Dana Visneskie tells the story of a Native American and his friend who were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.
Suddenly, the Native American said, "I hear a cricket."
His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"
"No, I'm sure of it," the Native American said. "I heard a cricket."
"That's crazy," said the friend.
The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. "That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have super-human ears!"
"No," said the Native American. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."
"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."
"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.
"See what I mean?" asked the Native American. "It all depends on what's important to you."
A young, brand-new preacher deeply committed to his calling was asked by the local funeral director to hold a graveside burial service at a small local cemetery for someone with no family or friends. The preacher started for the cemetery early, but got lost on the way, and eventually arrived at what he was sure was the location for the burial a good half-hour late.
The freshly-turned dirt was the final clue that his late arrival had cost him his chance at his first funeral. He saw a backhoe and its crew, but the hearse was nowhere in sight, and the workmen were eating lunch.
The diligent young pastor went to the open grave and found the vault lid already in place.
Taking out his funeral book, he read the service. Feeling guilty because of his tardiness, he preached an impassioned and lengthy service, sending the deceased to the great beyond in style.
As he was returning to his car, he overheard one of the workmen say: "I've been putting in septic tanks for 20 years and I ain't never seen anything like that."
Three men died and were waiting to receive entrance through the pearly gates. The first man said to St. Peter, "I was a preacher of the gospel, serving faithfully for 50 years." Peter told him to step aside for further consideration. The second man said, "I was also a preacher of the gospel; I served my church faithfully for 40 years." Peter told him to step aside for further consideration. The third man stepped up. "I was not a minister, I was just a government worker with the Internal Revenue Service, and I was only able to work there for six months." Peter told him to step right in. The first minister objected, "Why does he get to go in before two ministers?" Peter said, "According to the records, in just six months, he scared the devil out of more people than the two of you did in 90 years!"
I. If you've been saved, you've been called
Don't get sidetracked by the pros and cons of the predestination argument. Look at the big picture. Right here, in possibly the greatest chapter on grace in the entire Bible, there is a clear expectation that every person who's been saved by the grace of God is also called. "And those he predestined, he also called . . ." (v. 30)
Called to what? Maybe we could call on another one of Paul's famous grace-filled paragraphs.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - Ephesians 2:8-10
There's the call. When we are born again, we are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works," works "God prepared in advance for us to do." That means that God not only plans for us to be saved (after all, it's not His will that any should be lost - see Matthew 18:14), but he also has distinctive plans for the role we'll plan in the Kingdom, once we accept His gift of grace.
Illustration: Could this mean that someone other than preachers might be called into ministry? Absolutely!
Tony Campolo arrived at the small country church where he was to speak about an hour early. As he waited, an elderly man came into the sanctuary and went about the usual checklist to make sure all was in order for the service. He checked the thermostat, and made sure the windows were open just a bit, for proper ventilation. He went up and down each pew, making sure that every seat was within easy reach of a hymnal and Bible.
When the man reached Campolo's pew, the preacher of the day introduced himself and asked, "Are you the custodian?" Immediately, Campolo realized he'd made an error.
"No!" he answered, somewhat gruffly. "No, I'm not the custodian or anything like that! I'm just exercising a special gift of the Spirit."
Campolo was intrigued. He asked which gift God had given him.
"The gift of helps," he answered. "Check it out in I Corinthians 12:28. You'll find it there. Paul talks about the gift of helps."
And the gifted helper was right. Right in the same listing of miracle workers and prophets, are those with the gift of helps.
The old man went on to add, "You know we get a whole parade of preachers coming through here on their way to bigger and better things. Each of them stays for a few years and then moves on. Each of them thinks he's the best thing that this church has ever seen, and each of them thinks he's going to put this church on the map. Well after they're gone for a few years we have a hard time even remembering their names."
Then, pointing to himself he said proudly and with a big grin, "One of these days ole Harry's goin' to die, and the people of this church won't know what hit them. They'll come to church the next Sunday and find that nobody turned up the heat. They'll find out the hard way who shoveled the snow on all those winter days. And they'll take forever to figure out where half the stuff they need to run this church is stored away."
II. Your calling will almost certainly involve hardship
Illustration: When I think of the way God allows His servants to suffer, I can't help but remember the classic story of poor Jack, who was out jogging. As he passed a cliff, he got a little too close to the edge, and suddenly found himself falling. On the way down, he managed to grab a branch, nearly yanking it out of the cliff. When he caught his breath, he realized what a terrible jam he was in. He couldn't get up, and letting go certainly seemed to be a poor option. He began to scream, "Hello up there! Can anyone hear me?"
In a moment, a voice returned.
"Jack, Can you hear me?"
"Yes, Yes, I can hear you I'm down here."
"I can see you, Jack, are you alright?"
"Yes, but, who are you, and where are you?"
"I am the Lord Jack, I am everywhere."
"The Lord? You mean God?"
"God, help me, I promise that if you get me down from here, I'll stop sinning. I'll be a really good person and serve you for the rest of my life."
"Easy on the promises, Jack. First let's get you down, then we can discuss those."
"I'll do anything, Lord, just tell me what to do, okay?"
"Okay, let go of the branch."
"I said, let go of the branch. Just trust me, let go."
There was a long pause, as Jack thought of the offer.
