Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Highest Calling

If God's calling orders my life, then everything else becomes secondary. I think Paul is a good example of a man who made the move from driven to called. When he reflects on his life before he came to Christ, he gives an impressive list of accomplishments and things to be proud of (Phil 3:4-6). Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees and stood above the rest in his zeal for Judaism's ancestral traditions (Gal 1:14). Saul, as he was called then, was sharp. His accomplishment outshined everyone else. Paul's resume appeared to have given him pride and confidence.

It is interesting to note that Paul calls this having confidence "according to the flesh." He now considered those shining accomplishments as loss (Phil 3:7). In other words, he put them away. They no longer define him. He threw them out as trash for the sake of knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of His suffering, and being conformed to his death (Phil 3:10). The call of God through Christ changed Paul from the inside out. Paul considers himself to be "least of the Apostles" and "not fit to be called at Apostle" (1 Cor 15:9). Paul made it clear that his motivation was not to be a man-pleaser, because if that were his motivation, he would not be a slave of Christ (Gal 1:10). After all, Christians were on the margins of society, they were ridiculed, hated, and persecuted. Having rank or status was no longer something important to Paul (Gal 2:6). Paul had his share of critics who denounced him for his simple way of ministry (2 Cor 10:10). But this was not a threat to his identity. All that mattered to him was doing God's will (Gal 2:20), which he could do regardless of the critics. So when Paul was thrown in prison, he was not distressed (Phil 1:12-14). He found that he could live out God's calling no matter where he was. Even when some ambitious rivals preached the Gospel, trying to "one up" Paul, who was in prison and probably an embarrassment to them, it did not cause Paul to feel threatened or competitive (Phil 1:15-18). His sense of identity was wrapped up in Christ, not in his accomplishments, which were really not his anyway. He recognized that he could do nothing without God being at work in him to will and to work for Him (Phil 2:13).

What a change we see in Paul before and after! The major difference appears to be Paul's motivation. As a Jew, Paul seemed to be motivated by his desire for personal achievements and success. After being called, his motivation underwent a radical change. Paul's sense of identity and purpose was wrapped up in the person of Christ, not in his job, role, abilities, or anything else. He could comfortably be with people in weakness and fear and much trembling (1 Cor 2:1-4), because it was not about Paul, but about God in him. He recognized that the power of God works through his weaknesses (2 Cor 12:7-10). He comfortably realized he was nothing, and the God whom he had dedicated himself to was everything. In this, he found peace and joy.

As I look at John the Baptist, I see the same sort of thing. At one point, the people had stopped following John and were now following Jesus. John was a popular preacher and many people had been going to him. In fact, Josephus says more about John the Baptist than about Jesus, which indicates the amount of popularity that John had. But now, people were leaving John to follow Jesus.

"And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.' John answered and said, 'A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, I am not the Christ, but, I have been sent ahead of Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease' " (John 3:26-30).

Some of John's followers felt threatened, but not John. John had a clear sense of God's calling in his life, and it had more to do with God and his purposes than about John himself.

One of the characteristics of God's calling that stand out to me in both John and Paul are that they both understood stewardship. John recognized that his followers were not his, that his ministry was not his, and that nothing he had accomplished was truly his. "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven." God gave him everything, including his ministry. Because they belonged to God, John was only to happy to give them back when his Lord wanted them. This was no threat to John. The same could be said for Paul. Paul understood his ministry as a "stewardship of God's grace" (Eph 3:2). There was no need to compete with rival preachers for notoriety. His ministry was not his, but was God's.

Losing notoriety was no threat to Paul's identity when rival preachers tried to "one-up" him for selfish ambition. Followers leaving John to follow Jesus was no threat to John's identity. In fact, it is probably that John's role changed some when Jesus began his ministry. His identity was not wrapped up in his "career" so-to-speak. His identity was wrapped up in the calling of God. His role, surroundings, and situation in life changed, but his calling did not. Paul understood this, which he why he never missed a beat, even when thrown in prison.

I suppose my role and situation will change. The time will come when my kids will grow up and leave home. I may get too old to preach from the pulpit. I may get out of what we typically call "full-time ministry," and take a so-called "secular" job. However, if I understand my calling correctly, than any job I do will be sacred, whether it is flipping burgers of preaching from the pulpit. It all belongs to God. His calling remains constant even though my situation in life may change. It all belongs to him, and I serve him through everything I do. Therefore, whatever my hands find to do, I will do with all my heart as for the Lord and not for man. My motivation should always be to please God above all else.

I remember reading some words from brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God. He came to realize that to serve God, you don't necessarily have to change "what" you do, but change "why" you do. All we do should be for the love of God, whether it is something small and menial, or something huge. God is not impressed with "what" we do. God is more concerned with "why" we do. My highest calling, then, is to love God, to be with him, to be like him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking a lot lately about these things. I think we need to empty ourselves of self, but that is hard to do. If we do this, Christ can fill us.