Thought on the Cross, Gifts and Calling: the journey continues

The past weeks have been all about finding my way as a new Christian. It somehow doesn’t make sense to me that it would lead to no change and where this may be in my personal life inevitably I ended up thinking about my professional life as well. My mind works strange and from a fantastic service by David Ravenhill at Harmony Church on the importance of the cross, my mind wandered thinking about how being a Christian not only involves your personal life but your professional life as well. As it turned out the two appear more related that I anticipated.

The Cross

Some time ago now I received an email by John Beckett in which the importance of living near the cross was explained. The cross presented as the place where

death has been  swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54)

All as predicted by Isaiah hundreds of years before the actual event:

he will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8)

I guess Paul explains it beautifully in his letter to the Ephesians:

God predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:5-6)

And that is not all according to Paul:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

It is good to remember that Jesus did NOT die in the end however for our sake or pleasure.

…and with your blood you purchased men for God… (Revelations 5:9)

Through the death of  Jesus at the cross, God basically bought back his own creation; humankind as a creation BY God and FOR God. So while we may think God did us a favour, and it cannot be denied that that is the factual side effect of Jesus death on the cross, it was for God’s own benefit that Jesus paid the price with His life. Purchase is derived from the Greek word ‘agorazo.’ While there may be some theological discussions around the meaning of the world ‘agorazo’ (purchase) when translated from Greek to English as well as on whom God purchased us from, one thing is clear: all possible translations imply in the end transfer of possession and/or ownership. And that brings us back to where we were, we are OF God, FOR God.

For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, … All things were created BY him and FOR  him. (Colossians 1:16)

All of this appears to imply that we ourselves, actually belong to God and exist for his benefit an pleasure. Handing over your throne, to live a God-centered life instead of a self-centered life in my view therefore nothing more than having the courtesy to give (back) to God what belonged to him in the first place; that is how I understand it. TO SERVE INSTEAD OF BEING SERVED.

According to Plan: Whose Plan?

The next question is of course and what’s next? God has a plan for you, and you will need to find out what that plan is in order to live it.

If it is God’s will, we will live and do this or that (James 4: 13 and further).

One of the things I certainly had to get head around that it is no longer up to me to plan my life autonomously. Sure I had some ideas on what to do especially after becoming a Christian but it did not take too much time to understand that I cannot do this any longer without involving God in that. I am probably not alone. How many are there out there that go plan and do their own thing and ask for God’s blessing, without consulting him. And then when things don’t work out we blame / judge God for our failures.  I certainly was one of them.  But, maybe there is a reason for these failures or job anxieties and unhappiness? Could they maybe be a sign that what you were trying to achieve was not in accordance with what God wants for you?

James, is not against us making plans for our lives. What he speaks out against is not consulting God in the process. James urges us to ask God for guidance, to help us understand God’s plan for us and after that make plans for that. Just imagine that, what could be greater, cooler, awesome or whatever you to call it, than living/being at the center of God’s will and purpose for you.

Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life , reflects on his own crisis of purpose in the wake of his book’s wild success. He explains his belief that God’s intention is for each of us to use our talents and influence to do good. I added in the his TED talk here because it is so worth while.

In this talk he explains how he understand the question God asked Moses:

Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied. (Exodus 4:2)

Moses staff is not chosen by coincidence, the staff is a representation of Moses’ identity: a shepherd and therefore a representation or symbol for his income, and a representation or symbol for his influence. The question what’s in your hand is subsequently translated into what are you doing with what you are given?  God as I understand it wants you to be who you are supposed to be according to his plan, and not to what you think you should do. He wants you to use your gifts and talents. It’s not about doing things right but about doing the right thing; about being who you are intended to be and doing what you are intended to do, even when that is not what you had planned for yourself.

