Prior to the Reformation, vocation or calling ("What shall I do in my earthly life?") 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 was not just for priests and those who work for the church, and "vocation" was not the time spent earning a living.
John Calvin had the high expectation 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 expected 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 ordained leaders of the church are charged with encouraging church members to identify and respond to their vocational callings. They also are "talent scouts", always on the lookout for gifts in others that can be nurtured and put to use. A retiree is connected with Sunday school teaching. A beautician is encouraged to offer her skills to a women's shelter. A gifted young musician performs for nursing home residents.
While other church members may influence the call that one perceives, discernment of call often begins within ourselves, with 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 them?"
At any age, assessing our own gifts is tricky. We are not always the best judges of our own 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 the man who saw "PC" in a cloud formation and thought surely he was called to "Preach Christ." After listening to many 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 in 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 Bible leaders tell stories of being drafted for service, and trying to tell God that they were not the right candidates. But, they did respond to God's call, and we remember them to this day.
In today's world, where individuals have many options for the use of their time, 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 more sure they were just not the right candidates, because it would mean giving up something they were already doing comfortably.
Discerning one's vocation for God is not just a quest for self-fulfillment, though many do experience deep satisfaction in their vocation. A response to God's call often does require self-sacrifice and even discomfort. Living out our vocation may involve going to places where we don;t want to go, and denial of ourselves, in order to aid someone else.
But, looking back at the things actually done for others can give us a very warm feeling ---- be a source of pleasure, delight and justify our life as a giver.
Perhaps the question is more like this: "What am I supposed to do with what God has given to 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 then taking action ---- not just with the sick and infirm, but even with the youth in our families and neighborhoods who are seeking direction in their own lives.
A wise man once said, "The best things in life are not things ---- they are the people to whom we relate and help."
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this Fall at CPC.