By Will Eva, Editor, Ministry Magazine
Summary: There are so many voices of dubious authority quoting God to us. Some have more authority than others. But the voice that must be heard above them all is that of the Father Himself calling us in the freshness of the here and now, to fulfill the missions of our moments and the underlying purpose of our lives in His world.
My sister is three years older than I am, but when we were children there might as well have been twenty-three! It went like this: After supper, she’d say, Will, Dad says you must help me wash the dishes. I’d say, Forget it, you aren’t my boss. Wash them yourself! She’d reply, But Dad told me to tell you that you have to help me, so you’d jolly well better! I’d retort with defiant finality, Forget you, it’s not my turn! Then I’d hear a sound at the kitchen door and turn around to see my father standing there. He would look at me and say, Will, would you please help your sister with the dishes? And I’d say, Yes Sir! And that was that, except for the slight, irritating grin just showing on my sister’s face.
Some of us may go through similar things when it comes to being called to do the work of the Church. Though we love our Lord, and within ourselves we want to respond to Him deeply, we may not feel as excited as we’d like to about the calls that come to us through our peers in the church. These calls simply don’t stir us as they used to. But to hear the voice of the Lord Himself calling us to serve Him, that may be another thing. When a co-worker relays the orders of the president to you, it’s one thing. When the orders come directly from him, they take on a different meaning altogether.
His voice among the voices
There are so many voices of dubious authority quoting God to us. Some have more authority than others. But the voice that must be heard above them all is that of the Father Himself calling us in the freshness of the here and now, to fulfill the missions of our moments and the underlying purpose of our lives in His world. There are so many voices calling us to so many missions. They relentlessly bombard our consciousness these days. Some are good, legitimate voices, but they are not the voice of God speaking clearly, compelling us into His mission for our day.
Every generation needs to hear God’s voice for itself, giving the specific marching orders of its particular time and situation. When we don’t hear it, we find ourselves confused, striking about all over for answers and for a sense of some sort of mission, even if we go about constructing one and assigning it an authority it does not actually possess. When we don’t hear God’s voice, we are vulnerable to other voices and missions, and sometimes it’s the good ones that can be most distracting.
The call of Jesus to His disciples is full of meaning. Early in each of the Gospels there is a description of how Jesus gathered His nuclear twelve around Him. When you look closely at these calls, the thing that stands out is this: Whether they were busy fishing or tax collecting, when Jesus came by and called, these men immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Him. There is something unaccountably compelling and authoritative in Jesus’ call that just isn’t in the other calls, even the best ones.
When I recall what happened long ago between my sister, myself and my father, I think of the contrast in the authority of the two voices Nathaniel heard when he was called to his mission. The story is in John 1:43-50. Philip goes to Nathaniel to tell him that he’s found the Messiah. But when Nathaniel hears Philip’s story, he says something like this: Really now, have you indeed encountered Messiah! Tell me, can anything worthwhile come from a place like Nazareth? Nevertheless, having heard Philip, Nathaniel comes to see and hear for himself. And when He meets up with the voice of Jesus for himself, he cries out, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. I think this encounter tells us the way it works. Other voices have their place, but it’s only the voice of the Original that really makes things happen.
The voice and a clear sense of mission
So we need a sense of mission derived not merely from the traditionalistic, corporation mold. It must not be one simply assigned by the church, that is, by our brothers or sisters, but one that is warm with the compelling voice of Christ Himself. This sets us free to be and do His will right where we find ourselves every day, right in the kitchens of our everyday life. But what kind of a mission might He call us into?
I believe in the corporate vision and mission of God’s people and in their training to effectively carry out that mission. God calls not only individually but corporately. But what I am emphasizing today is that we must not wait any longer for these things when the call of Jesus is already on our ears and in our hearts.
The mission that will ignite into vital action is one that, coming straight from Christ, will be much like His mission. It will have to do with a sacrificial, practical proclamation of the Gospel that manifests itself, first of all, right where we are in our own localities and right among the people of our own neighborhoods. God has placed each of us where He has for a reason. It has been a strategic placement. In many ways our placement is highly suggestive of our immediate calling and our mission.
Being where we are means actually getting to know our neighbors as fellow human beings and friends. It means learning to love them, so that tactfully, sensitively, wisely and disinterestedly we will quietly spend ourselves on them. Under God’s guidance we will stand willing to give them what they need—from the physical, through the emotional and on to the spiritual. Our behavior will not be contrived, arousing suspicion. It will be real because we’ve become authentic friends or acquaintances.
A biblical perspective
The active mission in Christ’s call comes to us very much like the call that came to the Good Samaritan. Let me retell the story in more general terms, so that it will fit up against our lives more easily.
He’s actually a very simple man, not honored by his fellows. One day, while on business, in the course of a journey he is taking, he encounters another who has been treated in a way that has left him stripped, bruised, wounded and near death. The victim has collapsed on the side of the road. The men of corporate religion have already gone by. They’ve seen the man, but have other more churchly missions in mind. They keep their well-insulated distance from situations like this one.
It is then that the first man—the simple, dishonored man—comes onto the scene. At the sight of the pain and in the face of the predicament of his fellow human being, he hears a voice or calling. It is not audible, but it reaches deep. Despite his uneasiness, this man stops, goes to where the man is, bandages his misery, speaks kindly to him, lifts him onto his donkey and holds him up. He walks him down the road to a place where further help is available. He does not hover about. He simply pays for the man’s treatment and promises to return.
In this kind of mission one simply gets down to it. Such action needs no real training. It just takes a caring heart, a bit of time in the middle of the journey and the willingness to risk a little. This sort of call excites me. It’s primitive. In itself it is simple, though I must say that it can be quite demanding.
Philippians 2:5-8 describes a Christ who had everything. He was, in fact, equal with God. But when Jesus looked at us in our dilemma, He did not search for ways to hold on to all he had. Seeing us as we were, identifying with us and being moved with compassion, He gave it all up, taking on our vestments, our vulnerabilities, our situation, our very nature. He actually became one of us, one with us to affect our rescue. This is Christian mission. It’s straightforward. It isn’t encrusted with levels of bureaucracy. It means getting our hands down and dirty in the lives of fellow human beings—descending into their sorrows and disinterestedly lifting them up right where they need it. From there, the sky’s the limit.
Years ago evangelist Billy Graham and his son were walking together when the boy accidentally stepped on a small anthill. As father and son looked down they saw the ants dashing about in disarray. The boy felt compassion for the ants and said, Dad, what can I do to help them? The boy bent down and with his hands tried to gather the trampled dirt in an effort to reconstruct the ants’ home. Obviously this didn’t help. It only confused the ants all the more. Standing up, he looked into his father’s eyes and said, What can I do to make things right? Billy Graham says that the answer to his son’s question struck him deep in his soul. He said, Son there is only one way for you to repair the damage, and that is for you to go down there and actually become one of them, one with them.
There’s the voice. There’s our calling. There’s our mission.