Friday, February 4, 2011

Everybody Wants to Know Their Calling

But Nobody Wants to Die
       Everybody wants to know their life calling.  The desire for understanding and feeling purpose and placement, to know the will of God for your life, is something that every Christian aspires to.  The answer to this is primarily in understanding that your purpose is to be in relationship with Jesus, no matter where you are or what you are doing.  Before I talk about calling in a way that is very important, you must first know even more importantly that the truest satiation of this longing in your heart for calling and purpose is not found in figuring out what job you are to have, what ministry you are to be a part of, or who you are to marry; understanding that role will only bring you so far.  In contrast, you must realize that the primary purpose of your life is the eternal purpose of your life, relationship with Jesus.  Realize right now that the primary purpose of your life is to know, love, and fear God in relationship with Him.  Only in incessant relating with God will you find a sense of purpose, value, and meaning.  This is your primary calling.  This is the only satisfying ambition.

       However, your secondary calling, though temporary, is also important and understanding it is of great value too. What I mean by secondary calling is what job/assignment you are to do on earth during the period of your life before physical death or Christ’s return.  Are you to be a mom, a dad, a teacher, a lawyer, a missionary, a husband, a wife, a preacher, a priest, an evangelist, a politician, nurse or some combination? So many people are obsessed with this calling, with understanding it, and as I said, much of why they are obsessed with it has to do with their lack of understanding of their primary calling, which indelibly subsumes and trumps all other callings.  However, it is my belief that many are failing to discover or know their secondary calling (their ministerial role) because they do not have biblical paradigms of ministry or living. 

       It sounds something like this.  We ask “what does God want me to do?  What business am I called to?  What are my gifts?  How am I made to benefit others?  What’s my assignment from God?  Yet all the while living in a way that prohibits the answering to such questions. I can’t iterate enough how much of this problem stems from simply not realizing in a real way that your purpose is to grow in knowing and therefore loving and fearing God.  However, another problem is that people are not willing to live in a certain biblical way that would produce a biblical ministerial style. How did Christians live in the New Testament and how did they minister in the New Testament?  The answer to both of these is: together.  New Testament Christianity did not in the least have the overly-individualized, nuclear-family obsessed, self-preserving, isolated lifestyles that 90% of Western Christianity endorses and lives in. 

       Our culture is wrapped in and consumed with the incessant production and reproduction of smaller worlds that self-protect.  In high school or college, maybe your world was bigger, maybe you had a group of friends, but then you experience pain and loss of relationship, and it shrinks.  You choose a smaller number of people to be friends with, but then people in that group break relationship with you or ‘fade away’. You lose and abandon person after person, filled with greater and greater hopelessness.  Eventually, you develop a survivor-like mentality and an emotional set to match, determined to find just that little group or, in most cases, that one other person that you will devote yourself to.  You cling to them, and build your world around your little relationship with just them.  You are now so scared and so fragile that you even try to create a base of security through financial survival.  The world may expand to include children and it sometimes permits entrance from extended family members.  Maybe even you have a couple or two that you sometimes talk to, once or twice a week at most.  And then, the final blow: even your spouse or your children’s relationship fails and your self-protective world includes only you.  Your world has shrunk and its walls are not open.  They are solid, made of iron and steel, enforced and constructed by the fear, anger, and agony from all past relationships. 
       It is from this place or on the road to this place that most people are asking what they are to do with their lives. They ask from a world of or a path leading to overly individualized, isolated, self-protective worlds, built on an idolatrous marriage, ‘trusting’ and ‘loving’ a spouse more than God, and idolatrous parenting, finding ‘worth’ and ‘purpose’ primarily in their children.  And yet, those living this way are surprised when they get no answers as to their callings or when their answers they seem to get never really develop biblical-scale fruit.  Most people live in this overly-isolated way, so how is it that you think they will minister or expect to minister?  That’s right.  In a self-protective, overly-isolated way.  They ask for what their individual calling is without other members of the Body because they live essentially alone or almost so. 

