What do you think of when you come across the word, ‘vocation?’ Do you think of a ‘vocation to’ some profession such as teaching or nursing or soldiering? Perhaps you think of a vocation to enter a convent or monastery? The Cambridge Dictionary gives as a definition:
a type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling that a type of work suits you in this way.
Certainly, there are many professions that require every ounce of energy, and which need 24/7 commitment. Some of us will know what it is to live with someone who is wholly committed to their work, whether paid or voluntary. Such things can sometimes be intensely draining. But the Lord has a heavenly vocation for each one of us – a type of heavenly work that we are uniquely crafted and suited to fulfil. And yes, it requires a 24/7 commitment, and all our heart and soul and mind and strength – but it is the very place in which we will discover all that He has planned for us to know of Him, all that He desires to reveal to the world through us, all His love and forethought in writing and preparing the book of our lives. It might be that it is outworked in a specific type of paid employment or it might be found in what the world would see as very ordinary lives and necessary pursuits – but it is in fulfilling His specific calling that we grow in our devotion to Him, and discover the treasures we have to bring and lay at His feet.
In what follows, we are not concerned so much with discovering the details of our own specific calling, as with the ways in which God desires to deepen our walk with Him and draw us closer to Himself.
As you read and pray through the material that follows, some of it inspired by retreat addresses that my great uncle Bishop Frank Weston wrote over a hundred years ago, you might like to begin with this song that Jane Charlesworth wrote many years ago, when she and Ros were training together as nurses.
Jesus is calling my name
Mary, Jesus’ mother, was chosen for an especially unique vocation, but the words the Angel Gabriel spoke to her are for everyone who loves God: “Hail, you who are highly favoured, the Lord is with you.” There may be differences of degree, but the fundamental truth remains the same: from all eternity the Lord invites us to walk with Him. He has redeemed us and He has summoned us by name; we are His. (See Is. 43:1)
This individual love which God nourishes each one of us with lies at the heart of our particular vocation. May we, like Mary, reply to His call from our hearts: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” (Luke 1:28, 38)
Called from the beginning
From the very beginning, God has purposed His vocation for you. It may have been hidden from the eyes of your family, even your own, but it will become plainer and plainer as the years go by, for He is with you.
There comes a time in life when you can look back and see how He led you: at home, through your school life and your training – all the direct and indirect influences He brought to bear on you, so that He may bring you to the special work He has given you.
Perhaps you have caught a glimpse of it, but then doubted and given in to darkness and fear, but all along, He has been pouring His love on you. Sometimes you have resisted and sometimes you have consented. Perhaps you have not gained all He meant for you, but if you have sought Him, you will have gained much because He has led you and bestowed (such a lovely word!) His calling on you. Thank Him for all the discipline and darkness, as well as for all the joy that this has brought you!
Called: whatever, whoever and wherever you are!
Are you fundamentally an introvert or an extrovert, an optimist or a pessimist? Do you veer more towards the role of pioneer or settler, prophet or pastor? Do you prefer to lead or be led?
There are many ‘models’ around to help us gauge our personality, but our ultimate task is not so much to fit ourselves into a particular one, as to bear witness to the good news of God’s grace, in whatever way He has called us to.
When Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem, He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come and make them His witnesses. This diverse group of men and women, with all their individual personalities and circumstances would ‘exist’ (the Greek means ‘I am’ ) in His power as those who experience His grace and could testify to it.
Our witness is not something we must strive to do, but rather the outworking of His life and power at work in us. We are His witnesses.
You may have noticed how the Lord often seems to use you to befriend and help certain types of people and personalities: it is because you are uniquely gifted to come alongside them, and know just what it is to be tempted as they are, and to be strong in the areas where they are strong.
Perhaps you have discovered that there are particular themes and topics that stir your heart for prayer. The Lord has tailor-made emphases and callings that are just for you. Let us delight in discovering them, not by our own efforts and ingenuity, but by diligence in pursuing Him in the particular way He has shown us and given us and led us and opened up to us.
Thank You Jesus for being with us every step of the way in this quest – and every victory that I win helps others who are going through similar difficulties and temptations. By grace, I want to turn the events of my life, and the things I hear about, into a stream of life-giving prayer.
Some years ago, I enjoyed visiting a replica of the synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus made his great declaration concerning the call that He had received from His Father. In the ancient words Isaiah had originally proclaimed centuries ago amid the ruins of Jerusalem, Jesus announced:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
These well-known words took on new meaning as the Holy Spirit came in power on Jesus and gave them physical reality in the lives of those He ministered to. Heaven touched Earth in a new way – and the Holy Spirit has come to us to anoint us with His power as our lives testify to His grace.
Try completing this sentence: the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to . . . and . . .
