Hearing God's Call
by Jeff Montgomery
If you are anything like me, every couple of weeks or so, you're questioning what you're doing with your life, particularly in the area of your career. The lucky ones among us have been able to discern what we should be doing at an early stage, while others are still searching. Many of us had to make certain decisions about our careers out of economic necessity. Others (like me) made certain decisions about career either out of a lack of proper direction or from a basis of skewed priorities.
Now, just for the record, I consider myself very blessed. I have a wonderful wife, intelligent and beautiful children, and a job that allows us to live comfortably. And looking back, I can see that God has been working on me and leading me, even during those times when my faith was less than strong. But still, there is that persistent feeling that something needs to be different in terms of work.
So how do we deal with this type of situation in a faithful way? Awhile back, our former pastor gave a very insightful homily regarding just this subject. This week, I'd like to recap for you the steps he outlined to determining God's will for your life. While this is applicable to all types of callings, I think it is very appropriate to the theme of combining work and faith.
One of the images of Jesus that we share is that of Him as the shepherd and we as his sheep. Like an earthly shepherd calling his sheep, we should be able to recognize Jesus' distinctive voice and come running when he calls. Three questions come to mind when we consider this: 1) How do we recognize his voice? 2) How can we know what it is he wants us to do? and 3) What are the consequences of either responding to His call or not?
How do we recognize his voice? I think many of us expect it to be some painfully obvious revelation that comes through prayer. And sometimes it is. But Jesus speaks to each of us differently. Sometimes it is that still, small voice in the back of our mind - a gentle but persistent feeling of a dull hunger deep inside, or a growing conviction that we can no longer ignore, or perhaps a feeling of warmth and oneness when we are in His presence.
Sometimes his voice is much more commanding, particularly if we aren't responding to the gentle nudging mentioned above. It could be some sort of wake up call regarding our health, or through some sort of accident. Or, it could be that feeling of powerlessness before temptations that might destroy our family, our marriage, or our reputation. Or, it could be sudden clarity about how much we depend on God for everything.
Let's hope we hear and respond to the still, small voice before He has to get more persistent!
So, now we are tuned in and listening to God's voice, but sometimes it is not at all clear what he wants us to do. How do we know what he wants us to do? In his homily, our pastor outlined five steps to discerning what God is calling us to do:
1. Pray, pray some more, and then pray even more.
2. Look at the details surrounding how you hear his voice.
3. Look at the talents God has given you.
4. Look at the needs around you.
5. Experiment and evaluate.
Without prayer, we don't even have the phone off the hook. How can we hope to hear God's calling if we don't have the lines of communication open? Prayer is how we both talk to and listen to God.
If we examine the details surrounding his calling and how we hear his voice, we will begin to get a clearer idea of where he wants us to go. Perhaps a strong memory of someone caring for us when we were ill, will urge toward being a doctor or nurse. Or perhaps we felt connected to God through working in a food pantry as a volunteer. Or, if we are struggling with a particular issue, say financial stress, God will teach through the recovery from that issue how to help others through the same.
God has given all of us the talents we need to have to do His will. We have to discover the talents we have in order to put them to good use serving God. Perhaps you have a talent for writing or playing music, or you're great at comforting people in times of distress, or you're very good at organizing groups of people to get things done. Whatever that talent (or talents!) is it has been planted in each of us by God.
Once we examine the details surrounding His call, and find our particular talent, we must look at the needs around us. God's call will match our talents with a specific need.
Finally, we must experiment and evaluate. Try out things related to what we are discerning. We can volunteer for related activities, take a part time job in an area that seems appropriate, or participate in related parish groups. We should try anything that seems appropriate that will give us a chance to try things out. And as we do that, we should evaluate. Over time, God will show us what we need to do.
What are the consequences for NOT responding to the call? We can look at it from this perspective: when we answer his call, we show that we belong to Him. When we show that, he will give us eternal life and no one or no circumstance can pull us away. The consequence is obvious: if we answer the call we're given eternal life, if we don't we'll be spending eternity elsewhere.
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