Some Christians emphasize the question "Am I saved?" Presbyterians emphasize the question "What am I saved for?" We believe that in Jesus Christ, God has saved us, and therefore that perhaps our lives should be lived in grateful response. But, specifically, what does that mean? Baptism is a sign that we belong to God, and that we are called for service ---- but where do we go from there?
Prior to the Reformation, vocation or calling was thought to be only for those who worked for the church as priests, monks or nuns. An important belief of the reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther was that God calls every person. Vocation (service to glorify God) was not just for pastors and those who work for the church.
John Calvin had high expectations that baptized Christians would actively seek the welfare of others in the community of Geneva, Switzerland where he lived, through education, health care and governance. For example, he dispatched Elders to inspect fireplaces for safety. Imagine if pastors today asked for reports from Elders at each Session meeting on their activities for the community's welfare! But Presbyterians actually are involved in many such activities ---- the PTA, city council, literacy campaigns, clean air task forces, etc. ---- so there would be much to report.
Ministers and other ordained leaders of the church are charged with equipping and encouraging all baptized members to respond to the vocational call. They also are talent scouts, always on the lookout for gifts in others that can be nurtured and put to use. Perhaps a retiree will be connected with Sunday School teaching. Or, a beautician is encouraged to offer her skills to a women's shelter. Or, a gifted young musician may be asked to perform for nursing home residents.
While other church members may influence the call that one receives, discernment of call often begins within ourselves, with a stirring, a yearning to follow an inner voice. So, we might start with the questions, "What gifts has God given me? What is God calling me to do with my gifts? In what activities do I consistently excel? Where and when do I find satisfaction in helping others, and in seeing their appreciation.
At any age, assessing our own gifts is tricky. We are not always the best judge of our talents. Sometimes we are drawn to a particular path in ignorance of other paths, or out of personal egotistical aspirations, rather than in response to God's call. There is the old story about a man who saw "PC" in a cloud formation and thought surely he was called to "Preach Christ." After listening to some of his sermons, some church folks suggested that he was called to "Plant Corn."
We need help sorting out our inner stirrings to find God's call. Presbyterians understand that discernment of call is not something we do alone, but within the community of God's people. The best decisions come out of group appreciations of one's gifts. We may believe that we have leadership skills, for example. But, do others see that? If so, perhaps we are on the right path.
The great "call" stories of the Bible demonstrate that a true call from God is often resisted rather than welcomed. Our Scriptural role models usually did not volunteer. They did not want to be called, and they did not think they had the required qualities. Out minding the sheep, Moses was drafted. He gave many excuses, but God did not accept them. Some of the most effective Biblical leaders tell stories of being drafted for service, and trying to tell God that they were just not the right candidates. But they did respond to God's call, and we remember them today.
In today's world, where individuals have many options for the use of their time and efforts, with many voices speaking and many career choices offered, the Christian understanding of a "calling" as self-sacrificing service to God and neighbor, is not popular. Perhaps we ourselves are often like the Bible leaders God called, who initially were sure they were just not the right candidates, because it would mean giving up something they were already doing quite comfortably.
But, discerning one's vocation for God is not just a quest for self-fulfillment, though many do experience deep satisfaction in their chosen vocation. A response to God's call often does require self-sacrifice and discomfort. Living out our "vocation" may involve going places where we don't want to go. It involves "giving back," and it may be costly, in the sense that deep down we would really rather do something else.
Perhaps the question is more like this: "What am I supposed to do with what God has given me?" This includes how we earn our paycheck and how we spend it. It includes how we spend our time outside of work. It includes looking for ways to help others, and addressing those needs ---- not just for the sick and the infirm, but with the youth in our families and neighborhoods who are seeking direction in their lives.
How does your life measure up as a life of consequence? No one retires from God's will. Retirement is just a gift that allows us to serve in new ways.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this winter at CPC.