Tuesday, June 30, 2009
“The Spirit lifted me and took me away. I went bitterly and angrily. I didn’t want to go. But God had me in his grip. I arrived among the exiles who lived near the Kebar River at Tel Aviv. I came to where they were living and sat there for seven days, appalled. ”
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Eze 3:14-15
I am entering the formal discernment process for the ministry and am about to start meeting with a discernment committee to discern whether or not God is/has been leading me into full time Christian service as a minister of God and His word. Calling is confusing to me and has been. I am still wrestling with what it is and with what this means and I have been in the ministry for around 15 years or so. I feel like I am supposed to be doing what I have been doing for as long as I can remember, and spend the majority of my time and life serving God. “Have you received the call?” some people ask. “I think that I am supposed to be serving God with my life,” I tell them, “. . . but I never got a phone call or anything like that.”
I love to meet people who are unfamiliar with being “called” into full time Christian ministry. They usually have all sorts of expressions of perplexity on their faces when you tell them what you do. They come at you with questions like: You work at the church, is church a business? What do you do Monday through Saturday, you know, the rest of the week? So, what is your real job? I would love to have your job working with nice people all the time, it must be great huh? You get paid for that? Shouldn’t that money go to the poor? Is there a school that teaches what you do, or can anyone do it? The looks of silence and bewilderment are even better. These looks imply, or tug at my insecurities, and say, “Couldn’t cut it in the real world, huh?” or “Those who cannot do, teach.” or “Isn’t that nice.” or “cute.” or “I guess if you can’t take the real life, you have to live in a fantasy world.”
The prophet Ezekiel makes me feel like my calling is genuine, because I can identify with Ezekiel. Ezekiel 3:14 and 15 says that Ezekiel was taken away by the spirit of God and that he went “bitterly and angrily,” because he did not want to go. Ezekiel went because he was in God’s grip. When Ezekiel arrived at the place and people to whom he was called he sat there looking around appalled for seven days. Now, if that is “calling,” I can relate. I am “called.”
The truth is I love my job and “calling” and it is difficult and trying. I can do other things and have, but these things have made me more miserable than not working with God’s people, who, yes, can be appalling, and I am one of them. My work is both rewarding and challenging. However, I have never lived more truthful and grounded than when I am in God’s word and serving Him out of obedience. I am a carpenter by trade, but I would much rather build up relationships, and lives, and to lead people to the God of the universe than to build structures.
My undergraduate studies were in psychology and human services and I found out later that a Bible College Education makes secular schooling look “like a walk in the park.” I love to teach and I love to do and am good at both. I have found that “nice” and “cute” does not always get the job done and begins to stray away from who Jesus really is. Ministry, I have discovered, is done with skill, precision, boldness, love, complex proficiency, and with much grace and power that comes through God’s very own presence working in you, through you, and despite of you in the moment.
Ministry can and does consume every waking moment Monday through Sunday. There is always something more to do, a call to be made, a person to visit, a meeting to go to, a person to counsel, a study to be done, a wedding to be preached, a hospital to visit . . . Can anyone do it? No. Ministry is as real as it gets. You can sleep, but it never does. It is work, and in this world, it takes a paycheck to get by and I do get one for what I do. The poor do need the money though, and so do I, so that I do not become another one of them.
The church, the people, is not a business, but the building and bureaucracy is run like one, a nonprofit one, and with this comes all the joys and struggles of “the real world” and a “real job.” Sometimes it’s nice. Sometimes it’s not. St. Augustine said this about the church, “The Church is a whore, but she's my mother all the same.” Some people say that there are hypocrites in the church and I would agree with them. “There are hypocrites in the church and there is room for many more.” When you deal with people it can be ugly. People can be appalling. I am one of them; I can be appalling. People represent lives and relationships and lives and relationships in this sinful and fallen world are messy, and broken, and this is why we need ministers to point people to the God of the universe. We need people pointing to Jesus so that we can get the salvation we so desperately need from Him.
Ezekiel followed this call to lead others back to God and he encountered God in the process. I cannot think of anything of greater value or significance in all the world in which to give myself to, even if I go bitter and angry at times and am appalled at myself and others in the process. It is God’s Spirit who lifts me and carries me there. It is God Himself who has “called” and who has me firmly in His grip.
Heeding “the call” amidst its appalling nature,