Our Vocational Calling

The concept of following God’s plan is illustrated beautifully in the ‘walkabouts’ of Paul:

Paul, initially a persecutor of Christians, ends up becoming what he persecuted, and moreover not just an ordinary Christian, but an apostle. Paul simply HAD TO FOLLOW his calling and preach his gospel to the ‘gentiles.’ And whilst that may seem like a clear path it was not always, it was not always according to his plan. In Acts 16: 6-10 we read how Paul and his companions planned to preach the word in Asia but ended up travelling around Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit prevented them from the Asia venture. They tried for Bithynia but again Paul got a “no go” from the Holy Spirit. God made his plans clear as Paul got a vision to go to Macedonia and Paul followed. Throughout the New Testament you will find examples of how Paul is very aware that his works have nothing to do plans and all with God’s plan.  Paul spend goo quality time in Ephesus with the Jews over there and they ask him for more time. Paul however had to follow God’s call and sailed off, promising that he would come back if that was God’s will (Acts 18:21).

Romans 12:1-2 read:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Our Gifts

In verse Romans 12:6-8 we learn about seven gifts that could be used as the basis of our vocational calling, in that it is a calling to use our gifts (from God) for the glory of God:

6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Vocation is understood here as our divinely driven life’s purpose embracing ALL our human dimensions of existence towards our neighbours, the church and the world. Paul explains:

… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 4:1)

He further expands on this theme in further verses but it seems to all boil down to serving God’s purpose in every aspect of your life. And one way to do this is by using your gifts or talents especially where it comes to your vocational calling. YOU CHOOSE A CAREER, BUT YOU ACCEPT A CALLING. According to Calvinist doctrine one should choose the occupations that yield the greatest advantage to your neighbours. In my view this would not be very helpful advice if it was not entirely clear what “the greatest advantage” is and who exactly your neighbours are. Moreover it still does not take us away from the concept of using your gifts.  His advice has been explained as that vocational career and your professional career may well end up being different things, without denying that vocation is important to job life as well. Where does such advice leave someone?

  • Career and vocation are one and the same (the life of Paul as an apostle).
  • Career and vocation are almost – somewhat the same but besides a career you use other means to live up to your vocational call.
  • Career and vocation end up being completely separate entities.

While this may seem logical from many people’s perspectives I could imagine how a separation of the two or the grey area of ‘almost – somewhat the same’ could lead to a job-life (my initial typo was job-lie which almost seems appropriate) that is unfulfilling and ultimately a situation that could de-motivate more than anything. YOU END UP DOING THINGS RIGHT BUT ARE YOU ACTUALLY DOING THE RIGHT THING? That brings us back to the gifts as a sign of where your calling may be.

These gifts as I read them appear to refer to your so called “drivers” or special talents that allow us to perform at our peak. When we use these gifts to serve God and others we will end up experiencing a deep sense of joy, in worldly terms: “we are in the zone,” the God-zone I may now add. Those gifts are with us since birth and show through certain patterns of thinking and acting that appear to be constant. What Rick Warren appears to talk about in his TED talk, at least where it relates to vocation is to allocate these gifts, filled with the Holy Spirit for God’s purpose.

As a Christian made a choice to ‘come unto the Lord, accept Him as Lord and Savior and to which you handed over your life.’ Should it not be the Holy Spirit then that will call you to your vocation? You handed over the wheel, so should we not let the other do the driving? You may not have expected what shows up during the drive or as your destination; you may well end up not liking it at all. But who are we to know better? Is it not true that we may need to get back to the drawing board and let the Holy Spirit guide you instead of your own worldly, fleshly emotions? Is that not what the commitment really entails? More than ever the quote of the week I published some time ago seems to make sense:

Nouwen: Prayer is first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking; he’s always doing something. Prayer is to enter into that activity. … Prayer in its most basic sense is just entering into an attitude of saying, “Lord, what are you saying to me?”

And with that we see immediately that we are back to square one. Since is it not true that in order to see and hear what God is telling us through the Holy Spirit we will need to put our faith completely in Christ and hand over our lives? You can only come (close to) live up to your calling if you are willing and able to hear the guidance that is there for you AND have faith enough to follow it, regardless of whether that conforms to the patterns your worldly life or not. As Paul urges:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12: 1-2)

To me it seems like a world of opportunities and possibilities is opening up lately and perspectives I never considered and only because I am willing and able to listen, look,  hear and see. What about you?

  • Have you found out what your vocational calling is yet?
  • Are you actually living it?
  • Is Calvin right or is he being practical?

I’d be keen to hear your views and thoughts.