by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a conference with a focus on the topic of calling. It was a sweet time of processing where I feel my own life is headed and to walk with others who are discerning answers to some of the same questions. Though we are all heading in different directions, one thing is clear: everyone wants to know their life’s purpose.
Through the years, I have come to believe that Christians can sometimes hold an unhelpful view of calling. While it is certainly true that the Lord calls us to different things according to our gifts and contexts, that beckoning does not always look like we expect it might. Some of us have come to believe that, if our calling is not clear and immediately apparent and implementable, then it is not valid.
This has been a struggle in my own life. I have had big moments with God, but I know that there have been many times that I have missed Him in the quiet or did not understand what He was speaking. While wailing at the sky for a purpose, I have disregarded the callings placed on the lives of all believers, including my own: loving God and neighbor, seeking justice, loving mercy, walking humbly in discipleship. Calling might come to you like a holy smack on the face that can immediately be comprehended, or it might come to you in a cloud of confusion.
I was reminded of this fact while reading some of the biblical texts that we were assigned in preparation for the weekend. One such passage was 1 Samuel 3, which I have read countless times and can outline from memory: God was calling Samuel, Samuel thought the voice of the Lord was the voice of his guardian Eli, Eli eventually puts Samuel straight and proceeds to be called upon Samuel to give Eli some bad news. Cliff notes should hire me.
I will be completely honest and confess that I went into that reading not expecting much to strike me. Oh, the hubris of a broken person who falsely believes that Scripture cannot speak afresh! I encourage you to take a moment and read the whole story for yourself, but in the meantime, I want to focus on verses 4-10. They read:
"Then the Lord called Samuel.Samuel answered, 'Here I am.’' And he ran to Eli and said, ‘''Here I am; you called me.’'But Eli said, ‘'I did not call; go back and lie down.' So he went and lay down.Again the Lord called, 'Samuel!' and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.''My son,' Eli said, 'I did not call; go back and lie down.'Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.A third time the Lord called, 'Samuel!' And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.'Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' So Samuel went and lay down in his place.The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel'Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'"1 Samuel 3:4-10 (NIV)
I must begin by saying that I deeply appreciate the comedic aspects of this passage. I can picture Abbot and Costello going back and forth: "You called me! I didn’t call you! You called me! Go back to bed!" Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Bible cannot be funny.
Beyond that, however, my latest readings of this story brought out two things that I was able to ponder anew. Here goes:
1. We will not always recognize God’s voice.
When Samuel was being called, it was entirely new to him and it was happening in the dead of night. He was not able to recognize whose voice it was that was beckoning him out of bed. When pondering our respective callings, it is often the case that we expect God to work in expected ways. While Samuel was serving Eli in the temple, one could fairly assume that he might have formulated daydreams about what hearing from God might be like. Maybe he expected glory to fill the room, or for fire to rain down. What he got, though, was a nearly indiscernible whisper in the wee hours. God does not always call in the ways we might expect.
What we can take from this aspect of Samuel’s story is that we should keep our eyes and ears wide open for God in whatever form He does choose to speak. Maybe you are picturing the Lord's will for your life being given in a dream, but what if it will come while eating an ice cream cone at sunset? Perhaps you have believed you will only find your calling through much fasting and wailing, but what if Jesus wants to wave at you while you’re listening to elevator music in the grocery store?
The point is that we do not know how the Lord will call us, but we can trust that He is a personal God who wants to speak. Are there small, persistent things you have been writing off as nothing important? Has something random been nudging at your spirit but you have not explored it because it has come from so far out in left field? This could be God calling to you. Pay attention. Expect the unexpected and, when you tune in to that frequency, simply say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."
2. We need each other to understand.
It is pretty clear that Samuel was really confused. While the God of the universe was calling his name, he kept thinking that it was his boss. I am so incredibly grateful for my boss as he mentors me and pastors my family and provides endless amounts of dad jokes, but I am quite positive that he is not God.
It can be incredibly difficult to comprehend and recognize God’s voice on our own. It was not an accident that my conference this weekend had more than 30 people attending via Zoom–we need each other on this journey! I cannot count the number of times that I thought I might be hearing something from the Lord and a friend was able to either steer me toward or away from it. Not to mention all of the times I was completely oblivious and someone who could see from the outside spoke truth into my clogged ears! Sometimes, as we are discerning our callings, all we need is a friend or two to point out divinity in our midst.
Samuel had Eli. Ask yourself: who in my life do I trust to help me discern? Who will speak truth with grace? Who can I be Eli to in their process of discerning God's call?
As ever, we are not meant to walk the path of discipleship alone.
My challenge for us today is to reevaluate the ways that we view the Lord’s calling. Of course, He can certainly bowl us over on our own respective Damascus Roads, but far more often I believe it does not come that clearly to us. And that is okay! Keep watch for the Lord in all things and trust those around you to help carry the burden of discernment. We are all called in some way or another. When you hear the voice in the night, lift up your head, listen, and follow.
Cross-posted from "Cross-Posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"