Listening for God's call

Fairly early in my college career, I set my eyes and my mind on theological seminary. I was inspired by some pastors, many of whom I met a church camp, and by a couple of teachers at college. I enjoyed reading and talking about philosophy and theology and it seemed to me like a good thing to do with my life. Later, as a seminary student, I began to work on the paperwork for ordination. One of the the requirements of an ordination paper in our denomination is a discussion of your sense of call. A pastor is seen as one who is called by God into the ministry and part of that process is a discussion with a Committee on the Ministry of the candidate’s experience of being called by God.

I had a bit of a struggle discerning an absolutely clear call from God. I didn’t hear voices. I didn’t experience direct revelation. I ended up using the term “chosen chooser” in my ordination paper. I saw my path towards the ministry as the result of a partnership between choices I made and being chosen by the church and by God to move into leadership.

Now, more than four decades later, I am fairly certain that I have been called by God. The life of a pastor has been a good life for me and I believe I have contributed to the church and helped a few people. A life of service has been a good path for me.

But I have not experienced a burning bush like Moses. I have not heard God directly telling me what to do like Joan of Arc. I still struggle with discerning the difference between what I want and God’s call. I’ve learned that in this process consulting with others is essential. Left to my own, I might just think that whatever I want in life is God’s call. When I consult with others, I discover that God sometimes calls me in directions that I would not otherwise go. I have served most of my career in the Dakotas and it is not a place that I might have chosen if I were left to my own desires. It has been a good choice for me, and, I hope, a good choice for the churches I have served.

I remember being a young college student, reading about other Christian leaders and pastors and their experiences and wishing that I could get a really dramatic sign from God. All of the choices that were open as I began my career were a bit overwhelming. Life can be confusing. There are a lot of decisions that can be made fairly early in life that set or alter the entire course of one’s life. I was fortunate to have found love and a partner in my wife early in my life. I’ve seen how relationship choices can be big problems for some of my peers. I have a friend who has been twice divorced and I am aware of the incredible amount of energy and investment that he has put into a search for love and a meaningful life partner and what a struggle it has been for him. I, on the other other hand, found that partner when I was still a teenager and our decision to marry has definitely been a very good decision for me.

And, to be fair, my choice of vocation has also turned out to be the right choice. Unlike those who have switched vocations multiple times in search of just the right career, I have been blessed with a direction in my work life that has provided a structure for other decisions and delivered a place where I feel like I belong. Not everyone is as fortunate.

It is interesting for me to note however, that as I grow older, I still experience a kind of longing for clarity about God’s call. I still haven’t seen any burning bushes. I still haven’t heard God’s voice in my head speaking in words.

I don’t think I realized it when I was younger, but growing older doesn’t reduce the number of decisions that one needs to make. I wrestle with questions bout when is the right time for me to step aside and allow new leadership to develop in the church. This isn’t just a question of retirement, but also of which of the things I am now doing should be entrusted to the leadership of others and which new projects I should undertake. I am constantly invited to serve in various volunteer positions and on different boards and committees and I need to choose which places are the right places to serve.

We talk about where we might live for the next phase of our lives and I have seen colleagues who have been challenged by this decision. One college made five major moves after he retired. And that count only includes semi-permanent homes. It doesn’t count the half dozen or more interim pastorates he filled while living for months and sometimes years in a different place. His life was far more nomadic after retirement than it had been when he was working. I watch others a few years my senior as they move from a retirement home to a townhouse to an apartment to a smaller apartment to an assisted living facility and to a nursing home. Each move has its own trauma and its own set of decisions. I know that my future holds as much confusion, as many decisions and as deep a need to discern God’s call as the years that have passed.

I know that taking time to be quiet and to listen is essential to this process. I know that consulting with other faithful people is critical for me. I know that God’s call is more than just following my own desires. I also know that God has been good to me in my life’s journey so far. I’ve been forgiven for mistakes made and poor choices.

So I’ll keep listening. And if I fail to hear a clear call, perhaps a vague sense of direction will be sufficient. I’ll have to wait to see.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!