We don’t hear the word “vocation” now-a-days too often as was the case years ago. I remember during my school days thinking about what I was going to be when the time to go to University was due. What will I study? What will I be? What we studied was connected to what we did. Currently we study one thing and go to do something completely different. The idea of vocation gets further away from our career choices.
As I read the pages of 1 Thessalonians 3 a sentence caught my attention, verse 10, “night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith”. This verse is not focusing on vocation or on the life of one who has been called to do something. However, the beginning and the last part of the sentence brought two words to mind, vocation and calling.
Throughout the letter Paul tells them how worried he was for them as he wonders if after he left they have been able to keep the faith he shared with them. While he is away he has devoted himself to pray for them, and if God allows him to come back to see them he will spend his time filling in the gaps in their faith, the things he didn’t get to teach them while he was with them.
He makes it clear that God has called him to do a specific work and he verbalised elsewhere when he says to Timothy “But you Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.” Elsewhere he expands on his purpose... “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard”.
Paul, who went under the name of Saul in his former life before he became an apostle of Christ, was a very religious man. His training under Gamaliel was the finest available. His intentions and efforts were sincere. He was a good Pharisee who knew the Bible and sincerely believed that the Christian movement was dangerous to Judaism and that was why he persecuted them.
However, from this life of having the right tools and the knowledge of the Scripture and Judaism, God called him out to a different life. To something more unsettled, where trust that God knew what he was doing was needed, he says... “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” It was the key to his life and calling that he trusted God because the life he was to live under this calling was full of difficulties where many things would appear to be uncertain at times. He was not only aware of this factor but was also open to include it as part of his teachings to new Christians... “Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come – and they did...”
We have been inspired by Paul throughout our Christian life, we are grateful for the things he wrote for our faith to be strengthened and developed, however, for many of us we just see that. And we don’t see beyond this, the success of his ministry and the great insight he had in life, because if we did, we would see The Jesus that appeared to him and called him. Paul met a Jesus that taught him how to trust in God, to do amazing things with little, to passionately wanting to know God and to be passionate to reach those who didn’t know God.
As we read Paul’s words in the Scripture, or, the words of a man of God in a book, or, listen to a sermon, even when we know that what we are reading or listening to is to strengthen and develop our faith, we must be aware that it is also to meet the God behind these men/women of God.
Every time we read Paul, or listen to a preacher, or read a good book we are challenged by the calling of those who are instructing us. God can be calling you as He called Saul. We unwillingly have created a dividing gap between those called to the full time service in Christian ministry and those who listen from the seats of the church, not noticing that God is calling you to move closer to Him and to take up Paul’s challenge to follow him, to a more unsettled life where trusting God is the only way forward. Unsettled because the securities provided by our society are not necessarily the principles by which God’s kingdom functions, however, His promises are given to us as our warranties...like when Paul was spoken to by God during a difficult time... “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me”.
Furthermore, we are also called to help identify and encourage those called to full time ministry. For the world it might not be an option but for us who believe it is a privilege. We have to care for those who are stepping forward to take the challenge... “You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people. I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, to submit to them and others like them who serve with such devotion.” We have all been called to follow HIM, whether full time or not but to follow, to encourage one another, to devote ourselves to Him and his people, instead of just thinking about “us” and “our security”.