to be blessed with the gift of good and meaningful work to do in the world.
           
As I look around at my community and think about my friends, young and old, I sense not only a common search for meaning, but also a search for meaningful work to do. It’s not just about finding a job that pays the bills. The Bible speaks of “finding enjoyment in toil” (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and in “the labor of your hands” (Psalm 128). Meanwhile, we find much more reason to complain at work while we watch others enjoy the fruits or end-product of our labor. Like most of the ranch “hands” in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men many end up feeling like they’ve spent the best years of their lives working on someone else’s ranch with too little to show for it. This, as the scripture says, “is vanity,” not the way it’s supposed to be. Rather than working because the work is good, or because we enjoy the result, we work for money to compensate for doing what we don’t believe in. And thus, at work, we feel more and more estranged from who we really are.
 
If God called the first people to eat and till the garden, and Abraham was blessed by God in order to bless others–if Moses was delivered in delivering God’s people, and Jesus was raised up to do God’s greatest work of all, then I think it’s safe to say God can provide us all with good and meaningful work, if not “greater works” (John 14:12) to do. Work that will not leave us finally feeling empty or distant from ourselves.
 
There’s lots of talk about jobs in America, but I think our need runs deeper. We don’t just work to eat; we hunger for good work to do. It’s one thing to be employed, and another to find your life’s calling. Discerning God’s call is not just for clergy, and not just for a few. What kind of work do you profoundly enjoy or, in the end, feel good about doing? What are your gifts? What could be your life’s work, your Magnum Opus, with God’s help? There’s nothing wrong, of course, with fair compensation, but I understand many of history’s finest didn’t do their greatest works for money. And yet, how much richer were they, and are we as a result!
 
You may not be gifted like Beethoven, the great musician and composer. But, did you know he lost his hearing in the middle of his prime? Still, he went on to compose some of his greatest works: including
Symphony no. 9 and Missa Solemnis. So, where does that leave us with our gifts and list of excuses? You don’t even have to quit your day job to listen for your calling, to be on the lookout for your
burning bush.


Bridging the Generational Gaps

All families have their problems. More than a century ago, Thoreau wrote, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” I’m sure you’ve also seen such shortsightedness in youth. But, I have also seen as much generational prejudice among those of us who ought to be mature. Many despair about the future that will be in the hands of our youth. Such pessimism is, for me, an even greater cause for concern.

Some say our problem is that the family unit isn’t what it used to be. They point to the rising number of single parent households, or the changing portraits of the American family in popular media between the days of

Leave it to Beaver (1957) and Modern Family

(2009). But, I think that story is a little overdone. In fact, the rate of change in the makeup of American households has been decreasing now for years, and among America’s fictional fathers, from Ward Cleaver and Archie Bunker to Phil Dunphy, etc., one could find at least as many similarities as differences. Some change is inevitable, but I don’t think our generational problem has changed as much in the last century as some would have us believe.
 
I think the truth is harder: our real families have never  quite lived up to our ideals. Not in the 1950s, 70s, or today. Even though it is a fact we often try to hide in public, real families of all shapes and sizes only get along with their fair share of difficulty and dysfunction, no matter how hard we try as individuals. And, if I’m not mistaken, this is the way it’s always been.
 
The Bible speaks of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But, that simple phrase glosses over a number of important details. Like the fact that Abraham tied his son Isaac up with ropes and laid him on an altar, apparently to perform some kind of sacrificial ritual (Genesis 21). Not exactly normal father-son bonding time in the mountains. Or, the time Jacob conspired with his mother, betrayed his brother, and tricked his father into giving him a fatherly blessing (Genesis 25). I trust my own kids will never resort to such extremes! That’s to say nothing of Jacob’s son Joseph and his notoriously jealous brothers. In the Bible, the first family of faith is portrayed in a surprisingly real and honest comedy of errors. It seems a miracle the faith was ever passed down through these generations.
           
But maybe that’s just the point: though well aware of who we really are, including all our generational and relational dysfunction, God is not ready to give up on us or our ever-changing families. On the contrary, God instructs his people to “recite [God’s words] to your children” and “write them on the doorposts of your home” (Deuteronomy 6). And, in just about the last words recorded in the final book of the Hebrew prophets, God exhorts his people to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a).
 
Since our future does not belong to any single culture, era, or generation, the faith we hold dear must be handed down through changing times and handled (to our horror or delight) in new, surprising ways. Sometimes, that means education for our young and inexperienced. Other times, it means surrender, a shift in perspective or position for the elders to embrace. Like Moses, one generation can intentionally make room for another to take the lead. Or the twelve apostles, who not only laid hands, but taught and gifted others to take the torch from them. It shouldn’t have to be a violent takeover, but it always requires courage and wisdom for one generation to decide how to hold on and  let go of God’s greatest gift: a faith that was never ours alone in the first place, in order to entrust it to a hope that was never ours to possess.

Families are hard work, and when I say that, I mean all kinds of families: not just taxable households, but extended families, neighborhoods, churches, and the communities they support. But, I believe our families are worth every effort. Part of what makes them difficult or sometimes disappointing is all the differences in perspective, the language barriers, and gaps between the generations. Nevertheless, it is possible, worthwhile, and a most rewarding thing for us to invest our time, resources, and prayers in overcoming the considerable obstacles between our generations, patiently participating in all their messy, discordant, and beautiful hopes for the future. In them, but not without them, as in the story of Abraham’s family, I believe we can begin to understand something of God’s love for us and boundless optimism.

Verse

“Turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a)




 
 

2 Responses to “Pastor’s Page”

  1. Diana says:

    In the past, I really struggled with separating what my “call” was and “punching my time card.” Sometimes I feel like they are closely related, and then sometimes they couldn’t be farther apart. Interesting perspective coming from Moses’ POV. Good blog Pastor Michael! Keep them coming!!

    • Michael says:

      I still struggle with this… and maybe it is just a matter of perspective. I suppose the same work (of any kind) could be looked at “from above,” like a calling to cooperate with God, or “from below,” as a mere job. Thanks, Diana!

Leave a Reply