You’ve got to get your feet wet. That’s what we read in the book of Joshua “Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.” (Joshua 3:15-16 NRS)
If you want to experience miracles, dipping your feet in the edge of the water may be just what the doctor ordered. What on earth am I babbling about?
I’ve spent more than a decade in deep study, I don’t know why but I do know that that when I started I loved it and I still do. Why did I start?
I was browsing in the religion section at half price books in early 2009 and a book quite literally fell into my hand, How to Read the Bible by James Kugel, in fact. I’d been in prayer, I’d though of study which is why I was there in the first place, this happened and I said “Okay God”. Was it a call? Perhaps it was a serendipitous confluence of events. Perhaps not. Either way, it’s lead to some interesting times and a way to learn a lot of things that I’d always wanted to know.
Calls are not usually easy to understand, and our own wants and needs weigh heavily on discernment of whether or the call is from the divine. Calls and being called are often cryptic and notional, and one simply does not know that one’s mind has not created the notion and reinforced it using coincidental “signs” and events.
In many cases, it seems that the undesirability of the call and one’s unworthiness and inability to do what is called for are the hallmarks of an authentic call. Samuel didn’t recognize that his calling was from God (1 Samuel 3:4-18) until Eli explained it to him (verse 9). And it was not good news that he was to give Eli, it was something that Samuel was afraid of (verse 15). Only with Eli’s prompting (verse 17) was the bad news delivered.
Jesus Himself didn’t much like the calling to allow His own crucifixion, asking for the cup to pass in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-42). Thy will be done, quoth He, and He did as the Father required. He drank the bitter cup and its dregs, for us. One also thinks of the prophets, of St. Teresa of Calcutta, of Hudson Taylor’s call to China. And Gideon and his fleecing of the Lord.
Perhaps the best example of all is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Being called to be the mother of Christ Jesus was most certainly a heavy burden to bear, and she accepted it freely.
If, like my study habit, it makes little difference whether or not the reason for doing something is a calling, then there’s no grounds for concern. If, however, a person feels called to do something that requires a major undertaking, of if it imperils reputation, relationships, or well being, serious thought to the reasons for the call and the consequences for following it are in order. We must remember that the adversary, ha-satan in Hebrew, is constantly calling.
How does one know the difference?
First and foremost, we must address whether or not God “calls” people to do things. I’ll drop the scholarly pretense and simply say that it seems obvious and true to me that He does, and that sometimes people responding to the call are aware of it, and sometimes they are not. And sometimes the call is rejected, knowingly or unknowingly.
Those responding to calls of which they are not aware live in blessed state because they don’t have to struggle with what the call is, whether or not it is real, and how they should respond. No, these blessed people just do.
Abraham did not hesitate when called to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Neither did Isaac resist. The rest of us hesitate and resist. We want to know what the risk is, what the future holds, what’s in it for me? Of course, Jonah famously resisted which put lots of lives in danger and he ended up with a nice ride to Nineveh in the belly of a great fish, so the story goes. He was afraid that his credibility would be damaged if the people to whom he was sent actually listened and God did not destroy them, making his predictions false – and that’s what happened. He was afraid that good things would come of his mission.
That said, we’ve become loose, perhaps flippant, using “calls” and “callings” to describe someone’s aptitude and success rather than the acceptance of a God given request. That allows us to turn the terms around and say “I’m called to do …” and give ourselves divine authority for what we’re doing, and that’s a bad thing.
This is the danger, and it is where brutal honesty is required. After all, there’s nothing wrong with simply doing what you want to do if you’re not out to harm others. On the other hand, there is grave danger in claiming divine authority by saying that God called or told us to do something.
Let’s take my study and teaching people about it as a real world example of brutal honesty. I love study, and it may be a calling. But am I called to teach about it? I want to teach, it is the logical extension of the large amount of knowledge that I’ve acquired, I love to tell stories, but after prayer and reflection, the answer, I’m afraid, is no, I am not called to teach about ancient times. That does not mean that I shouldn’t, that I won’t make every effort to find a way to do so, that my hopes are dashed, that the world collapses, but it does mean that it’s not something that God has put on my heart. I wish it were not so, but brutal honesty applies to all of us if we want to gain wisdom through humility.
How did I come to this conclusion? I got my feet wet, tried to find avenues, and things didn’t feel right. Some day, I may teach, and I’d like to, but the passion and zeal that comes with a calling, the staunch determination, is not truly there.
Once, in a period of group discernment for a church, we were writing notes and posting them on the wall about what we felt called to do. My note was “be a bold witness for Christ” which was pooh-poohed by the priest saying “we’re all called to do that!”. He was wrong. You see, that is my calling. It’s vague, it’s hard, and being an agent of the truth is not a thing that makes one popular in religious circles.
I am called to be a bold witness for the radical transformation that Christ Jesus tells us of and which the Holy Spirit brings, and to tell those stuck in a rut of tradition that his ways are not our ways (cp. Isaiah 55:8), and my views are not your views yet I have a right to those views and everyone has a right to their views. Religion must be from the heart; it cannot be compelled. At the end of the day, Religion itself is a calling. We must not forget this important fact.
How do I know that I am called? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34 NRS) Jesus has a way of putting things quite directly, doesn’t He? My heart is in the treasure of the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom struggling to be manifested before the return of the King and the full restoration of the world to come. It is a different world, one that we’re still not ready for, and that’s my zeal. The world where we love each other, where we care for each other, and where we sacrifice for each other, being the image bearers of God under our King Jesus, with our God Yahweh present among us, all bound together through the Holy Spirit. That Kingdom, the “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Kingdom, and the truth that is evidence of the dawning of the Kingdom is my joy, my zeal, and where my calling lies.
Are you called? Only you can know this, so think about it, pray about it. Ultimately, you’re going to have to get your feet wet and see how if feels and how your prayer life feels when you start to follow that path. Asking your pastor or priest about discernment is a good idea. Asking them to make the decision for you is foolish.
You must discern this, and as the Oracle of Delphi so well proclaimed, you must know yourself. Be honest with yourself. That’s very hard, I know, but it is required. And let yourself do some things just because you want to, there’s nothing wrong with that, you know. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? Can you align them in one purpose?
Remember the Ring of Sauron – the ring of control must be destroyed to allow the King to reign. Not all folks in religious circles are agents of the Lord. Know thyself, know thy God.
You know, when the people chose between Jesus and Barabbas, I often wonder if we lose the symbolism. After all, Jesus, Yah-ho-shuah in full Hebrew – Yahweh is salvation, and Bar-abbas – Son of the father, are interesting names. Did the people choose between God and tradition? I do. I think that they chose tradition, and I think we still do. Be wise, choose Yahweh. Choose love and humility, and be honest about your true motivations.
I try, and fail. That’s what we’re all called to do: try. Get your feet wet!