We are called to no light thing
The vocation God gives each one of us is no light thing. Each of us experiences Him in a unique way, and are called to follow Him along a unique path. No one else will receive quite the same vision of Him as ourselves, and without us, neither the world nor even His Body, will see Him in the way He wants to reveal Himself. Our own contribution to the riches of the Body of Christ may often feel infinitesimally small, but it is nonetheless necessary, for God has so ordained it – and desires it.
Suppose I were to say to you, “I have been training hard and can run a mile in four litres!” Or to ask for a “kilogram of petrol, please” . . . You would know what I was trying to say, and would mentally discard the fact that I was using the wrong set of measuring tools!
I suspect that some of us have much the same problem when it comes to interpreting the things of God. He is prepared to put endless effort into things the world would consider insignificant – like us! He is prepared to spend years training us, but we may well need to adjust our definition of what it is we think that counts as success in His eyes. We might be tempted to count up the signs and wonders we see as we pray for people, or number the people who change their minds as a result of what we say and do.
God’s measurements are so different from ours! He was not impressed by the temple Herod built, nor daunted by the size of the crowds that followed Him – but He did esteem the widow who was prepared to put all she had to live on into the collection, or the woman who poured ointment over Him, just as He loved to take little children into His arms.
Jesus would have us recognise the inadequacy of our measurements, and to seek His perspective on matters. It is so easy for us to see things from the wrong angle, as if we looked through the wrong end of a telescope, or at a piece of tapestry wrong side up. Not seeing clearly or correctly, we misinterpret events and circumstances, and end up, like Jeremiah, berating God for ‘deceiving’ us. (See Jer. 20:7-11)
Because He does not weigh our work according to worldly means, were we to see the ‘tools’ the Lord uses to evaluate all we do, we would fail to identify them as measuring tools at all. It is the unseen things: our love and devotion, faith and obedience that matter most to Him. He does have special task and ministries for us to exercise, but it is our hearts that He wants more than anything.
In His Wisdom, He has chosen us, and we are to stand and serve in a particular place with our own uniquely given vision and knowledge of Him. We did not choose Him, but He chose and appointed us, to go and bear fruit that will last. He places us so that we might help to fulfil the ‘redemptive task’ that He has in mind to fulfil. No matter how daunting that may often look and feel, it is not an impossible task that He lays on us, because He does not leave us to wrestle on our own, but is with us at every step as we seek to fulfil it.
It is more than we can comprehend that He who holds our world in His hands should have specific destinies and giftings in mind for each one of us, but He does. What a Father!
Even so, there will be trials along the way beyond the honeymoon phase, when everything feels sweet and new and exciting, as Jesus draws us still closer to Himself through paths of painful searching, allowing us to undergo trials that call for obedience, and which will invariably lead us to an ever-deepening awareness of our shortcomings, both within ourselves and in the world. The enemy of our souls would have us look at these pains and predicaments as though they were somehow separate and independent from God’s purposes for our lives, but He is intimately involved in them as He is in our moments of joy and breakthrough.
We do not have to look far to realise that we are surrounded by a wilderness of unlove – and that it is our ‘redemptive’ task to bring the love of God to bear upon it. Whenever we are tempted to feel that it is all too much: that we ourselves will never be any different, and that our contributions cannot possibly make the slightest difference – these are the very times when Jesus calls us to open our hearts afresh to receive all He has to offer us, and to push on and through. In such ways we find the whole of our life becoming a living sacrifice of love, through whom the Lord find it easy to love others and to work His work.
There will be times when the cup of suffering seems too bitter for us to be able to bear, but let us pray as Jesus prayed, “If it be possible let this cup pass from Me: but if not, let not My will be done but Yours. Glorify Your name.”
May I invite you to come now before Him, and consider anything that still needs to be set aside within your heart, whether unbelief, reluctance or something else? Defy anything that seeks to distract and divert you from your task, whether that is a habit you need to overcome, or the inclination to despair and despondency. Lean on Him, Emmanuel, God with us, Christ, the hope of glory.
Jesus, I give you this day afresh each and every one of my circumstances: the things I am really happy with, and the things I need Your grace to bear. When I forget to seek Your help, and slip and fall, please help me to come humbly and trust in Your power to forgive and redeem me Keep me from being harder on myself than I should be, nor so unduly lenient that I never succeed in progressing deeper with You. Use me to redeem these harder things by bringing more of Your presence, purposes and power to the people and situations that make life my life hard and uncertain. Be glorified, dear Lord, I pray.
You have bestowed Your own calling on me and I look to You in joyous trust to lead me, to be with me, to help me and give me all I need for the life in You that You have planned and prepared for me. Align my heart, therefore, to be utterly in tune with Yours. Gather up all I bring You and turn it into an acceptable offering to You, Jesus my King, High Priest of the whole universe.
See afresh how great a thing a vocation is! And that we are His witnesses!
Eternal Love, in Christ You have bridged the gulf that was fixed between us: You in me, doing all for me, and I in You, doing all for You – and this made concrete and expressing itself in my special vocation. Let me understand more fully this vocation that You have entrusted to me, and live each day in the power of it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.