In the past couple of days, the issue of “calling” has come up in several conversations. As Christians, we use the word to speak authoratatively about the job we are doing or the places we are going. When things don’t go well, we question if it was really calling after all. The underlying assumption, whether our internal monologue phrases it this way or not, is “God has a wonderful plan for your life and wants you to be successful and influential.” We may add, “for His Kindgom” to ensure the spiritual perspective and that we aren’t really meaning a health and wealth Gospel, but that is really what it is anyway, isn’t it?
I think Biblically this notion, at least in my heart and mind, stemmed from an out-of-the-Gospel context reading of Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you a hope and a future.” As a good American, guess which word I zoomed in on? Ding ding ding! “Prosper”! And clearly, by prosper God means to bless me externally and by not harming, well, isn’t it obvious what that must mean? No pain, suffering, injury or offense, right? So if ever these things do happen, well, clearly it is not the Lord’s will. (But then, I must ask, whose will is it that can overpower and thwart the will of the Lord?)
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Is. 53:10-11
In just about every instance that I can find in Scripture, “calling” has more to do with God’s identifying His people with Himself than serving those same people’s individualistic fancies. He has called us by name, we are His, He tells us. Jesus’ calling was to suffer so that His people could have life and thrive. His people have been called into this very service of suffering to experience this very same, powerful prospering of the Lord’s will – His life-giving, world-enlargening, genuine joy and peace producing will.
Paul Miller wrote about our tendency to stare at the windshield rather than just seeing through it. I think I do this with suffering in all its forms. I forget that rather than being the focus or end in some way, the person and work of Jesus has made suffering the window through which to see His goodness more clearly, His power more fully, His love more intimately, His control more confidently and His heart more accurately. This is my hope and my future rather than some tiny, dull, clausterphobic kingdom of me.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Harm may in fact come to my bank account, to my reputation, to my physical body and so on. But these surface wounds will not be able to thwart the kingdom of Jesus which is alive and growing and overpowering the kingdom of me in my own heart. So then “to be called” no longer has at its end the thriving of my personal kingdom (family, business, finances, ministry, etc.) but is “to be called” into the heart of the only One whose Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and whose rule and reign (and glory and beauty and love and goodness) has no end. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:6