       But how did the people of true apostolic, New Testament Christianity live and how did they minister?  The answer to both is again the same: together, and the second flowed out of the first.  The way New Testament, apostolic Christians lived is the way to live and the corollary way to minister is the way to minister.  You cannot expect to minister one way and live another.  So how did they live? They met together daily, they had everything in common, they ate in one another’s homes, they ministered together all the time.  Just read it yourself.  Acts 2:41-47.  [If you want to see how wide-spread Christians were known for deep communities of love and togetherness, I’d encourage you to study historical records of the 1st century, many of which indicate such.]
       And how did they minister? Together.  All through Acts you can see that Paul traveled not just with one person but with a group of people; even when he is on his way to or in prison, there are others with him. At the end of Paul’s letters, you will see descriptions of the company that he is ministering with, including both those who are couples and those who are not married, those his age and those who are not (1 Cor 16:17,18, Col 4:7-17, 2 Tim 4:9-22, Titus 3:12-13, Philemon 1:23-24). The entire basis of ministering with differing gifts and skills is presented in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in a way that assumed that people are ministering together.  There are other verses spread throughout the NT that have such assumption also (i.e. Mat. 18:20, 2 Cor. 13:1).  Even Jesus Himself ministered on a team.  Someone may point to John the Baptist as ministering alone, but many scholars believe that John the Baptist was a part of the Essenes, a group of people who lived together outside of Jerusalem for the purpose of cultivating more holy lives apart from the corruption of the contemporary Jewish order.  Without question, John at the least had disciples (Mat 9:14, Lk 5:33). New Testament Christians ministered together.
       The life of the Christian in the New Testament was incredibly communal and involved daily deep fellowship and communion with other believers.  It was from this lifestyle and identity that the ministry of the New Testament flowed.  Christians today think of their callings from a westernized, isolated, and selfish version of Christianity.  This is dysfunctional and will inherently fail both in that the average Western Christian will often not even realize their calling or, if they do realize it, they will fail in carrying it out.  Because one person’s calling is not complete by itself, a lack of interconnection with others maims both the person’s ability to be ministered to and the person’s ability to minister to outside individuals. Allow me to give you some examples.
       Say a person is called to help others with interpersonal problems they experience with those they live around.  He or she won’t truly be able to fulfill this task if they live isolated away from all of these people.  In fact, that called person will probably not even be able to understand his or her calling because the church to which they’re called to minister mostly just hides from those they live around, instead of actually dealing with all of the myriad of issues between hearts (all of course rooted in relational issues with God).  Say someone else is called to serve a group of people with tangible acts of serving like cooking, cleaning, and simple love.  How will they ever even think of this being a valid job without seeing communities that exist where people are eating together every day?  Sometimes the lack of the right paradigm, which stems out of a wrong life, actually prevents the calling from even being realized. 

       On the other side of it, though, you may have someone who accurately discerns that he or she is supposed to teach others about the Word of God.  They may do this quite well, but without the other members of the Body, say someone who can feel the emotions of God for the poor very well, that person’s ministry will be narrow and ineffective.  It is likely that that individuals will themselves gradually deteriorate without receiving the right ministry.  But even if someone manages to stay alive in that way, his or her ministry to the outside world will be incomplete.  As the Scriptures themselves put it, the eye cannot be a foot and the foot cannot do the work of the eye.  The ministry happens when they are together! And yet we expect to be successful as ministers when we think of our callings in individual, isolated ways! 
       Everyone must think of their calling with respect to their roles within a team or group and the group’s calling.  And yet, any time I have talked to people about this, their response is always, “Well, where do I get the team?”  The answer is simple but extremely difficult.  The team/group is arrived at by you being a friend to those around you in a way that is not self-obsessed and self-preservative.  When you aim your heart to actually serve, love, and be intimate with those around you to the glory of God and for relationship with Him, and when you do this well through a biblical lens of understanding that relational disunity between people stems from relational disunity with God, you will arrive at the production of a group of people who can minister in ways you have never dreamed.  You will arrive at an awareness of your roles in that group.   And that group will receive the calling of God as a team with greater power and efficacy than you have seen yet. 
       Let’s say you agree with me at this point.  What is the root problem?  Of course it has to do with you and your relationship with God.  Look to God and say, “God, I am sorry for trying to protect myself from other people.  I turn to You and trust You.  I’m sorry for being selfish.  I don’t want to ever find security in my spouse or family or the small, controllable size of my created world.  I am sorry for living for money out of fear.  I want security in what You think and say, in what You do, in who You are, in how You feel.  God, cause me to live in a way that brings together deep communities of Your people.  Take away my isolating fear.  Give me actual love for people around me.  Holy Spirit, come be mine, and let me be Yours.” 
This is radical, people, but it is doable. 

Note:  I am not arguing that everyone must live together in a commune with corporate finances.  I am not trying to be legalistic about this. The problem is in the heart, but as your heart changes, so will the way you live.  I am asserting that a substantive self-protection exists and that it has stronghold-like manifestations in the way you live, almost never communicating with other people, relative to your own household idolatrously. Change outward manifestations by actually having other relationships, but I urge you most absolutely to turn to the Lord in a new level of trust and worship.  Out of this so many things that are meant to be understood will come, including understanding calling biblically and understanding your own calling effectively and fully.

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