Friday, November 10, 2006

Sitting by the Phone

The Backstreet Boys released a song a couple years back entitled "The Call." It was genuis. They actually used a telephone ring as part of the percussion section. If cell phones can bring music into the telephone world, why not bring telephone rings into the music world? Pure genius.

The song opens with the line, "Let me tell you the story 'bout the call that changed my destiny." While this refers to AJ cheating on his girlriend, that line would also fit comfortably in the context of Christian culture. We talk about calls and callings all the time, places where God wants us to go and things God wants us to do that often "change our lives."

I struggle with this concept of a call. Maybe it's just the nomenclature of it. In normal everyday terms, a call involves the telephone and clear communication with another voice. I don't really get this with God. I haven't ever heard a voice, so I would never tell anyone I've "heard a call." I will qualify this comment by saying that I do think God "calls" us to everywhere that we go. I've never been anywhere or bumped into anyone on accident. Given the usual usage of the term, I think "calls" happen all the time. I am purposely called to Borders at this stage in life. My roomate is purposely called to the dentist office. My friend is purposely called to seminary. I just don't like using that terminology.

A call implies a confidence in God's will that I usually don't have. If I knew God to be calling me somewhere, I don't think I'd be as nervous about actually taking a step in that direction. In some of the larger decisions in my life that might have constituted a call (summer ministries, leadership positions, etc), I didn't feel overwhelming confidence that this was where I was supposed to be. The opportunity, passion, and discernment were present to make the decision, but I couldn't guarantee that this was where God was definitely calling me.

And I don't think I need to. In his book Sacred Thirst, M. Craig Barnes writes story after story of people who come into his office for prayer and guidance during a big life decision. "After we finish praying," he writes, "there is usually still no burning bush or burning conviction. As these folks leave my office, I often wonder if perhaps God hasn't put his hands in his pockets, shrugged his shoulders, and said, 'It doesn't really matter either way, because I love you.'" I find that profoundly comforting because it emphasizes God's care for us along the journey, in the present, rather than placing the importance on choosing the correct destination.

This concept of call also seems to box me in, as if there is one place and one place only where God wants me. Life decisions become a large game of Let's Make a Deal. My potential futures lie behind doors 1, 2, and 3. God is Monty Hall. Only one door is correct, the other ones are hilarious booby prizes, for everyone else but me. Choose wrong and there God is, saying, "Wow Humphries, you really missed that one. Good luck dealing with the fall-out of that choice." God's character is too faithful, too redemptive, too sovereign, too loving for this.

In lieu of this call terminology, I float along using opportunity, passion, and discernment to guide me in decisions, taking comfort and strength that God is with me in the heavens and in the depths, caring for me along the way and providing me his work to do whereever I am. Maybe that is the definition of a call, and I'm just refusing to use the term. Regardless, unlike the rascals from the rear of the road, I'm not counting on a call to change my destiny. I think those situations come in every moment I'm alive.

But that's all for now. My battery is low, just so you know. I'm going to a place nearby. I'm going to a place nearby. Gotta go.


Brian Humphries said...

We need to learn that we screw up. I think many people use the term "call" as a kind of safety net against failure. The thinking goes something like: "God is calling me to be a doctor/lawyer/pastor/Backstreet Boy...and if God is for me, who can stand against me?" And then when (insert life plan here) goes down in flames, we either lose our faith because God willed us to failure, or we decide we misinterpreted the call in the first place. Which is why I like your Price is Right analogy. We have meaningful choices. And sometimes the results behind doors 1, 2,and 3 will all look to us like brand new oversized bicycles with ginormous front wheels ridden by men with pencil-thin mustaches; but where we see disasters, God sees opportunities to grow us and use us for his glory.

Maybe we should apply our "If God is with us, who can stand against us?" mindset before the decision instead of after. Instead of God being with us when we get it right, it reaffirms that he's with us no matter how often we get it wrong.

Ben said...

Since when are brand new oversized bicycles with ginormous front wheels ridden by men with pencil-thin mustaches disasters??? I'd love one of those!

In all seriousness though, thanks for the thoughts.