I cannot claim any originality for this sermon - most of this talk is taken word for word from an article by Greg Downes in the June 2012 edition of Christianity Magazine, entitled 'The Guidance Maze'. The two Bible verses referred to in this talk are Jeremiah 1:1-8 & Matthew 4:18-22
Are you called by God?
How would you answer that question? Do you feel as though God has called you?
I suspect many people see being called by God as something that happens to a special select group of people. For example, people like Jeremiah, who was called to be a prophet, or Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John, who Jesus called to leave their fishing nets and follow Jesus. In other words people who were being called to a specific role, and to enter into what we would call full time Christian ministry, people such as church leaders, or missionaries.
But the danger of this is that it damages the cause of Christ by making the ministry of the professional people more important than that of the average Christian – because we see and describe them as the ones who are called, and not ourselves.
But if you read the scriptures you realize that we are ALL called. If you remember only one thing from the talk today, remember this: If you are a follower of Christ, you have been CALLED by God to be a minister in Christ’s name.
Primarily that calling is a calling to faithfulness, and obedience to Christ. One day a US Senator visited Mother Teresa in Calcultta, and went to the so called ‘House of Dying’, where sick children are cared for in their last days, and where poor people line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, the Senator was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. "How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?" he asked. Mother Teresa replied, "My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful."
As a baptized Christian, you have been called by God to faithful Christian ministry in the name of Christ.
And as Phill pointed out in his sermon two weeks ago being a Christian is a seven day a week job “whether at a factory, an office, at school, at home, with our neighbours, on the bus, in the car, at the shops, indeed anywhere!” It is to bear witness to Jesus through our words and actions to those around us.
In the New Testament where there was no distinction between clergy and laity, the Holy Spirit empowered all believers for the work of ministry.
Through the waters of baptism we belong to Jesus Christ, and are called to follow in Jesus’ ministry.
In the case of Jeremiah, and the disciples whom Jesus called, their calling seemed to be very clear and specific. This leads on to an important question, does God have a perfect plan for our lives, and if so, how do you work out what it is?
My own sense of calling to the ordained ministry came when I was about 14. It didn’t come as a great revelation as if a giant hand came out of the sky and pointed at me saying ‘It is you!’ For me it was a growing sense that this is what I felt God wanted me to do, and I tested this sense of calling, by talking to others, and trying different doors to see if they opened for me. But because I’m a Vicar now, doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll continue to be one in the future. I am open to the possibility that God may have other plans for my life, but what that may be, I do not know.
So how does God guide us?
There are several different schools of thought.
A Circus Tightrope Walker
Kate, a young teacher who went on a week-long Christian ski trip in the Swiss Alps. As well as being captivated by the stunning scenery, she was also captivated by a ski instructor named Dan. Dan invited Kate to dinner most nights in his log cabin, and they talked long into the night.
At the end of the week much to Kate’s surprise, Dan asked her to marry him. She declared that she needed time to think and pray about such a big decision. The next day when Kate was flying home, she was praying for guidance as to what to do. On the flight she went to the toilet. At that moment there was some unexpected turbulence, and a sign flashed on the cubicle: RETURN TO THE CABIN IMMEDIATELY. Much to Dan’s delight she did.
One school of thought is that God has mapped out a plan for us, in which his purposes are singular and specific concerning every little detail – it is like walking a tightrope, we need to take care we don’t fall off.
As we see from Scripture, God sometimes does very explicitly call people in a very certain way, like Jeremiah, who was told “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. ” (Jeremiah 1:5)
But we have to be careful of believing God has already preordained every aspect of our lives, and the big question is what happens when we get it wrong. For example, one man believed that God had told him who to marry, and told the girl in question. The trouble was she was of the opinion that if this was indeed the case, God should let her know too. They ended up marrying different people.
The idea that God has everything intricately planned out for us does not do justice to the fact that God has given us free will, and wisdom to make judgement calls in many and varied situations.
A guest in a national trust property
As you walk around a national trust property, certain areas are cordoned off with red rope to protect the most valuable objects, if you stray over that line it sets off an alarm.
Some Christians argue that guidance operates a little bit like this. We have a huge freedom to do what we want, a bit like rambling round a National Trust property; the only conditions are to avoid those areas that are off limits. The way that this translates to guidance is that it is argued that Christians make their own decisions, assisted by God given wisdom, and avoid those things that are explicitly prohibited in the Bible.
The difficulty with this view is that it is in danger of excluding God from daily discipleship. In effect it says that there is only general and not specific guidance that God gives to deal with personal decisions. It marks a departure from the classical understanding of what the Bible teaches, which is expressed in the words of John Stott who said, ‘the general will of God is revealed in the Bible but the particular will of God is revealed on a person’s knees.’
A taxi driver
Another view of the way God guides and leads us is of a taxi driver. The driver has complete liberty to travel anywhere within the parameters of the city, and makes decisions at will based on prior learning, wisdom and experience, and yet is continually open to external guidance (in the case of a taxi driver, over the radio), that could come at any time from another that has possession of the big picture.
This view seems to do most justice with what the Bible teaches. For example we find examples that seem to resonate more with liberty, such as God’s directive to Abraham in Genesis (13:17) to “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” But there are other examples where God seems to communicate very explicitly his sovereign will, such as the instruction to Paul in Acts (18:10) to remain in Corinth when he thought of fleeing due to persecution.
From my own experience I have found that God’s guidance has come through wisdom (mine or others), or circumstances, and times when I have prayed and it’s almost as if God has been saying, ‘You choose.’ There have been other occasions where God has sovereignly seemed to communicate his will, even when I wasn’t very receptive.
Oswald Chambers said, ‘we should be so one with God that we don’t need to ask continually for guidance,’ and in the Gospel of John (10:4) it says of Jesus, ‘his sheep follow him because they know his voice’.
Responding to God’s call, and knowing what that call is, is all about relationship. What is most important is recognising that God is more concerned with who we are than where we are. Authentic guidance, knowing what God calling us to be and do, is a by product of intimacy with the true Shepherd, which will happen increasingly naturally as we seek the fullness of his presence in each and every area of our whole lives, and that is what authentic discipleship is all about.