I have always been intrigued by the question of how God calls people. As a child I remember being jealous of the boy Samuel, who heard God calling him in the night. Would I ever hear such a call? Would I be brave enough to answer?
Other Bible stories offer similarly dramatic accounts of God speaking and people responding: Moses and the burning bush, Hannah in the temple, Isaiah and the seraphim, Mary at the annunciation, and Saul on the road to Damascus. These were women and men God called to challenging and world-changing tasks: leading God’s people out of Egypt, calling God’s people to repentance, bearing the Messiah, taking the mission of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace.
During my college years, I struggled with my friends to listen to the voice of God as we faced big decisions, from choice of a major field of study, to dating relationships, to post-graduation plans. Those big decisions and the desire to hear God speak continued throughout my life, particularly at moments when I faced disappointment and failure.
A few years ago, a sabbatical leave provided me with the opportunity to study more carefully the question of how Christians understand their call from God, particularly from the perspective of Bluffton’s Anabaptist heritage. What I discovered during my research was both simpler and more exciting than I had expected.
I came to realize that God’s call is not a big mystery. God has already called us and most everyone who reads this blog will have already heard the call. The call is the same call that Abraham heard, that Moses heard, that Hannah heard, that Mary heard: Give yourself in faith to the life and mission of God’s people, flawed and broken though they be. Carry this mission into every corner of your life, no matter what station. As a member of God’s people, bring the good news of freedom and reconciliation and salvation to everyone in every place of life and work.
What this means in twenty-first century North America is encapsulated in the title of the book I wrote based on my sabbatical research: Go to Church, Change the World.
This account of God’s call may seem out of touch in a culture of declining church attendance and disillusionment with the failures and faithlessness of the church all around us. No doubt Isaiah and Jeremiah felt similarly disillusioned with God’s people, when they were called to speak up and remind God’s people of their mission.
Like these biblical characters, we have also heard God’s call, whether in church or in a Bluffton University classroom, whether through the counsel of a friend or by the speech of the heavens. I see the call every morning on a sign displayed by a church located between my house and my office: “God is still speaking; no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
My own denomination puts it this way in its vision statement: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” Amen.
Just published: Gerald J. Mast, Go to Church, Change the World: Christian Community as Calling. Herald Press, 2012. For more information: http://mennomedia.org/gotochurch/