In a moment, however, Jack let out a loud yell. "Hello, Hello - is there anybody else up there?!"
Logically, it would seem that God would give those called into His work some kind of supernatural protection against hardship, pain, and persecution. After all, if those working for God were able to operate at full strength, wouldn't they do a better job in their calling?
In reality, it seems those called by God are sometimes especially prone to hardship, pain and persecution. Take Paul, the writer of this classic chapter on God's grace. He was attacked repeatedly, imprisoned unfairly, and left for dead on more than one occasion. Once, after surviving a shipwreck in winter waters, when he warmed up by a fire, a snake bit him! (Acts 28:3) And though he could sometimes pray for healing - and see it happen - for those around him, Paul had a difficult situation of his own, a thorn in the flesh, that God would not remove from him.
In Romans 8, Paul makes a beautiful point that things like death, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the executioner's sword wouldn't separate us from the love of God through Christ. But make no mistake about it. To get to that point, Paul had seen all of those troubles, and a few more to boot. His calling didn't excuse him from hardship, and neither will yours. His calling actually led to a great deal of trouble for Paul . . . and as hard as it is to accept, the same will probably be true for you.
Illustration: His father was a successful barber so it stood to reason that young George would follow in the family trade. However, George was more interested in music. Unfortunately for George, his dad thought musicians were nothing more than "vagabonds." When George was only 7, the Duke of Weissenfels accidentally heard the boy playing around on an organ, and the Duke insisted that the father develop his son's obvious talent.
Since a Duke's request was not to be taken lightly, George was given lessons, though the father hoped the boy's love for music would soon pass.
Mr. Handel was badly mistaken. His son, George Friedrich Handel, became one of the most famous composers in history. George believed his music was a gift from God and composition was his calling. Though Handel would find the rest of his life a mixture of luxury and poverty, in his worst time of suffering came his greatest work, a piece of music known simply as The Messiah. The next time you hear "The Hallelujah Chorus," remember that the man behind the music believe God had called him to such a life, and that the best music of his life didn't come until he faced the worst of his hardships.
III. Your calling with God's power is an unbeatable combination
In Romans 8, Paul says it this way: "... we overwhelmingly conquer ..."
When he wrote this phrase originally, Paul pulled from the Greek mythological gods to create an image of an unbeatable person, a champion of champions. The Greek god Nike was the goddess of victory, an image that fit nicely with the sports apparel company that grabbed the name from history. Paul added the word "huper" (rhymes with, and means, "super") to "nike," and came out with "hupernikomen," a word that appears only here in the New Testament. It's the idea of being a "super-champion," someone who is even more than a conqueror.
It's the idea of an overwhelming victory, one that leaves no survivors for the enemy, and no losses for the home team. Picture Tiger Woods making a hole-in-one on every hole, in every round. Or perhaps a Super Bowl team that allows not a single point, or even a single yard of offense from its opponent, while scoring a touchdown every time the ball is snapped. It would be a horribly unfair arrangement - akin to an NFL team playing an elementary school football team. There is simply no way the champion team can lose, or even come close to losing.
The message? When you use your God-given calling to bring honor to Christ, you've just signed up to become something of a "super-champion." Whatever negative circumstances might come along in life - and Paul lists quite a few - you simply can't lose, in the long run. Losing a job won't defeat you. Cancer can't beat you, and neither can divorce. When a child runs away, when a daughter comes home pregnant ... when your parents split up, when the whole family moves to a new community and makes you start over ... it's all bad, but you can overwhelmingly conquer it.
Our example? It's Jesus, of course. When he was crucified, it looked like a certainty that he had just suffered his greatest loss in life. In reality, he had just won the greatest battle the universe had ever seen.
In another letter, Paul revealed that a personal problem had caused a tremendous amount of pain. He called it a "thorn in the flesh," which indicates it was probably a physical issue, but "thorns in the flesh" come in a great variety of discomforts. In a vision, he heard an important message from the Lord, packed with an important truth about God's power (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Paul learned that once his own power was removed, God's power could take over. After years of watching God's power accomplish so much more than he ever could have done on his own, Paul accepted his own limitations - and his "thorn in the flesh" - as a blessing in disguise. He stayed true to his calling and enjoyed watching God's power move his work toward "hupernikomen," super-championship results.
Because Paul didn't give up on his calling when he was in prison for two years in Caesarea (Acts 24-25), Paul was able to address key national and regional leaders, and move toward an appointment with Caesar, the unquestioned leader of the world. In the meantime, he wrote important letters to churches that would become books in our New Testament. Could he have ever have imagined how many millions of people would be impacted by his work, even though he was in prison as he wrote? Only God's power working through a man totally committed to his calling could have accomplished such a victory.
Illustration: It's hard to believe, but in April, 1996, a used rocking chair sold for more than $440,000. In the same auction, a partial set of golf clubs brought more than $770,000, and a few salt-and-pepper shakers that cashed out for $11,500. All in all, this amazing garage sale brought in more than $34.5 million! No, none of the items were encrusted with diamonds, or covered with gold. The items weren't overly special in any way . . . except one. They had all once belonged to John and Jaqueline Kennedy.
The value of an old rocking chair isn't always in the way it rocks. Sometimes, the value is there because of whose chair it is. Likewise, the value of your calling isn't in what you can do in your own power, but in what you can do once God owns your calling.