The Fact of “Calling”

16479326194_13466456cf_bThe third and fourth chapters of Exodus tell the pivotal story of Moses being called by God to deliver the people of Israel.

As the story begins, Moses is destitute, wandering in the wilderness, guarding a flock of sheep. His life has taken an unexpected and unpromising turn—from heir to the throne of Egypt, he has been reduced to lonely watches in a dusty spot on “the far side of the desert.”

And then, the burning bush … the voice of God … the commission to “Go!” Moses has been chosen. Moses (unbeknownst to him) has been prepared. God intends to use Moses as his instrument.

Unless, of course, Moses has any say in the matter! “Who am I?” “Why should Israel believe me?” “Why should Pharoah listen?” “I am slow of speech.” Resistance. Repeated, vigorous objection. Excuses. Alternative suggestions. Anything but the will of God. Anything but God’s plan.

In the end, Moses yields to the call of God and submits to God’s hand upon his life. Moses makes his reluctant way back to the Egypt, to rendezvous with his brother and his destiny. Great things were accomplished because of God’s call and Moses’ obedience.

The “Call” Pattern

God identifies a need, chooses a human agent, “calls” him or her to a particular task, and then empowers that person to accomplish the mission.
We love to find patterns in Scripture: the consistencies of the early church, the habits of Jesus and the Twelve, the rhythms of life with God. We love to identify patterns, but—if we are honest about the matter—we are selective in our recognition and use of them. We like patterns (for instance) that highlight early Christian worship. But we’re not so eager to identify and emulate patterns that highlight early Christian lifestyle (separation from the world, for example, or a willingness to embrace persecution). We like patterns that are safe and predictable and controllable, patterns that don’t require too much of us.

One of the patterns found in Scripture is the consistent and repeated theme of “calling.” God identifies a need, chooses a human agent, “calls” him or her to a particular task, and then empowers that person to accomplish the mission. The examples of this in the Bible are not just of “calling” in general terms or for common reasons. They involve specific tasks … particular people … unique circumstances. These calls are tailored, customized, and targeted.

The “call” pattern is not one many in our heritage have recognized and respected. (Certainly, other religious traditions have paid far more attention to calling.) Which is odd for a people who claim to be so “biblical.” Surely a pattern that shows itself this frequently, appearing in both Old and New Testaments, and for  which there is such abundant evidence should merit our attention and close investigation.

But there is something threatening about the “call” pattern. It is too personal. It suggests God is intimately involved in the events of this world and can intervene at any moment in your life or mine. It suggests that we are not, in fact, the “captains of our own ship” … that someone else is in charge. If we admit the call of God in the past and allow for the call of God in the present, that has implications for our lives that are neither comfortable nor comforting! It means there might still be “burning bushes” today, for us. It means our lives could still be hijacked by God’s call in support of God’s purposes.